Essays on Technology and Culture

Automating 1Password Backup, and Other Computer Magic

I recently picked up a 16 GB SDHC card, with the sole purpose of turning it into a portable, light, emergency drive for my MacBook Pro. The most recent Macs can boot off of a properly formatted SD card [1], so creating a bootable rescue disk was as easy as cloning the recovery partition to the SD card in Disk Utility. This will allow me to reinstall Mac OS on my computer, as long as it can get on the Internet. As I will, hopefully, replace the internal drive with an SSD in the future, this will be very handy.

Of course, that doesn’t take up 16GB of space on a SD card, which leaves me the flexibility to keep other useful tools on there. One thing I picked up from a recent Back to Work is the idea to keep an encrypted disk image on your emergency drive, with a backup of important data, such as your 1Password database. [2] A great idea, except that, knowing me, I’d drop the database file on there, drop the card in its place, and forget to ever update it. Putting a weekly reminder in Things would not be enough. So, I needed to find a way to automate the process and make it as easy as plugging in the SD card.

So I did. And it was surprisingly easy. Here’s how:

  1. Create an encrypted sparse bundle on your USB drive or SD card.
  2. Install the Do Something When preference pane on your Mac. This is an old preference pane, and still 32-bit. It works, however, even on Mountain Lion.
  3. In Automator, create a workflow to mount the sparse bundle, copy the 1Password file, and eject the sparsebundle. If you’re unfamiliar with Automator, Apple has a good basic tutorial, but it’s really drag and drop. I’d provide my workflow, but it’s customized to my file names and device names.
  4. Enjoy your freshly backed up 1Password database.

The only dependency I’m worried about in this setup is Do Something When. I’m sure there’s an alternative, probably console-based, I could use to trigger the Automator script that does the bulk of the work, and accomplish the same task with a minor tweak. [3] What I love, however, is that with only a basic set of tools, the lynchpin of which is baked into the OS, I can have my computer do a set of repetitive tasks based solely on the presence of one removable hardware device. Back in the old days, this would require actual tedious scripting, or recording a macro. Now, it’s drag and drop, putting more control of our technology in the hands of almost ordinary users.

If you’re not backing up your most sensitive data in more than one place, you’re begging to lose it. If my hard drive dies, or if I get hacked like Mat Honan, I have a way to unlock my digital life, kept on my person, and kept easily up to date just by plugging it into my machine. And, no, I’m not telling you where I keep it.

  1. The card must be formatted as Mac OS Extended (Journaled), and contain a bootable OS install.  ↩

  2. If you’re not using 1Password or a similar app, then shame on you.  ↩

  3. Should this be the case, please let me know, so I can switch.  ↩