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  1. #1


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    Question Can I password protect an external hard drive?
    Hi there,

    Please excuse my ignorance. I'm not new to computers, but I am new to doing anything other than word processing, e-mail and internet.

    I have a macbook pro, and the keyboard and trackpad are broken. I need to send it away to get it fixed.

    I have an external hard drive which I keep a backup on using time machine. I'm running Leopard.

    I have two accounts on my Mac - the one I use all the time, and I have another account on there I rarely use with my private stuff on it. (No, not that sort of private - it's stuff from my old and current job, which has scripts, personal details etc. that are confidential). I put this stuff in a different account when I couldn't find an easy way to password a folder on a mac.

    I only back up from my main account, presuming that Time Machine would restore the files on both, but still require my account password to access the files in the private account.

    So, first question - is that correct? Is time machine backing up both my user accounts when I plug it in, or only the active one?

    Second question - I've decided I want to put all the stuff on the confidential account on a separate hard drive, just in case. But because the stuff is confidential, I want any time that drive is plugged in somewhere for it to need a password before you can access it.

    Is that possible? If so, how? I've been googling but it goes into talk of encryption software and I get a little lost. Can't you just buy a drive that comes with a password type entry system?

    If it matters, the confidential account is about 60 Gigs, so I'd want an 80-120gb hard drive to keep it, in case I have to add to it.

    Thank you for the help, and for reading!

    Jamie x

  2. #2

    rogerinlondon's Avatar
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    You can use Disk Utility to create a disk image File=>New=>Image. Select Encryption when you create it and if you use Sparse Disk Image under Image Format, it will also grow is size as you add more files and only take up as much space as is required from time to time.

    The image can then be mounted, using the password you entered when creating it and it will show up as a disk on the desktop like the disk images you download and mount to install new software.

    If you use this, there is really no need to use the second account to keep the files confidential and the image file can be copied to and stored on any external disk and then mounted from there as well.

  3. #3


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    Thank you so much for your reply! Are you suggesting that I move all my files from the other account into the main account, and delete the account?

    If so... um... how would I go about doing that? (Sorry).

    If I did have a go at creating this disk image thing, and put a password on it, when I copy it to an external drive, will that password to open it remain?

    Thank you.

  4. #4

    Aptmunich's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bluejamie View Post
    Hi there,

    Please excuse my ignorance. I'm not new to computers, but I am new to doing anything other than word processing, e-mail and internet.

    I have a macbook pro, and the keyboard and trackpad are broken. I need to send it away to get it fixed.

    I have an external hard drive which I keep a backup on using time machine. I'm running Leopard.

    I have two accounts on my Mac - the one I use all the time, and I have another account on there I rarely use with my private stuff on it. (No, not that sort of private - it's stuff from my old and current job, which has scripts, personal details etc. that are confidential). I put this stuff in a different account when I couldn't find an easy way to password a folder on a mac.

    I only back up from my main account, presuming that Time Machine would restore the files on both, but still require my account password to access the files in the private account.

    So, first question - is that correct? Is time machine backing up both my user accounts when I plug it in, or only the active one?

    Second question - I've decided I want to put all the stuff on the confidential account on a separate hard drive, just in case. But because the stuff is confidential, I want any time that drive is plugged in somewhere for it to need a password before you can access it.

    Is that possible? If so, how? I've been googling but it goes into talk of encryption software and I get a little lost. Can't you just buy a drive that comes with a password type entry system?

    If it matters, the confidential account is about 60 Gigs, so I'd want an 80-120gb hard drive to keep it, in case I have to add to it.

    Thank you for the help, and for reading!

    Jamie x
    Good question... I'd guess everything is backed up unless you've specified otherwise under the Time Machine preferences.

    But you can easily check by going to the time machine folder on your backup drive and navigate through to the Users folder. If both account names are in there, select the oldest backup and check out the size of the secure account. If the size is about 60GB you should be alright.

    If I did have a go at creating this disk image thing, and put a password on it, when I copy it to an external drive, will that password to open it remain?
    If you copy disk images around, they remain password protected.

  5. #5


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    Also, sorry again - just looking at the utility. Although I've found the option 'sparse disk image', it does still ask me to specify a size. What should I put?

    And I'm afraid I don't know what you mean by 'mounted'...

  6. #6

    rogerinlondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bluejamie View Post
    Also, sorry again - just looking at the utility. Although I've found the option 'sparse disk image', it does still ask me to specify a size. What should I put?

    And I'm afraid I don't know what you mean by 'mounted'...
    Put in the maximum size that it might need to be in the future. It will not actually take up that size in the drive until you fill it up with files to that size so it does not matter if you put in a big number...

    When you later double-click the image, it opens and shows up as an addional disk on the desktop and in Finder. It is the same as when you download software to install and a drive image shows up when the downloaded disk image is opened.

  7. #7

    rogerinlondon's Avatar
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    And yes, you might as well put the confidential files in the encrypted disk image in your main account and stop using the second account.

  8. #8


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    Can I move them across using finder? If I try and look at them from the main account the folders all have little 'no entry' signs on them. How do I move them?

  9. #9


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    Ah. OK, worked out how to move them, but new snag. It automatically copies them... and I don't have enough disc space to copy everything on the second account. There's more than 60 gigs, and this is only a 120gb hard drive... so how can I move them across...?

  10. #10

    Aptmunich's Avatar
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    You can't move them if they're in a different user account, only copy. You could change the permissions on the folders to make them "yours" though.

  11. #11


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    Sorry to keep bothering you... I've tired creating an 80gb disk, and it wouldn't... so I put it down to 60gb, and it still says there isn't room to create this, despite classing it as a 'sparse disk image'... and I presume if I just make it '10mb' or something it won't let me move bigger files in... um... help?

  12. #12

    Aptmunich's Avatar
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    I don't know whether disk images really do "expand" as you fill them, or whether they occupy the space all at once.

    Bottom line is if this is important data, just pick up an external harddrive with enough space, create an encrypted disk image on there and chuck the data into it. Space is so cheap nowadays (1TB ~ £80), it doesn't make any sense to skimp and risk data loss in my opinion.

  13. #13

    rogerinlondon's Avatar
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    Put all the confidential files in one folder, then choose File=>New=> Disk image from folder. The image will then be created directly with the files in it and will not ask for more space than you have available.

    See also this about how Sparse Disk Images work, and yes, they do really expand.

  14. #14


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    A terabyte? For £80? Really?

    I spent £89 on a 120gb in the mac store. Guess that makes me a fool. Where do you get your external drives. How much should a 120gb set me back?

  15. #15


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    You guys rock, by the way.

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