Forgot your password from a Time Machine backup?

John the Ripper

A few days ago I received an inquiry from a reader whose MacBook has unfortunately "given up the ghost". So far so bad. Unfortunately, the backups he made on an external hard drive are password-protected. And unfortunately he no longer has that in his head. Now, of course, the question arises how you can get it back.

John the Ripper - brute-force password cracker

John the Ripper

The password cracker "John the Ripper" understands the brute force method and can also use dictionaries as a test basis. The program is also compatible with Mac OS X.

I browsed Google a bit and came across interesting websites with terms like "crack", "sparsebundle", "time machine backup", "bruteforce". The most common tool to stumble upon when looking for a solution to cracking a password is "John the Ripper". It is basically a free tool, for which you should, however, have a little knowledge of the OS X command line. For those who have to fit there is" John the Ripper Pro ". This is available as fCompleted .dmg image for Mac OS X available. There are different license models that start at USD 39 - a price that you will certainly be happy to pay for saving a backup hard drive if it leads to success.

As far as I could see, the tool can be used to crack passwords on a brute-force basis. You can either give the program a dictionary or you can run it completely without a dictionary, so that it simply tries "meaningless" combinations of letters and numbers. You can imagine that you should plan a little time in this case. :)

More tools to poop FileVault on OS X

After a little research, I'm still on one another English page came across, which gives interesting recommendations for cracking File-Vault. On the one hand, the program "Spartan" is called, but it practically tries to mount the .sparsebundle image. This of course makes it very slow, since the time for mounting is not insignificant - even if it does not work with an incorrect password. Unfortunately I could not find a download from the manufacturer of the tool. I suppose the matter is very much out of date.

Another tool that was mentioned there is "crowdbarDMGThe programmer's website has a blog post about it that is from 2009. I didn't want to test whether the program runs on Mac OS X Mavericks or Yosemite. However, it also works with the dictionary brute force method and uses terms from a dictionary.

The last tool I could find there was Mac Marshal. However, this seems to be a professional tool for IT forensic scientists and is obviously designed more for preserving evidence than for cracking forgotten passwords.

So overall there are a few tools that could be given a chance. Anyone who has gained experience in this direction is welcome to speak here. I am happy to post your comments if they could help other readers.




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  1. Roland Wiegman says:

    Hello and help please,

    For years I have been busy creating backups with the help of TimeMachine.

    Unfortunately, I always left it with the automatic login for the Mac login and never got the idea that TimeMachine also uses a username and password.
    (Ashes on my head.)

    Now the workshop of a well-known Mac dealer in Hamburg Altona has 'managed' to 'iron' my hard drive.
    "No problem" you would think, "I have backups."

    Unfortunately, I can't get access to my backups because either the username or the password (or both) is wrong.
    Is there any way to regain access?

    Perhaps my question is a request for a legally marginal service. But in real life there are also locksmiths who give you legal access to your own apartment again.

    I have already tried many possible username / password combinations without success and also bought 'John-the-Ripper'. Unfortunately, I don't understand how I can use the command line to get the TimeMachine login to the backup drive.

    Can you recommend a service provider to me?

    Best Regards
    Roland Weidman

    • sir appleot says:

      Hello Roland! Unfortunately, this is a problem that I cannot help with. I don't know of any software - apart from the above-mentioned - software that cracks the login of the Time Machine backup using brute force. :(

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