These are utilities and instructions for putting a computing device to death and
reincarnating it in another place.
When crossing a national border, these instructions provide for you to
bring your devices, but to be completely unable to resurrect or produce
any data without assistance from people on the other side.
The motivation comes from
from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) about entering the United States.
- Q: What’s better than refusing to turn-over your passwords, contacts,
and personal data?
- A: Not having them available to begin with.
I am currently using three devices built by Apple with Apple operating systems.
This focuses on transmigrating those devices.
As a bonus, regardless of whether you are crossing a national border:
- you will have set-up and verified reliable backup and recovery
of data on your devices.
- you will have practiced safely keeping and using secure passwords.
- you will have practiced using encryption technologies to safely store
and share confidential data.
- whenever you use it, you get a “clean” machine.
Be very careful about your keys and key database. If you lose, or lose
access to these, you will lose all of your data.
I’m not available to help you. Use this guidance at your own risk.
If you don’t understand it, maybe don’t use it. See the
github project readme
for guidance about making improvements.
All of this takes time. The backups can take hours, even a day the first
time you run them. Plan ahead.
You might want to test (and this also takes time):
- Using the backup and restore procedures on some small amount of data,
to verify that they will work and you know how to use them.
- Using the local backup as insurance for a trial-run of the entire
procedure before you travel.
It’s best to practice and measure the time for all of these operations well
in advance of your trip. Keep the backup fresh.
Allow yourself double the time to complete everything before you depart.
Reduce as much as possible the amount of data on your computer.
The more data you have to back up and restore, the longer it will take.
It can take twenty-four hours to backup, and as much time to restore,
thirty gigabytes of data.
- Things you are not currently, actively working with– consider setting them
- Anything that you can install from the internet doesn’t need to be backed up.
- Anything that you can recover from, for example, a git repository or
other shared work repository doesn’t need to be backed up.
- Movies and music - set them aside if you can’t simply download them again.
Most things like those will come back to your computer just as quickly from
their place of origin, when you need them, as they would from any backup.
Removing the excess baggage takes some planning, but it’s worth it.
You will save time getting back up and running after you cross.
Try not to be greedy. Pack a (virtual) small suitcase.
Setup before and after
- If not already using full disk encryption
(FileVault) on MacBook, do so.
- If not already using a password safe, such as
do so now.
- Have an encrypted backup drive– an external storage file system
- Have the recovery key in the KeePass database.
- If you are using security token based Multi-Factor or
Two-Factor Authentication (2FA/MFA), with an app on your phone
ensure that you have the security
tokens stored in your KeePass database. Why?
- You are going to wipe clean your phone and lose the security tokens
currently stored in Authy.
- Your iPhone backup will restore them, but what if you
need one of them to get to your iPhone backup?
- It’s a good practice to follow in any case.
- Apple 2FA requires that you have a phone number registered
with them where you will be able to receive a text message or voice phone
- Be sure you will be able to get that call.
- Many cell providers offer an international plan at fixed cost per
day, with no charge on days of non-usage.
- You have to set up the number on your Apple ID
in advance of resetting your devices.
- How to install stuff contains references for installing
some of the software you might need, depending on the methods you
select for backup, storage, and recovery.
Planning your trip
- Hotel internet, at least in the U.S., is abysmal. Even the “fast” internet
available for purchase is slow.
- Most if not all public internet in the U.S., including hotels,
requires some sort of login or acceptance of terms of service through
a wireless access gateway.
Internet that you can access simply with a password
is more or less non-existent in public places.
- The Apple internet recovery of a Mac that has lost its operating system–
a Mac on which you have erased the disk –will not to be able to penetrate
a wireless access gateway because no browser is available.
It needs internet that requires only a password.
The password can be a strong WPA2 password.
- For this reason, an AirBnB with fast internet is a better choice than a hotel.
- Generate and store a long random sequence in your KeePass database.
- We refer to this as the “passkey”.
- By “long”, we mean a couple of dozen characters or more.
Knowing the length of the passkey facilitates exhaustive search.
However, if the key is long enough, that hardly matters.
- It’s a sequence that you can’t memorize without a lot of effort.
You won’t even try.
- It’s a sequence that some friends will possibly read to you on the phone.
- It’s a sequence that you might possibly type many times, including on
your cell phone keypad.
- It will be a temporary Apple ID password, so it must have
a digit and a capital letter.
But don’t use it yet!
- Don’t change your Apple ID password yet.
- Use iTunes to copy the latest KeePass database(s) to iPhone and iPad.
- MiniKeePass will accept your KeepassX
- Use iTunes to back-up iPhone and iPad to MacBook.
How to from Apple
- You can also back them up to iCloud.
- You can’t really back up your Mac to iCloud, not the way you can
do with the iOS devices. The best you can do is keep your Documents
and Desktop folder there, and your system settings.
Some thoughts about iCloud tells why I don’t prefer
iCloud as my Mac backup solution.
- Optionally make rsync backups
of MacBook to an encrypted backup drive
- We are making a backup of our entire user directory.
- We are making a backup of the KeePass database.
- If using a good cloud backup, like Arq, this might not be necessary;
however ensure that you have separate backups of your key database.
- Use one of several methods to put a backup in the cloud:
- Copy your KeePass password database to iCloud.
Create a plan of contacts on the other side.
You will share parts of the passkey with them.
You can split-up the key different ways so that
no-one has the full key (See splitting passwords).
It’s a good idea to have multiple combinations of people from
whom you can reconstruct the passkey.
- Note contact phone numbers using pen and paper.
- Note who has which parts.
Generally, if a combination of the people can guess each-other, they can get
together to reconstruct the full key. This might be a good thing if
you become lost.
- Ship the passkey via
or other end-to-end secure channel
to friends on the other side, according to the plan of contacts.
- Let them know your plans.
- Let them know how and when they should expect to hear from you.
- After enough of your contacts have confirmed that they have the passkey,
change your Apple ID (iCloud) password to the passkey and verify access.
- verify access. This is key, because access with the passkey is the only
way you’ll access your KeePass database and reincarnate your machines.
- You verify access to iCloud by simply logging out and logging back
in again, making sure you can see the file(s) stored there.
- Or simply attempt to access from a different device using the passkey.
- Hard reset all three devices, including loss of the passkey.
- You have now lost access to everything until your friends help you.
- Leave the backup drive behind. (It too is useless without the passkey,
but there’s absolutely no need to carry the data with you.)
- Take the contact numbers.
Cross to the other side
- Enjoy a little break from the network connected world.
Once on the other side
- If you have or obtain a SIM for your phone, you will be able to initialize
it without providing your Apple ID. The cell data plan, if you have one,
will work with the phone.
You will be able to make and recieve phone calls.
- You can invent a new passcode, but make your life easy.
Use the one you were using before.
This is not the time to further complicate things
by changing device passcodes.
- Contact enough people to reassemble the passkey.
- Let everyone else know you’re across.
- Optionally, obtain a new backup drive of sufficient size.
If you’re using cloud backup, like Arq, this isn’t really necessary.
- Find a place with good internet. Not a hotel. Not a coffee shop.
A private home, co-working space, or business.
- Initialize MacBook with Apple ID (iCloud) account and passkey.
You will have to pass some Apple 2FA hurdles, including:
- Receiving a phone call or text message to a number already registered
with your account.
- Possibly providing some other credential, like the passcode last used
on your iPhone or iPad.
- Write down the new disk recovery key on a piece of paper that you
- If you want to initialize your iPhone and/or iPad now with the passkey,
you can do that. If you do, you’ll have to enter the new Apple ID (iCloud)
account password after you change it.
- If you initialized your iPhone without using your Apple ID (iCloud),
adding it now will not restore your phone. In fact, it will start making
backups of your “blank” phone.
- iOS devices must be reset if you want them restored from iCloud.
- Install KeePass and copy your password database from iCloud to your computer.
- Do not delete the iCloud copy yet.
Restoring your backup could overwrite
this newer one that you just pulled down from the cloud.
- Use one of the three methods to recover your backup:
- Ensure the freshest copy of your KeePass password database is on your
machine. If you copied the database to iCloud right after making the
backup, then they are the same.
- Change the Apple ID (iCloud) password to something other than the passkey and
(of course) record it in your KeePass database.
- Add your new disk recovery key to your KeePass database.
- Initialize the iPhone and iPad with the new Apple ID password if you have
not already done so.
- If iCloud restores them, well that was easy!
- Connect the iPhone and iPad.
- Restore them using the iTunes backup if iCloud did not restore them.
- Update the backups of the KeePass database on the iPhone and iPad.
(It has the new backup drive recovery and iCloud passwords.)
- It’s now safe to delete the password database copy stored on iCloud.
- It’s now safe to destroy the piece of paper with your disk recovery key.
- All is well. Have a drink.