Using a Western Digital My Passport Ultra on Linux

I’ve been trying to build a home file server, mostly to store backups, using a Raspberry Pi and a Western Digital My Passport Ultra as the main storage unit. For years, I used an old Compaq desktop tower as my backup computer, but the fact that it won’t turn on and the fact that it would cost more to fix it than to just buy a Raspberry Pi has lead me down this new road.

But after I bought the My Passport Ultra, I tried to plug it into my laptop, running Debian Sid. It would mount, but I could not access it through the file manager or on the command line. At first, I did what any good Linux user (or librarian) would do: I googled around for an answer. According to everything I read, the encryption on the My Passport Ultra required a Mac or Windows computer to decrypt, and even then you would still have a vestigial piece of their encryption on the drive.

I first tried to use their decryption software using Wine; that didn’t work because it couldn’t find the drive, even though it was plugged in and I had used winecfg to make sure the drive was discoverable. I then tried to use my wife’s old Mac, but quickly remembered why she doesn’t use it anymore and why I got her an Android tablet for Christmas last year: every 20-60 seconds, it would shutdown and reboot, so I didn’t ever have time to try and even download the decryption software.

However, being a Linux user, I decided to just try stuff. So I plugged the drive back into my computer. GParted would not run and would not recognize the drive, so I couldn’t format it that way. However, I finally found a solution, and a simple one at that: I unmounted it and then just ran the most basic formatting command out there.

sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdb1

Completely blew threw all of the My Passport Ultra’s supposed encryption (which I think was just software encryption, and nothing on the drive itself was actually encrypted) and made the whole thing completely usable by me. I later formatted it into btrfs for use on my file server, and it is now receiving an rsync of all of the pictures, music, and files from my laptop. Since there is so many threads out there about how it isn’t possible to use this drive on Linux without freeing it on a Windows or Mac computer, I figured I’d write this up so people know that yes, you can do it just on Linux.