How to remotely access/back-up user files?

New Contributor II

I had one of our Systems guys approach me recently asking if there is an easy way to remotely backup user data and/or access user folders and selectively back up certain folders. He's a pure Windows guy, and his example was like using a "\windows-pcC$" to be able to browse a Windows computer's "C" hard drive.

Well I figured the easiest way would be to remotely enable File Sharing and then connect to the Mac that way, but immediate issue is permissions won't allow one admin user to browse through another user's folder.

I figured that before I move deeper into this, I would ask the community their thoughts an easiest/best way to accomplish this?


Legendary Contributor III

Can you possibly elaborate a little more on the end goal here? It sounds almost like you're talking about remote access to user data, not necessarily backing up user data. There are many backup solutions out there, both free/script based and commercial paid products, that can back up user data in an automated fashion that don't necessarily give you remote access to that same data.
Just trying to understand what the important piece is here, since its not clear.

New Contributor III

In the UNIX world, you don't really have the same ability as in Windows to use the C$. The closest you could get would be to log in via SSH using an admin account on that device. Finder and UNIX permissions don't support the access to root.

In terms of accessing another user's files, I would suggest using a backup utility like Carbonite or CrashPlan. All of the benefits plus more, without the headaches or customization.

New Contributor II

Thanks for the responses.

Basically we are currently looking at long term solutions for E-discovery, but in the meantime need to be able to access and "backup" certain users files.

At least that is what I'm told. This was sprung on me at the last minute, as these things usually go.

New Contributor


We use Backblaze and have had no issues so far.


Jerry Roberts

Esteemed Contributor II

Look at Guidance Software EnCase, pretty much the standard for forensics, legal/HR investigations, etc.


New Contributor II

Thank you for the suggestions! I'll have to give those a closer look.

For now though, from what I can gather, the only way to be able to login to a machine remotely and copy off user data is to somehow alter the permissions of the user's data so that the admin account I'm using has access? Is this correct?

I can connect either with SSH or through the Finder and end up with the same problem... permissions.

Legendary Contributor III

@pdye That would be a resounding No. You do NOT want to mess with the permissions on your user folders, especially for ones that are still using their accounts. That isn't good practice.

If you can SSH into your Macs with a local admin account, all you would need to do is open a root shell once you're SSH'd in.

hostname:~ ssh adminuser@<ip.add.ress>
hostname:~ <Enter "y" if asked to add the system to your SSH knownhosts file>
hostname:~ Password: <enter password for account "adminuser">
hostname:~ sudo -s
hostname:~ Password: <enter password again>

The line before last (sudo -s) opens a root shell, which means the account is acting as root and will be able to see all files on the system, including inside user directories.

I still think this isn't a great approach to the issue. Manually SSH'ing in and copying files for the purpose of backup seems like a weird way of doing this to me.
Also, to actually backup those files, how are you planning to do this once in? Mounting a share from Terminal and then doing a cp or ditto, etc? Or did you have something else in mind?