How to Make Your Own Encrypted Backup of Your Bitwarden Vault

A quick tutorial for making a GPG-encrypted backup of your Bitwarden vault using pass.

I don’t use Bitwarden’s encrypted export feature because as far as I know those exports are only good for re-importing into a Bitwarden account. I don’t know how to read my passwords from such an export without re-importing them into Bitwarden first, and I want to be able to access my passwords from my backup if Bitwarden goes down or goes away.

I don’t use Bitwarden’s unencrypted export UI (available from the web vault, browser extensions, and desktop app) because that will store an unencrypted copy of my vault on my local disk. I’d then have to make an encrypted copy and remember each time to securely delete the unencrypted copy.

Instead I use Bitwarden CLI‘s export command because this can pipe an unencrypted JSON export of my vault directly into my own encryption command without the unencrypted vault ever hitting my disk.

I use pass (the standard unix password manager) to encrypt the backup with a passphrase-protected GPG key, so I can decrypt the backup with that GPG key and passphrase independent of Bitwarden. Pass also keeps a backup history in Git.

This doesn’t backup your attached files. According to Bitwarden’s export docs exports don’t include attachments, the trash, password history, or Sends (from Bitwarden Send). Bitwarden CLI does have commands for listing and getting attachments so it should be possible to back them up but you’d have to write a script to do this, there’s no convenient built-in “export all your attachments” command.

Here’s how I do it:

  1. Install Bitwarden CLI, pass, Git, and GPG

  2. Create a passphrase-protected GPG key:

    gpg --full-generate-key
  3. Create an encrypted password store with git history on your USB drive:

    PASSWORD_STORE_DIR=/media/seanh/bitwarden_backup/password-store pass init <GPG_KEY_ID>
    PASSWORD_STORE_DIR=/media/seanh/bitwarden_backup/password-store pass git init
  4. Log in to Bitwarden CLI and pipe an unencrypted export of your Bitwarden vault directly into passs GPG-based encryption. Here’s a shell script that I use to do this (replace YOU@EXAMPLE.COM with the email address that you use to log in to Bitwarden and /media/seanh/bitwarden_backup/password-store with the path to your pass password store):

    #!/usr/bin/env bash
    set -euo pipefail
    # Log in to Bitwarden and unlock the vault, if not logged in already.
    if ! bw login --check
        BW_SESSION="$(bw login --raw YOU@EXAMPLE.COM)"
        trap 'bw lock' 0
        export BW_SESSION
    # Unlock the vault, if it's not already unlocked.
    if ! bw unlock --check
        BW_SESSION="$(bw unlock --raw)"
        trap 'bw lock' 0
        export BW_SESSION
    # Update the vault.
    bw sync --force
    # Export the vault into the password store.
    bw export --format json --raw | pass insert --force --multiline bitwarden
  5. You can decrypt your vault backup and read it with a command like:

    PASSWORD_STORE_DIR=/media/seanh/bitwarden_backup/password-store pass show bitwarden

    Or see the history of changes to your backup with:

    PASSWORD_STORE_DIR=/media/seanh/bitwarden_backup/password-store pass git log --patch

    To read the backup you need both the backup itself (which I store on an external USB drive), the GPG key (which is stored in my home dir), and the GPG key’s passphrase. Just having the USB drive on its own isn’t enough to decrypt the backup.