Decrypt files encrypted by Windows XP?
December 22, 2003 10:57 AM   Subscribe

How can one get at files "encrypted" by Windows XP when the installation that created them is no longer accessible?

My father recently suffered a badly damaged hard drive on his computer, such that the c:\windows folder was lost beyond repair. Starting up, it names a damaged file and says to run the Repair utility on the XP CD-ROM, but the hard drive is so mucked-up that said Repair utility doesn't recognize an installation to be repaired.

Going from other channels (fresh copy of XP on the same computer, putting the hard drive in a new computer with a working OS) I can see his My Documents folder -- apparently undamaged -- and want to get his data off for him before we try a reformat. But trying to open the folder (from a Command Prompt or from Windows) spits back an "Access Denied" message, I assume because he chose the XP "Protect my Documents from Other Users" option. We know the user password and the administrator password--is there any way to decrypt the data?
posted by Aaorn to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
'Protect My Documents from other users' doesn't involve encryption, it sets the ACLs on the files. Because of the way these work, even the administrator of another installation is considered an "other user." Now that the new OS is installed, you should be able to take ownership of the file (right click on it in Explorer and flail around for the Security tab) and change the permissions to something more accessible. I don't have an XP box right in front of me to provide a usefully detailed walkthrough, but the process isn't a difficult one by any means.
posted by majick at 11:14 AM on December 22, 2003

Response by poster: Alternate: is there a way to use the "Files and Settings Transfer Wizard" tool to get his old User Profile (including documents) moved over to a new installation, without being able to get into the old installation?
posted by Aaorn at 11:15 AM on December 22, 2003

Response by poster: Majick: Thanks, but I'm not seeing anything relevant under either "Properties" or "Sharing and Security" from the context menu of the folder in question. Do you think you could clarify when you get a chance in front of an XP box? Much appreciated.
posted by Aaorn at 11:23 AM on December 22, 2003

Response by poster: Nix that, I figured it out -- thanks a ton, majick.

(Problem was, the "Security" tab, on which resides the option to take ownership, is not displayed by default and has to be turned on in Folder Options before the relevant area will appear.)
posted by Aaorn at 11:34 AM on December 22, 2003

It depends what you mean by 'encrypted'.

Can you explain a little more clearly what kind of files you are looking for (text vs. media) and what you mean by encrypted?
posted by Argyle at 12:09 PM on December 22, 2003

You're welcome! Were you able to gain access to and recover the files or is there yet another layer to this onion?
posted by majick at 12:27 PM on December 22, 2003

Response by poster: I got them -- the "Take Ownership" command from my new administrator account was all it needed.
posted by Aaorn at 12:57 PM on December 22, 2003

If you're familar with Linux then Knoppix can read/write NTFS.

(I've been reading/writing to XP without problem for several months)
posted by holloway at 5:16 PM on December 22, 2003

I know this is a stupid question, but have you scanned for bad sectors yet? I had a Western Digital 60Gb that did pretty much the same thing until I scanned it 3 times in a row. Then I was able to find 90 percent of the "lost" files.
posted by Keyser Soze at 8:32 PM on December 22, 2003

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