Help me restore hope AND Documents.
August 7, 2008 11:26 AM   Subscribe

My parents computer crashed. I never determined the cause. It had XP on it. They've since bought a laptop, and want to recover documents from their desktop. They bought a hd enclosure. I connected the hd, and it's recognized, but it seems that the profiles must've been encrypted. I know that it's almost impossible to break the encryption, but want to be helpful, any suggestions?

I have attempted to boot to USB, with the Desktops HD connected via USB, and I can get to the safe mode screen and such, but get a blue screen no matter what option I choose. Could I boot from a XP repair disc and then point it at a windows on the USB HD, and login with an account to export the encryption certificate? Any other ideas?
posted by TuxHeDoh to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by k8t at 11:30 AM on August 7, 2008

If you're talking about NTFS user-based file protection and not the true file/disk encryption, you can get around that with a BartPE bootable environment, which is similar to Knoppix and other live Linux flavors but is completely native Windows (and much less prone to compatibility errors).

More details here:

If it's bluescreening from the USB boot, it's not a hardware problem on the desktop, so you could also attempt a repair install (not a full reformat-install) the desktop HD with the XP disc.
posted by Ky at 11:43 AM on August 7, 2008

Don't forget that you now have a legal copy of XP (from the old, crashed puter) to put onto whatever machine you want, or even to sell on Craigslist -- keep their disks but most importantly keep the 25 character registration number.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:59 AM on August 7, 2008

OEM distributions of operating systems (Windows, specifically) are not transferrable from the original computer on which it was first installed.

So no, you can't just resell the old computer's OS, unless the XP CD you have is a true retail copy, not OEM.
posted by Ky at 12:18 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I doubt their personal directories are encrypted, though they could be.

You'll probably need to take ownership of those directories and set the permissions so they are readable.

To do this, you'll have to disable the simplified file permissions mode by going to Control Panel:Folder Options:Advanced Settings and unchecking "Use Simple File Sharing."

Once you've done that, you should see a security tab when you pull up the properties from the context menu on a file or folder. Click the advanced button, then the owner tab, make sure you check "replace owner on subcontainers or objects" and then click "Ok." It may take a while to finish, depending on how many files your are dealing with.

After that, you may have to change the permissions too.
posted by Good Brain at 12:39 PM on August 7, 2008

Good Brain has it if the assumptions are correct.

Here's the "official" instructions
posted by utsutsu at 1:22 PM on August 7, 2008

Can you be more specific about why you think the profiles are encrypted? What is it you are actually seeing or not seeing?
posted by TravellingDen at 1:48 PM on August 7, 2008

OEM distributions of operating systems (Windows, specifically) are not transferrable from the original computer on which it was first installed.

If the motherboard has failed, they are free to put a new motherboard in the system and keep using or resell it with XP license intact. Or, they could sell the case with failed motherboard on the understanding that then new buyer is free to upgrade.

The important point being motherboard failure - because you are allowed to repair the computer, and you are also allowed to resell oem licensed machines.
posted by Chuckles at 3:14 PM on August 7, 2008

Don't try to use a USB enclosure to boot a failed Windows installation from a dead computer on a new computer. That way lies madness.

Read this thread before assuming your inability to access files on the USB-connected disk is caused by encryption.
posted by flabdablet at 6:36 PM on August 7, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the help.

The behavior that leads me to think it might be encrypted:
When I browse to the drive, I can get into Documents and Settings\Username\ and then click on My Documents, I get an access denied error message.

When I right click on Username folder and choose properties, and set permissions recursively.... I get access denied again.
posted by TuxHeDoh at 6:51 AM on August 8, 2008

That is totally an NTFS permissions issue, not an encryption issue.

The issue arises because the old folder was made private by its user on the old machine. That has the effect of setting the folder's owner to the user account that makes it private, and granting Full Control permissions to that user account and SYSTEM only. This in turn means that not even members of the Administrators group have the permissions needed to do anything with those files (including altering their permissions).

Creating a user account on the new Windows installation with the same username as on the old Windows installation is not enough to give you access to the old files, since the two user accounts will in general end up with different security IDs (SIDs).

However, members of the Administrators group on any Windows installation have the power to take ownership of any file or folder in any NTFS filesystem. Resetting the permissions then becomes possible.

I recommend taking ownership of the entire external hard drive for the Administrators group, then resetting all the permissions to Full Control for Everyone, using the procedure I described in the older thread.
posted by flabdablet at 8:03 PM on August 8, 2008

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