How to Recover a Password for an Encrypted File

by Eric Fenton

It's always a good idea to encrypt and password-protect files and folders on your computer containing sensitive or personal information you wouldn't want others to see. But things can turn ugly if you forget your own password and find yourself locked out from your own stuff! While you can opt to purchase software that can break through to your files, this can be expensive and even then there is no guarantee the software will perform its job quickly. Brute-force methods applied by most programs can sometimes take days or weeks to do the job. Here is one method that allows you to do the job without any extra software.

Login to your computer as the Administrator. Go to the "Start" menu and select "Run." At the command prompt, enter "/r:Eagent" without the quotation marks.

Type in your administrator password when prompted. You will receive a message saying that a .CER file and a .PFX file were created successfully. Select to save the files into the administrator's Documents and Settings folder, as opposed to that of another user.

Go back to "Start," then "Run," and enter certmgr.msc. Right click on the folder "Personal" in the Certificates Manager menu and go to "All Tasks/Import." When prompted with a list of folders, go to the folder where you saved the .CER and .PFX files. Select the file type Personal Information Exchange, marked "*.pfx,*.P12," and open a file called Eagent.pfx. Enter your admin password again, and continue until you click "Finish."

Return to "Run" and enter secpol.msc to open the Local Security Policy. Go to the folder Public Keys Policy and find the Encrypted File System folder. Right-click and choose the option "Add Data Recovery Agent." Select the Eagent.cer file from the same folder as in Step 3 and open it. Continue until you hit "Finish." The administrator is now designated as the Recovery Agent for locked files.

Close the Local Security Policy folder and go to the encrypted files. Click on them to view their contents and change passwords as necessary. If another user created the files, logon to the computer as that user and then switch to the administrator. Your files are now accessible.

Consider using a program to force through the encrypted file if this method doesn't work for your individual situation. Some useful and free programs to consider include Last Bit Software's "Zip Password demo," available at lastbit.com. Though not as fast or strong as some more expensive options, it can get through most zipped files as long as passwords aren't too long.

Warning

  • It is illegal to break the encryption on files you are not authorized to access. Only use this procedure for your own files or when you have permission to access the files from their owner.

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About the Author

Eric Fenton has been writing for journalistic and scientific publications since 2005. He has previously written for "The Pen," where he was the opinion editor. He now works as a copy editor for the "News-Letter." He is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University.

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