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Dennis asked: “I have a laptop that’s about 3-4 years old. I had an encrypted password. I know the password and I try to get into it. When it starts to load, I get the “circle of death” and it won’t load. I have e-mails and other information that I’d really like to access. Is there another way I can get into the laptop to recover the old e-mails?”
Dennis, if your laptop is 3 or 4 years old, then it’s probably running Windows 8 or better.
That may be both a blessing and a curse. Windows 8.1 started encrypting hard drives by default for users using online accounts. That’s the curse.
The blessing is that if you did not choose to use an online account, your files may be unencrypted and still accessible by just placing the drive in a USB enclosure and connecting it to another computer that doesn’t need it to boot up.
If you did use a Microsoft online account to access your computer and it did encrypt your files, it’s not all bad news either! Windows 8.1 started encrypting files by default on computers that met certain hardware requirements but did it on the ones that used a Microsoft account to log in, and by doing that it allowed users to store the decryption key on their servers.
If your account was set up that way, you should be able to place your drive in an enclosure and plug it into another computer same as you would if it was decrypted, and access it using the key in your online Microsoft profile.
Accessing the drive from there should be fairly easy if it’s encrypted with Windows’ Bitlocker, you will see it as an external drive with a padlock on it and you’ll have the option to use your key to unlock it.
There’s one more potential problem: If your files are encrypted with the older Windows EFS or Encrypted File System on an older version of Windows, and you did not go out of your way to back up the encryption certificate, you won’t be able to unlock the drive.
If you don’t have access to the certificate or the Bitlocker encryption key, odds are that you will not be able to get into that drive. Modern Windows operating systems do actually encrypt the files, they don’t just keep people without the proper passwords out with a login screen. That’s great for security, but not great for your particular situation.