The Encrypting File System (EFS) is a feature of the Windows 2000 operating system that gives you the opportunity to store files and folders in an encrypted form. When files or folders are encrypted with EFS, only an individual user with an authorized recovery agent can decrypt it. EFS enables files to be transparently encrypted to protect confidential data from attackers with physical access to the computer. By default, EFS is a built-in encryption tool in every Windows Operating System used to encrypt files and folders on NTFS drives to protect them from unwanted access. With EFS, it is possible to enable transparent encryption and decryption of files for your user account by using advanced, standard cryptographic algorithms. Any individual or app that doesn’t possess the appropriate file encryption key cannot open any encrypted files and folders.
Encryption is the strongest protection that Windows provides to help you keep your individual files and folders secure.
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In this guide, I will show you how to decrypt your files and folders encrypted with Encrypting File System (EFS) in Windows 10.
Note: If you get an unexpected error message like below while trying to decrypt a file or folder, it means that you will need to restore the file encryption key that you backed up for the file or folder before you will be able to decrypt it.
The first method we are going to use in decrypting the folder and file is the Context Menu.
Note: If you decrypt a file using this option, only the file will be decrypted. If you decrypt a folder using this option, the folder, subfolders and files will be decrypted.
First, take a look at our folder. You will notice a yellow padlock icon
To decrypt it using the Context Menu method, do the following:
Right click or press and hold on a file or folder you want to decrypt, click on File ownership, and click on Personal. (see screenshot below)
The second option is to Decrypt an Encrypted file or folder is using the Advanced Attributes.
- Right click or press and hold on a folder you want to decrypt, and click on Properties.
- In the General tab, click on the Advanced button. (see screenshot below)
Note that decrypting a file also goes through the same process stated above.
The third method of decrypting a file is to use the Command Prompt Terminal
- Open the command prompt with the admininistrator’s privilege .
- Type the command below into the command prompt, and press Enter. (see screenshots below)
cipher /d "full path of folder"- This applies changes to the folder only. Meaning only the folder containing the file will be decrypted while the files will remain encrypted.
cipher /d /s:"full path of folder"- This applies changes to both folders, subfolders and files.
Remember to substitute the Full path of the folder in the commands above with the actual full path of the folder you want to decrypt.
When you are done, simply close the command prompt
The last method I will like to show is how to completely turn off EFS using the command prompt. To so, simply run the command
fsutil behavior set disableencryption 1 (see the screenshot below).
Note: To enable the EFS back simply replace 1 with 0. The changes will only take effect after rebooting your computer
In this quick guide, you have learned the various ways to decrypt files and folders on your system. Why do you need to do this? The reason is sometimes you may need to exchange your files with another computer. In fact, sometimes your files will get encrypted without permission, such as during a malware attack.
On a final note, in today’s world of pervasive hacking and data theft, keeping your files encrypted is one of the few possible ways to protect them from being misused or accessed by unauthorized users. But there’s an exception in some cases that you too might want to access these files in the future, and this is where you’ll need decryption.