If BitLocker doesn’t let me in, how should I access my externall drive?

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Photo: Pressmaster (Shutterstock)

techno.rentetan.com – It’s a wonderful thing to encode. While I’m not running full drive encoding at home – BitLocker, for example – on my Windows desktop, that is just because I’m the only one to ever use my system and I don’t really value it. (All my personal documents and all I’d encrypt live on a usually downloaded NAS box otherwise)

Part of my reason for doing this is because I’m unwilling, partly due to the high performance of my PC or partly because I am afraid of the day when encryption fucks up—or all the things I have to do if and when I have to reinstall Windows 10—and I cannot access my own data.

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The situation is too familiar for Jon, the Lifehacker reader. As he says about Tech 911 Q&A this week:
“I have an external Western Digital hard drive and Windows Bitlocker encrypts the folder on the hard drive. I forgot to do that, reinstalled windows, and can’t access files anymore. Is it possible to fix it?”

You have your recovery key written down, okay?

I don’t want to deal with this kind of scenario precisely, so I don’t want to use Bitlocker. I’m going to stick to something like VeraCrypt, just that it won’t be encrypted for my operating system. I just have one huge password to keep, which I can store under my desk in a password manager or save via anything else that you can think of as a spy-proof.

When you enable encryption on your external drive, you would have been prompted to save a BitLocker recovery key. If you don’t remember or know where that key was stashed, this is the main problem we’re going to face.

It’s easy to unlock a coded drive. In theory, fire up File Explorer, right-click, and unlock on the drive is all you have to do. When you initialize BitLocker, you will be prompted to type in the password or PIN that you set.

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If you don’t know the password or PIN, where the retrieval key falls in the image you used to set up BitLocker. It’s essentially your preserver of digital life. You’re sunk if you don’t have it. This is encryption nature. If there were an easy way of bypassing it and accessing your files, then what would the drive be? Anyone who has physical or remote access to your system can immediately zip into your data after a few minutes, and can invalidate a recovery key.

All that said, although all that speaks of a recovery key does not jog your memory, you have one lifeline. It is possible that if you set up your BitLocker encryption you could have saved your Microsoft account key. If so, on this link, you can find it. The key archive of Microsoft is quite extensive as long as you have ever saved it on your account. I looked over the link and found my keys on old desktop PCs for years.

If it isn’t there, and you don’t have any other memory, consider your data lost. Well, it’s still there, technically, you don’t have any way to access it. No, no workarounds are available, nor can you try to restore access with brute-power techniques. As M3 Data Recovery Tool developers describe:

“BitLocker is an encryption system disk level, as we know. If you’ve forgotten your BitLocker password and lost your BitLocker retrieval key, your encrypted BitLocker drive will not break through data retrieval software (including M3 BitLocker Recovery). This is both a political issue and a technological constraint.”

I hope you’re going to get that link. If not, you might want to run the common passwords that you like when you set up your BitLocker drive if you may use one of them. Besides that, this is a precious reminder that somewhere should even external drives be backed up — ideally to an unencoded location that is protected through physical access or a cloud storage provider that can manage encryption.