tinyapps.org / docs / Decrypt EFS-encrypted files without a cert backup

Windows users may unintentionally enable EFS encryption (even from just unpacking a ZIP file created under macOS), resulting in errors like these when trying to copy files from a backup or offline system, even as root:

Despite popular perception ("If you don't have a copy of the certificate then your files are forever lost.", "If you didn't export the encryption certificates from the computer that encrypted the files then the data in those files is gone forever", etc.), it may be possible to create the necessary certificate from an offline system or backup thanks to Benjamin Delpy's mimikatz and his guide howto ~ decrypt EFS files. Here is an abbreviated (and by turns amplified) version:

0. Copy necessary files

From the offline system, copy these folders and paste them into the directory containing mimikatz.exe on a running system:

If the password is unknown, copy these two files as well:

1. Retrieve certificate thumbprint from one of the encrypted files

cipher /c "D:\Users\foo\Pictures\secret.jpg"
    Certificate thumbprint: 096B A4D0 21B5 0F5E 78F2 B985 4A74 6167 8EDA A006

  No recovery certificate found.

  Key information cannot be retrieved.

The specified file could not be decrypted.

2. Export certificate and its public key to DER

mimikatz # crypto::system /file:"SystemCertificates\My\Certificates\096BA4D021B50F5E78F2B9854A7461678EDAA006" /export
        Key Container  : d209e940-6952-4c9d-b906-372d5a3dbd50
        Provider       : Microsoft Enhanced Cryptographic Provider v1.0
  Saved to file: 096BA4D021B50F5E78F2B9854A7461678EDAA006.der

3. Find the master key

Check files within Crypto\RSA\SID\ to find the one containing a pUniqueName which matches the key container found in step 2, e.g.,

mimikatz # dpapi::capi /in:"Crypto\RSA\S-1-5-21-3425643682-3879794161-2639006588-1000\43838b0ac634d4f965f7c24f0fa91b2b_a55eeef9-ab65-4716-a466-adfc937caecd"
  pUniqueName        : d209e940-6952-4c9d-b906-372d5a3dbd50
  guidMasterKey      : {92f17fce-aae6-488b-9fd8-7774c6c3eb16}

4. Recover NTLM hash if necessary

If the password is unknown, recover the NTLM hash:

mimikatz # lsadump::sam /system:SYSTEM /SAM:SAM
RID  : 000003e8 (1000)
User : foo
  Hash NTLM: 31d6cfe0d16ae931b73c59d7e0c089c0

For domain accounts, you'll only need the NTLM hash (/hash:xx); for local accounts, you'll need either the corresponding password (/password:xx) or its SHA1 hash (/hash:xx), which means knowing, cracking, or looking it up:1

5. Decrypt the master key

In this example, we have a local account with an NTLM hash of 31d6cfe0d16ae931b73c59d7e0c089c0, which corresponds to a blank password and a SHA1 hash of da39a3ee5e6b4b0d3255bfef95601890afd80709:

mimikatz # dpapi::masterkey /in:"Protect\S-1-5-21-3425643682-3879794161-2639006588-1000\92f17fce-aae6-488b-9fd8-7774c6c3eb16" /hash:da39a3ee5e6b4b0d3255bfef95601890afd80709
[masterkey] with hash: da39a3ee5e6b4b0d3255bfef95601890afd80709 (sha1 type)
  key : 6e24723a56a885fc957f25d4872cbbf10589b1f08033d32174ef3618a192f0e101e41196ca76d689057737429af000af2d7e19497ef2151344dfdfdfb9a6bfd0
  sha1: 4505118da94b7df471bbbcf6d2c6c744a612e62b

6. Decrypt the private key

mimikatz # dpapi::capi /in:"Crypto\RSA\S-1-5-21-3425643682-3879794161-2639006588-1000\43838b0ac634d4f965f7c24f0fa91b2b_a55eeef9-ab65-4716-a466-adfc937caecd" /masterkey:4505118da94b7df471bbbcf6d2c6c744a612e62b
        Private export : OK - 'raw_exchange_capi_0_d209e940-6952-4c9d-b906-372d5a3dbd50.pvk'

7. Build PFX certificate

with OpenSSL:2

openssl.exe x509 -inform DER -outform PEM -in 096BA4D021B50F5E78F2B9854A7461678EDAA006.der -out public.pem

openssl.exe rsa -inform PVK -outform PEM -in raw_exchange_capi_0_d209e940-6952-4c9d-b906-372d5a3dbd50.pvk -out private.pem
writing RSA key

openssl.exe pkcs12 -in public.pem -inkey private.pem -password pass:bar -keyex -CSP "Microsoft Enhanced Cryptographic Provider v1.0" -export -out cert.pfx

8. Install PFX certificate

certutil -user -p bar -importpfx cert.pfx NoChain,NoRoot
Certificate "user" added to store.
CertUtil: -importPFX command completed successfully.

9. Access your files!

Your files should now be accessible, but you may want to take this opportunity to decrypt them:

cipher /d "D:\Users\foo\Pictures\secret.jpg"

cipher /d /s:"D:\Users\foo\Pictures\"

(or right click → Advanced → uncheck "Encrypt contents to secure data" → OK).


  1. Benjamin mentions a few other possibilities: domain backup key, CREDHIST, and extracting NTLM & SHA1 hashes along with masterkeys from a full memory dump.

  2. 3gstudent suggests using cert2spc.exe and pvk2pfx.exe instead of openssl.exe:

    cert2spc.exe 096BA4D021B50F5E78F2B9854A7461678EDAA006.der public.spc
    pvk2pfx.exe -pvk raw_exchange_capi_0_d209e940-6952-4c9d-b906-372d5a3dbd50.pvk -pi test -spc public.spc -pfx cert.pfx -f

    A potential downside of this approach is having to download the 810MB Windows 10 SDK rather than a 2MB OpenSSL binary; on the other hand, you don't have to trust a third party. Mount the Windows 10 SDK ISO and extract cert2spc.exe and pvk2pfx.exe via lessmsi; find cert2spc.exe in Installers\Windows SDK Signing Tools-x86_en-us.msi (ARM, x64, and x86 versions included) and pvk2pfx.exe in Installers\Windows SDK Desktop Tools x86-x86_en-us.msi, Installers\Windows SDK Desktop Tools x64-x86_en-us, and Installers\Windows SDK Desktop Tools arm64-x86_en-us.msi.



created: 2019.10.18, updated: 2022.11.19