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Back up your Microsoft encryption keys

A corrupted file could destroy a private key and make encrypted files unaccessible to even the key holder.

If you're concerned about security and have followed some of our previous tips, you may have encrypted some or...

all of the folders in your Windows 2000 computers. Microsoft's built-in encryption does a lot to protect your data, by allowing only the user who encrypted a file or folder or drive to then decrypt it. While this is a great thing, it does have one downside: It's possible, however remote, that some bit of file corruption could destroy your private key, which allows you to decrypt files. If this were to happen, you would then be unable to use any of your own files that you've encrypted.

The solution to this is to make a backup of your keys. You do this from the Microsoft Management Console. If you don't already have it, add the Certificates Snap-in to your MMC by selecting "Add/Remove Snap-in" from the Console menu. Then select Add, highlight Certificates and press Add, then Close and Ok. Next, open the MMC and choose Certificates. Browse through Personal and Certificates to see your certificates on the right pane. Once you see them, right click and choose All Tasks, then Export. This opens the Certificate Export wizard. Follow the directions from there, but be sure to export your private key, then copy it to a floppy disk or some other removable media.

If you ever have such a glitch that makes the system unable to access your encrypted files, you can then import the private key by opening the MMC, selecting Certificates, Personal, and then right clicking on the Certificates directory. This will give you the option to import.

About the author
Thomas Alexander Lancaster IV is a consultant and author with over ten years of experience in the networking industry, focused on Internet infrastructure.
This was last published in January 2003

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