How-To Geek

Back Up Your File Encryption Key in Windows Vista

Windows Vista includes a file encryption technology very similar from a user perspective to the one that existed in Windows XP, but Vista makes it very easy to make a backup of the file encryption key. In XP, your encrypted files would be lost if you changed your password. In Vista, an encryption key is used to sign the encrypted files, which also means it can be backed up.

It’s critically important that you make a backup of your encryption key if you decide to use the encryption features. Thankfully Vista reminds you immediately after the first time you encrypt a file.

To use the Wizard to back up the encryption key, just click on the popup notification when it comes up.

Select “Back up now” from the wizard screen.

Hit next…

You may as well select all the possible information to back up, in case you have multiple keys for some reason.

You’ll have to enter a password for the key. This password will be used if you try and restore the encryption key later. Make sure you choose a good password, and make sure that it’s also something you’ll remember. This is where a password safe application might help.

On the next screen, you can enter a filename, or you can click the Browse button and choose a folder location. (It was easier for me to click Browse) Type in the file name that you want here.

Hit next and then finish, and you should see that the export was succesful.

Now it’s very important to back that file up to somewhere safe. A spare USB drive wouldn’t be a bad idea.


Note: If you selected “Never Back Up”, or you just don’t see the popup notification, don’t fear, you can still back up the encryption key. Just open up Control Panel, and type in “certificate” (or the first few letters, as you can see below) 

Click on “Manage file encryption certificates” and then hit next on the resulting dialog window.

You should see a very simple screen that makes it easy to back up the encryption key in a single step. Honestly, I think this route is faster than using the other wizard, and it bugs me that they made two different screens to accomplish the same thing. 

Same as before, select a filename and password (Use the browse button to select the filename more easily)

Check the box for “I’ll update my encrypted files later”, because you aren’t actually changing the certificate at this point, just backing it up.

…make sure that you back up the key file safely.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 04/9/07

Comments (9)

  1. John

    I currently use XP Pro and encrypt files on internal and external drives. The same certificate is installed on three computers to make the files portable. Can the XP certificate be imported to a Vista system so that the files can also be used on the Vista systrem?


  2. Phunction

    I too would like to know if the certificate can be moved from xp to vista.

  3. JimS

    I use Vista Business 32 bit with no encryption (at least that Im aware of since this version does not include it and I’ve never set it up. On a normal bootup today, the warning to backup the encryption key appeared. I followed the wizard procedure and did so, without really understanding the need to do so. Later, I needed to access my networked printer’s browser-based management utilities. This involves typing the printer’s IP address in Firefox’s URL bar. I received, for the first time ever, a denial of access due to a certificate problem. What is going on?

  4. George

    Very nice and accurate. Found what I wanted in 2 secs :-)

  5. Joe Windows

    Oh. But only Vista Business has this feature. Home and Hoem premium dont have it. Those MSFT marketings hacks botch it yet again.

  6. Naveen

    5 days earlier i installed “Windows Vista ultimate” and i found that some of the files (.exe,.xls,.swf)which i had downloaded earlier in “Windows XP” through internet are showing access denied.

    while checking the file property i found that the file is encrypted and its showing my older certificate related to windows Xp.

    i am not abling to remove the certification and make new ownership in it.

    what is the Perfact way to open the content????

  7. Jordan

    Thank you sooo much as i accidently deleted the certificate and the backup for that certificate and didnt know how to create a new one

  8. Peter Panino

    “Thankfully Vista reminds you immediately after the first time you encrypt a file.”

    But how can I Back Up My File Encryption Key in Windows Vista if this was not the case?

  9. anant

    i have a problem…
    i have not encrypted any file..
    but then also this message appears..
    what should i do??
    ps: i have installed google desktop today.
    and from today its appearing..
    is google desktop a reason?
    thnx in advance!

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