Recover Files From Imported Hard Drive

There have been many times when I ran into computer users stuck upon a problem with transferring or accessing files on a hard drive they have imported from a broken computer. If you do not have the correct permissions, then you will be denied access to the files even though you own the hard drive! In this guide, I will show a very simple and common solution on how to bypass those access permissions so that you can once again work with your files.

Access Denied

That is what the error message will look like if you try to access a file that you do not have permission to. One of the most common scenario is when you have a computer that physically isn’t able to start-up and you want to access the files on the hard drive on another computer. Before I start talking about the error message, I want to explain a little on file permissions.

Although the topic on file permissions can get complicated really fast, what you need to know is that they help you protect your files and documents. By setting the right permissions on files and folders, you have a way to limit access to those data to only the people you deem necessary on your home computer. For example, say that your home computer has 3 different user accounts. One is your own, the other is your daughter and the other is your son’s user account. Let’s say you have a file that you only want to share with your son, but not your daughter. With file permissions, you can alter the access security list so that your son has access to those files but your daughter is strictly prohibited.

The next thing you need to know is that for every computer account your create on a computer, the computer creates and attaches a very special number called the RID to that user account. This RID is how the computer actually identifies you. Anytime that you physically detach the hard drive and plug it into another computer to try and access those files, you will get denied even if the computer user account you are using has the same username and password as the user account of the second hard drive. That is because no user account ever has the same RID number even if you try as closely as possible to create an account with all the same settings as the other.

Now that we have a little understanding of how those permissions work, I will now explain the methods you can use to connect a hard drive from a broken computer to a working computer. Obviously you will need to be able to physically take out the hard drive from the broken computer first. Consult your laptop documentation for procedures. Once you get the hard drive out, you can now connect it to a working computer (bootable into the Windows environment) for file retrieval. The first method is to simply open up your desktop computer and mount the hard drive to it. Of course, your desktop computer must support the connection method of the hard drive you wish to install. Usually, this will be a PATA connection for older hard drives and a SATA connection for newer hard drives. The second method is to buy a external hard drive enclosure. These allow you to connect your internal hard drive into an enclosure and connect it to your computer via USB connection. This in essence will turn your once internal hard drive into a external hard drive. Here is an example of how an enclosure looks like and can be found here:

Enclosure Case

The last method is to buy a simple adapter that will transform whatever connection the hard drive uses to USB. Once you connect the adapter, the hard drive once again turns into ‘sort of’ a external hard drive. The difference between this method and the external hard drive enclosure method is that the adapter is just that. An adapter. The hard drive won’t have any kind of protection against dust or other harmful particles because it doesn’t have any housing to store the hard drive. Here is a picture of how the adapter looks like and where they can be bought:

Hard Disk Adapter

Once you have the hard drive connected to a functioning computer, you should then be able to see the hard drive show up in My Computer. You can now attempt to browse around but sooner or later, you will hit a roadblock and see the same error message as I’ve posted above. To get around this problem, you simply need to ‘take ownership’ of the files and folders. By dong so, you are now telling the hard drive that you are the new owner and that you should be able to do whatever you want with the files.
This guide is shown for the XP operating system but it should be similar for Vista users as well.

# The prerequisites
For XP Home users, you must login with an administrator account in ‘Safe Mode’. If you are using XP Professional or Vista, than just log in to an account with administrator privileges. You must then disable Simple File Sharing. To do so, simply open up any folder (My Computer will do fine as well), click on the ‘Tools’ menu option on top and then select the ‘Folder Options’ option. Now click on the View tab, scroll to the bottom and then uncheck the ‘Use Simple File Sharing’ option.

# Taking ownership of the file or folder
Now we will take ownership. By doing so, we are specifying that a account on the computer you are using now to be the new owner of the files and folders you choose. In this situation, you usually would want to take ownership of a folder which essentially means all of the files and subfolders of that folder. If not, you would have to repeat the procedure for every individual file and that’s not recommended!
1. Right click on the folder you wish to own and then select ‘Properties’ from the menu
2. Click on the ‘Security’ tab and then hit the Advanced button. This step wouldn’t work if you haven’t disabled Simple File Sharing.
3. Click on the ‘Owner’ tab.
4. In the Owner’s box, you should see your username or the Administrator’s group. Select your username.
5. Select the checkbox on the bottom which says ‘Replace owner on subcontainers and objects’. This step is really important! Hit OK and you should receive a warning message. Just hit OK as well to proceed.

That’s it! Now, browse back to the folder and you should now be able to access your previous files. While you normally wouldn’t need to take ownerships of files in your every day task, you will need to perform this when you plug in another hard drive from another computer. As you can see, taking ownerships of the files is relatively easy. This points out another fact. If a novice computer thief somehow steals your laptop or computer, they can easily view your files without needing to crack any passwords at all! They just need to yank out the hard drive from the stolen computer, connect it to their own computer using one of the methods I’ve described above and then take ownership of the files and folders and that’s it! In order to protect your documents from strangers, you will need to deploy encryption techniques which I’ll cover in the future.

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