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In fall 2019, I had my personal laptop stolen from my car. It was password protected. It hadn't occurred to me to set up a hard drive encryption program.

I am wondering, if the thief were to take my computer apart, and extract my solid-state drive, could they access the files inside, without a password?


Computer Specifics

I wanted to keep this question generic. However, in case anyone asks, here's my old laptop's information:

  • Manufacturer: HP
  • Model: OMEN 17-w151nr
  • Purchase Date: November 2016
  • OS: Windows 10 Home 64-bit

I had never manually enabled device encryption. I am unsure if it would have been automatically enabled from the manufacturer.

2 Answers 2

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Yes, absolutely. You could even do this by booting to a live-CD/USB version of linux and access the windows filesystem that way. The only thing the password does is prevent users of that operating system to log in and make system changes. Without hard drive encryption it basically appears as a giant drive with all your files and folders on it.

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    You do need to take ownership of the user files first to see them. But that's automatically asked when trying to access them and windows even does it for you.
    – Natsu Kage
    Feb 2, 2020 at 3:53
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    @NatsuKage A Linux NTFS driver can be told to ignore the file permissions and make all files and directories accessible to a particular Linux user or group - and I'm sure a Windows system with a suitable forensic utility program can do the same thing, e.g. using the same mechanism that allows backup programs on Windows to access anything and everything on the disk. So it's definitely possible to do it without changing ownerships or otherwise making any modifications.
    – telcoM
    Feb 2, 2020 at 18:20
  • Attach the drive to a Mac & 'ignore ownership' is just a checkbox in the drive info. Done. Pwned. Simples. [& any other meme you care to apply to it].
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 2, 2020 at 18:34
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Absolutely! And to make this clear, solid state drives are unable to be wiped like hard disk drives are. So even if you had deleted anything important prior to the theft, the data is still very much recoverable. Please consider changing all your important passwords/banking info ASAP!.

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  • You simply have to format it using all zeroes imo.
    – Natsu Kage
    Feb 3, 2020 at 4:13

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