How to Recover Data from an Encrypted Drive on Mac

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Written By Michael Gilmer

A certified data recovery specialist, this guide aims to provide you with expert advice on MAC data recovery.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you’ve lost important files from an encrypted drive on your Mac? You’re not alone. Many people think that recovering data from an encrypted drive is impossible, but that’s not the case. This guide aims to provide you with the most current and reliable information on encrypted drive recovery, including the importance of having a strong password and Recovery Key. We’ll also delve into compatibility issues with macOS Big Sur and macOS Monterey.

What is Encryption and Why is it Important?

Encryption is a security measure that converts your data into unreadable code to prevent unauthorized access. On a Mac, you can use FileVault to encrypt your hard drive, adding an extra layer of security. This level of security is crucial for protecting your storage devices, especially in an era where cyber threats are rampant.

FileVault and mac OS Compatibility

FileVault is compatible with macOS Sierra and later versions. However, the encryption process may vary slightly depending on your macOS version.

Methods to Encrypt and Decrypt Storage Drive on Mac

You can use Disk Utility or FileVault for encryption and decryption. For advanced users, command line methods like “diskutil” are also available. These methods can be particularly useful for encrypting external storage drives and USB flash drives.

Example: Encrypting an External Drive using Disk Utility

  1. Open Disk Utility.
  2. Select the external drive from the left pane.
  3. Click on “Erase,” and choose “Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted).”
  4. Enter a password and confirm.

Why Encryption is a Double-Edged Sword

Encryption is a powerful tool for safeguarding your data against unauthorized access. However, this very strength can become a weakness when you need to recover lost or deleted files. This is where recovery software programs like Stellar Data Recovery and Disk Drill come into play. These tools offer advanced disk technology that can penetrate encrypted layers with the correct password or recovery key.

Common Reasons for Data Loss on Encrypted Drives

Data loss on encrypted drives can occur for various reasons, including:

  • System crashes
  • Accidental deletion
  • Malware attacks
  • Hardware failure
  • Software updates
  • Power failure
  • Virus attacks

Each of these scenarios requires a different approach for recovery, making the process complex.

Can an Encrypted Hard Drive be Recovered?

Yes, it’s possible to recover an encrypted hard drive, but the process is more complicated than standard data recovery. You’ll need the correct password or recovery key to decrypt the drive. Recovery experts often use specialized tools like UFS Explorer Professional Recovery to aid in these recovery efforts.

Compatibility Note

Ensure that the recovery software you choose is compatible with your macOS version. For instance, Stellar Data Recovery is compatible with macOS 10.9 and above.

Importance of Passwords and Recovery Keys

Having a strong password or recovery key is crucial for both security and recovery. Make sure to keep these credentials safe and accessible. A master password or correct user password can be a lifesaver in times of need.

Tip: Using a Password Manager

Consider using a password manager to securely store your passwords and recovery keys.

How to Unlock an Encrypted Drive on Mac

To unlock an encrypted drive on Mac, restart your Mac and hold down Command-R to enter macOS Recovery. Use Disk Utility to mount the encrypted drive and enter your password or recovery key when prompted. This is an essential step in the recovery process.

mac OS Recovery and Different Mac Models

The steps to enter macOS Recovery may differ slightly depending on your Mac model. For example, on a 2016-2017 MacBook touch bar model, you’ll need to hold down Command-R as well as the Touch ID button.

How to Use Disk Utility for Encryption and Decryption

Disk Utility is a built-in tool on Mac that can be used for both encrypting and decrypting drives. Simply follow the on-screen instructions to complete the process. This tool is part of the macOS Utilities and can handle various disk formats, including Mac OS Extended and APFS.

Step-by-Step Guide to Recovering Data from an Encrypted Drive

To recover data from an encrypted drive, download and install your chosen recovery software. Launch the software and select the encrypted drive from the list. Enter the password to decrypt the drive and initiate a scan to locate lost or deleted files. Deep scans are often more effective but take more time.

Steps for Data Recovery from Encrypted Drives

  1. Start the recovery software.
  2. Select the encrypted drive from the left pane.
  3. Enter the password to decrypt.
  4. Initiate a quick scan or deep scan based on your needs.
  5. Preview and select recoverable files.
  6. Save to a different safe location, preferably an external backup disk.

Troubleshooting Tips

If you encounter issues during the recovery process, here are some troubleshooting tips:

  • Incorrect Password: Make sure you’re entering the correct password or Recovery Key.
  • Software Compatibility: Ensure the recovery software is compatible with your Mac’s operating system.
  • Drive Not Recognized: If the drive isn’t recognized, try connecting it to another port or computer.
  • Incomplete Recovery: If the recovery is partial, try running the software again or use a different recovery tool like EaseUS Data Recovery Services.

Command Line Methods for Advanced Users

If you’re comfortable with the terminal, some command-line methods can help troubleshoot issues. You can use diskutil or diskutil apfs for more advanced options, such as repairing disk permissions.

Software Options for Encrypted Drive Recovery

There are several software options available for encrypted drive recovery on Mac, such as Do Your Data Recovery and Disk Drill. These programs offer a range of features, including the ability to scan encrypted drives and recover lost files. Recoverit Data Recovery and iBoysoft Data Recovery for Mac are other options worth considering.

Comparative Analysis of Recovery Software

While we’ve listed some of the best software options for encrypted drive recovery, it’s essential to compare them based on your specific needs. For instance, Disk Drill offers advanced scanning algorithms but comes at a higher price point, while iBoysoft provides a free trial with limited recovery options.

Best Software for Encrypted Drive Recovery on Mac

When it comes to encrypted drive recovery on a Mac, choosing the right software is crucial for a successful outcome. Below are some of the best options available:

  • Disk Drill
  • Do Your Data Recovery
  • UFS Explorer
  • Stellar Data Recovery
  • iBoysoft Data Recovery

Future Trends in Encrypted Drive Recovery

As technology advances, we can expect more sophisticated yet user-friendly encrypted drive recovery solutions. Features like automated recovery, cloud-based options, and even AI-driven algorithms could revolutionize the way we recover data from encrypted drives.


Encrypted drive recovery on Mac may seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and knowledge, it’s entirely possible. Whether you’ve forgotten your password or lost data due to a system failure, this guide has you covered. So, don’t lose hope; follow these steps and recover your precious data today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you recover an encrypted hard drive?

Yes, it is possible to recover an encrypted hard drive, but the process is more complex compared to standard data recovery.

You’ll need the correct password or recovery key to decrypt the drive. Specialized software tools can assist in the recovery process, provided you have the necessary credentials.

Do you need a password for recovery?

Yes, a password or a recovery key is essential for decrypting an encrypted drive. Without it, the chances of successful data recovery are extremely low.

It’s crucial to keep your password or recovery key in a secure location for situations like this. Some recovery services may offer solutions, but these are usually costly and not guaranteed to work.

Is specialized software necessary?

Yes, specialized software is generally required for encrypted drive recovery. These programs are designed to navigate through the encryption layer, allowing you to access and recover your files.

Examples of such software include Disk Drill, Stellar Data Recovery, and UFS Explorer. Make sure the software you choose is compatible with your macOS version.

How do you unlock an encrypted drive on Mac?

You can unlock an encrypted drive on Mac through macOS Recovery. To do this, restart your Mac and hold down Command-R to enter the macOS Recovery environment.

Once there, you can use Disk Utility to mount the encrypted drive. You’ll be prompted to enter your password or recovery key, which is essential for the decryption and subsequent data recovery process.