SQL Server Reporting Services Error cannot decrypt the symmetric encryption key & website declined to show this web page

One of our “big and important” clients has approached us with an issue with their system. The problem is that reports are not accessible from the .NET application and CRM that we have built for them. If you try to open reports from these, you get the error in Internet Explorer saying “Website declined to show this webpage. The website requires you to login”. We were getting this error with everything related to reporting services. So when logged on the reports server machine, those urls:  http://localhost/reports , http://localhost/reportserver , http://localhost/reportsmanager all come back with this error or with the error 403 forbidden “Error 403 Forbidden access”.

To rectify this issue, I went through all the usual possible routes such as authentication on IIS, reports server and reports website on IIS. Made sure that all the application and system users have the right access to the reports server. Checked the application pool for the reports server, all these looked find with nothing that has been unchanged. I have also tried to check the reports server configuration manager. Went through all the usual steps to check that it is running and configured properly and again these were all fine with the nice green tick next to each step of the reports server configuration manager. I have also checked services running on the server and the server even viewer. All windows services and SQL reporting server services were running correctly and can be restarted with no issue.

 Then, a colleague of mine, tried to open reports from the management studio, and that was it. The error we got in the management studio was much more descriptive and helpful. The SSRS reports server management studio error said:

The report server cannot decrypt the symmetric key used to access sensitive or encrypted data in a report server database. You must either restore a backup key or delete all encrypted content. Report server disabled”

The problem here is because that the Reporting Services encryption key has been invalidated, in other words corrupted. This encryption key is stopping reporting services from returning any reports or even displaying the reports manager, etc..

To fix this issue, and after some research, there were two solutions to solve this issue (again solutions found by my colleague, not me!):

Solution1: In SSRS 2005, there is the encryption section on the left hand side.  We need to go to this section and restore the encryption key using a backup encryption key. The encryption key should probably (and hopefully) have been backed up during the setup of the Reporting Services. This encryption key should be regularly backed up and stored in a safe location along with the encryption key password. If you got this backup encryption key, and to solve this error, we need to restore it from the Reporting Services Configuration Manager, encryption section.

If you you don’t have backup of it, then you will have to go for the other longer and more annoying option which is:

Solution2You have to delete the encrypted content. This will remove the connection strings from all the reporting services data sources. Hence, in this case and after removing the encryption and generating a new one, you need to reset the data sources in Report Manager. Datasources could be shared (linked) or could be a separate data source for each report. You will need and update all these data sources after you removed the encryption.


Luckily! Our good client had the backup of the encryption key, so we only needed to do solution one (Thank God for that!). Well, to be fair, they searched on the server and found a file with extension ” *.snk “ on their server and it was the encryption key backup.

All SSRS encryption keys have file extension .snk.

That’s it.. problem solved. Thanks again to my colleagues work on these solutions.


2 Replies to “SQL Server Reporting Services Error cannot decrypt the symmetric encryption key & website declined to show this web page”

  1. Thanks, This post helps me to solve my symmetric key issue. I took the Solution #2. I did discuss the solution as mentioned here on my Blog. SSRS: How to solve Symmetric key issue with SSRS 2008R2?.

    Thanks a bunch

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