Can't Login To Windows? How Can I Reset, Remove or Bypass The Password?
This is one of the most common problems and questions I get almost everyday! Even if you've lost or forgot your Administrator password there is hope and multiple solutions. Remember these methods are for "Local Passwords" only, not your Hotmail or Microsoft account (which I recommend that you DO NOT use for security reasons-will be doing more security related articles soon). This also applies to Active Directory but there are usually more steps that are required on top of it all.
There are both free and paid solutions and I'm just going to get into the few that I do use and talk about the pros and cons of each one.
For Windows 10 there seem to be separate guides showing that the process is different, in most cases they require you to have a Windows 10 .iso/install disc on hand ( a big pain if you don't have one or don't have fast enough internet to download a 4GB file and burn it).
Which versions of Windows do these guides apply to?
Windows 10, 8, 7, XP, 2000 and even NT!
Windows Server 2016, 2012, 2008, 2003 and 2000 (all versions).
What if I don't know the username or don't have an Administrator account?
Some of the options below will list the usernames on your system and actually the Administrator account is available in all Windows versions (but usually disabled by default). It can be enabled and accessible with the right software which is great if you just need to get in.
What are the limitations or when will these not work?
- If you have a physical hardware problem with your hard drive.
- If the hard drive is encrypted
- You will lose any natively encrypted account data (EFS) if using these options (in most cases).
How Do These Programs Work?
In general they access the SAM file and reset or remove the password.
Free is usually best and there are options that work but quite honestly I find them a pain when you just need to get things done. If you have time to invest with learning and tinkering around it is definitely interesting and fun but if you are on a deadline try to allocate a number of hours to get it done.
Before Peter Nordahl's ntpasswd was the free disc that everyone used. Unfortunately it seems quite out of date and most newer and recent computers simply do not work whether that be Windows 7,8 or 10. If it does boot you need to learn how to go through the menus and commands to remove or reset the password and then "save/writeback" the SAM file which is an exercise in itself (but easy enough if you use it everyday but also repetitive).
The CD version is the best, the USB version requires a lot of manual setup and commands to get going.
One other warning from the author is a bit concerning "THE AUTHOR IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE CAUSED BY THE (MIS)USE OF THIS SOFTWARE!"
hack and slash by yourself
Basically this trick has been around for ages since Vista, basically what you'll do is get the install disc for your Windows version, boot it and run recovery mode. From there you can replace the screensaver executable or the Language/Help executable with a straight command prompt and manually reset your password. This is only recommended for advanced users because I've seen many cases of hacked computers because the user forgot to restore things as they were (meaning anyone who has the screensaver popup or clicks on help on the login screen will be greeted with the same command prompt).
A Better Solution With More OS and Hardware Support
I have used many over the years but the one I currently use is the Windows Geeks tool which I feel is worth the small licensing fee. It is actively maintained and supported, and most importantly has worked on virtually any laptop, desktop or server I've tried it on. Their website claims their developers add-in support on a regular basis for all the new computer models and this has been my experience.
Key Reasons Why This is my Goto Tool
- Supports all Windows versions and almost every system out there (or in other words nothing else has more support).
- The same procedure for all versions of Windows (burn and boot). No hacking around with Linux or DOS commands.
- Automated Solution detects all accounts and removes all passwords without having to type any commands or press a single button on the keyboard!
Customization for Corporate Users
An unknown feature is that they can be paid to customize this software. I've used it over the network with hundreds of computers in the same office. It can be customized to even allow Windows File Sharing access to each one, to list out all the serial numbers of hard drives, wipe drives clean etc.. This is a bit pricey though because it is truly custom programming and cannot be done by the user.Windows Geeks in Action
Nothing fancy but it gets the job done as simple as below and works extremely well in my experience.
Prior to the booting phase you need to burn or setup the USB drive and tell your computer to boot from the CD or USB (make sure to follow the setup instructions as simply copying the files to USB or CD will not work. This is because the CD .iso must be burned in a special format and the USB must be formatted as a boot disc before the files are copied.
After rebooting you will be able to login as any local user. In this case the Administrator account is also able to login without any password as well (some Windows installs will require you to boot into Safe Mode to get into Administrator initially)