MICRO CENTER: COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS
Random Access   chris, kp & rob
Geek Candy
Reset Lost Windows Passwords
by rob

Here at Random Access, we get emails all the time asking how to access a computer when someone has lost their Windows password. There are several legitimate scenarios when you need to basically hack your own computer.

"I've forgot my Administrator password on Windows Vista, can you help me out?"
"My employee quit on me without telling me her password. How can I get access?"

Today, I'll walk you through how to regain access to a Windows account with Offline NT Password & Registry Editor.

As with any administrator tool, this editor should be used for good, not evil. Don't use this information to break into a computer belonging to a spouse, friend, enemy or otherwise. Gaining access to a system that is not yours is bad and possibly illegal.

The free program Offline NT Password & Registry Editor allows you to reset or change a user's password without needing to know the old password. You will need physical access to the target computer (you can't do this over a network) and access to a second computer to download files and create a boot floppy or CD.

Caution: Changing or resetting the password for a user that has EFS encrypted files will make those files unreadable since the OS uses the old password to encrypt the keys associated with the files. The only way to recover this data is to remember the old password.

Head to the website and download either the CD or floppy disk version of the program. The CD version requires you to burn an ISO image file onto a disc. You can use pretty much any CD burning software.

With the boot disc in hand, insert the disc into the target computer and restart. If the computer doesn't boot from the disc, you'll have to enter the BIOS settings (when prompted during system startup) and make sure the CD drive is part of the boot order.

Once the disc is booted, it will run a version of Linux with all the command line beauty of the 1980s. While all the text on the screen may look intimidating, there are only a few easy steps to follow. Part of the instructions of the program include the helpful line, "DON’T PANIC!! - Most questions can usually be answered with the default answer which is given in [brackets]. Just press enter/return to accept the default answer." This was the case in my tests.

1) The program will boot and search the computer's hard drive for Windows partitions and will list all that it finds. In the example below, there are two partitions. Selecting a partition sends you to the next step.
Step 1

2) After sucessfully mounting the partition, it prompts you for a path to the registry files. As the program said, the default answer in the brackets was correct.
Step 2

3) Select which part of the registry we want to load. We're interested in password reset, selection 1.
Step 3

4) Then select option 1, edit user data and passwords.
Step 4

5) Here you will see a list of all users on this partition. Type in the name of the user to get to the next step.
Step 5

6) This screen shows the selected user information. Selection 1 will clear the user's password. According to the program itself, clearing a password is more reliable (especially on XP systems) than editing the password.
Step 6

Password cleared!

7) You're not done yet. The changes are only saved in memory and have not been written back to the registry. To make the changes official, quit the user editing (type ! and hit Enter).

6) This prompt makes sure you want to save the changes to the registry. Type y to make it so.
Step 8

That's it. Just reboot the computer and the user account in question will have no password.

Hopefully this little program will save you from spending hours rebuilding an inaccessable system or trying some other trick that might or might not work.

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