Resetting Forgotten Windows Password
A reader asked recently, “Bob have you ever written an article on how to get into my computer if I forgot my password?” For a couple of reasons, I have steered away from doing so. But I think it's time to remedy that right now...
Hmmm... Monkey315? Hotdog52? Dang it!
If you have followed the “best practices” that I always recommend, your Windows password is non-trivial and probably hard to remember. It isn’t written down on a sticky note attached to your monitor, and you change it every so often.
But what happens when the little grey cells won't cooperate, and you can't login to your Windows computer? You could also be facing this problem if you purchased or inherited a used computer, and the login password is not available.
A password manager like RoboForm won’t help you because it runs under Windows and you can’t get into Windows. So if you forget your Windows password, as many people do every day, what can you do to regain access to your PC? The answer depends on what version of Windows you are using. This article was originally written for Windows 7, but the technique also works for Windows 10 and Windows 11.
You will need a System Repair Disc. Don’t panic if you don’t have one when you forget your password. You can create a System Repair Disc using any other Windows 7/10/11 PC to which you have access. Note that you will need a blank CD or DVD disc and a read/write CD/DVD drive; a USB flash drive will not work
Click Start and enter “system repair” in the search box; the first result will be “Create a System Repair Disc.” Click on that label to start the System Repair Disc Wizard. It will ask you to insert a blank CD/DVD in one of the available drives. Then, just follow the simple instructions and you’ll have a System Repair Disc in about five minutes.
Using the System Repair Disk
Insert the System Repair Disc in your CD/DVD drive and restart your PC. If it does not boot from the CD/DVD drive, you’ll need to re-configure your PC’s BIOS to attempt booting from the CD/DVD drive before it tries your Windows drive. Here's how to do that:
Restart the PC again. In the first 2-3 seconds of the startup process you’ll see a quick message that tells you which key to press to enter “setup” of the BIOS. Usually, this message appears in the lower or upper left corner of the screen. If the message flashes by too fast for you to read it, try F2, F10, F12, Esc, or Del; one of those should do the trick.
In the BIOS setup utility, find the screen used to configure the order in which drives attempt to boot. Often, that screen is conveniently labeled “BOOT ORDER” or something similar. It may be hidden under “Advanced Options.”
Rearrange the order of the drives so that the CD/DVD drive tries to boot before your hard drive is tried. Save the changes, exit the BIOS setup utility, and let the PC boot again.
When the BIOS is set up correctly, your PC will boot from the CD/DVD drive and the keyboard/language setup screen will appear. (You may have to press Enter to boot to CD or DVD. Watch for this prompt during startup.) Select your language from the first screen, click Next, and the System Recovery Options screen will appear. Select your Windows installation and note its drive letter. It will be different from the letter you see when you are logged into Windows! Click Next when you’re ready.
Select “Command prompt” from the list of recovery options. At the command line, enter the following commands, pressing Enter after each line. NOTE: The drive letter in these commands must be the drive letter of your Windows installation, which you noted above. More often than not, it will be D: but substitute your Windows drive letter for D: if necessary
ren utilman.exe utilman.exe.bak
copy cmd.exe utilman.exe
Enter exit to exit from the command prompt and reboot again. (On Windows 11, hold down Shift while rebooting to enter Safe Mode.) At the login screen, click on the little icon in the lower left corner of the screen; alternatively, hold down the Windows key and press U. A command prompt will open.
Wait... What Happened?
Here is the trick we just pulled. Utilman.exe is a utility that enables users to configure accessibility options (Magnifier, High Contrast Theme, Narrator and On Screen Keyboard) before they log onto the system. We made a backup copy of utilman.exe, then copied cmd.exe over utilman.exe, effectively substituting a command prompt in place of accessibility options. Now we can access a command prompt without logging in.
To set a new password of “futureGeek$417” for username johndoe, enter the following at the command prompt and press Enter:
net user johndoe futureGeek$417
If your user name contains a space, put it in inside quotes like this:
net user "john doe" futureGeek$417
If you don’t remember your username, enter the following command at the command prompt to see all users on the machine:
You should memorize the new password you set for your username. Then, undo the changes you made to system files by entering these commands:
ren utilman.exe.bak utilman.exe
Exit from the command line. Remove the CD/DVD from its drive and reboot. When the login screen appears, your new password should work.
You may have picked up on the fact that this trick could enable someone you do not trust to gain access to your computer, and even lock you out by changing your password. If this is a flaw in Windows, then apparently Microsoft doesn't care, because it's been widely known for many years. That's why physical security is just as important as digital security. A locked door is better security than a Windows password.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 14 Nov 2017
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Resetting Forgotten Windows Password (Posted: 14 Nov 2017)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved