Resetting Forgotten Windows Password

Category: Windows

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 deals with Windows 7 because most of my readers still use it. Resetting passwords in Windows 10 will be a future topic.

Forgot Windows Password

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 PC to which you have access; it can be used on any Windows 7 PC. 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

D:

cd windows\system32

ren utilman.exe utilman.exe.bak

copy cmd.exe utilman.exe

Enter exit to exit from the command prompt and reboot again. 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 accessiblity 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:

net user

You should memorize the new password you set for your username. Then, undo the changes you made to system files by entering these commands:

cd windows\system32

del utilman.exe

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...

 
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Most recent comments on "Resetting Forgotten Windows Password "

Posted by:

Dave S
14 Nov 2017

Bob,
You mention Windows 7. What about Windows 10? I cannot remember my local log-in though I do login with my Microsoft login. Any way to get in outside of the MS login?


Posted by:

Nigel A
14 Nov 2017

I use Passwords plus to store my passwords. It synchronises to my PC, laptop, tablet and phone. So if I forget the password for one device, I can look it up on another. Provided, of course, that I don't forget the master password for Password Plus. Or worse, forget the passwords for all devices at the same time - now that would be a really bad day.


Posted by:

tony
14 Nov 2017

Hi Bob,
I too would appreciate instructions on how to reset PW on Windows 10
Thanks


Posted by:

Todd
14 Nov 2017

Ditto what Dave and Bob said about instructions for Win 10. Thank you for all your great advice.


Posted by:

Julie
14 Nov 2017

While I am not yet at the stage where I have forgotten my Windows 10 password - I still have sticky notes - I HAVE forgotten the one to my old XP computer...


Posted by:

Wayne
14 Nov 2017

"This article deals with Windows 7 because most of my readers still use it."

Not Windows 10? That is very surprising!


Posted by:

Lady Fitzgerald
14 Nov 2017

More people use Win 7 than use Win 10.


Posted by:

Herbk98
14 Nov 2017

Bob - really looking forward to the Win10 procedure - sure could have used it two weeks ago - had to reload software!!! Luckily, everything was backed up.


Posted by:

Andrew
14 Nov 2017

This is What Bob said at the end of paragraph 4:
Resetting passwords in Windows 10 will be a future topic.


Posted by:

Tori
14 Nov 2017

I had to get into my FIL's Windows 10 computer (which I didn't set up) yesterday. Nobody knew the password/PIN. I ended up going to the link to recover the account with Microsoft. It sent a link to the email address used to set up his account and gave a code to get into the account and then set up a new password. It was obnoxious and required the use of another computer to do it, but it was simple to do.

This is the link to the Microsoft "Recover Your Account" page: https://account.live.com/acsr


Posted by:

bb
14 Nov 2017

For all that asked: Windows 10 password reset may or may not work using the above method. It works for local accounts, but not for Microsoft Account logins; the latter which are the Microsoft-preferred method for Windows 10. In those cases, *Microsoft* holds the password, not the computer. One must know if your are using a local account or a Microsoft account for Win8 or 10.

A local Win10 password can be reset exactly the same way as Win7 providing you can figure out a way to boot the rescue disk. The problem (or the enhanced security factor of Win10) is "secure boot", a feature that expressly stops booting from unknown devices.

There are ways around secure boot but all require UEFI/BIOS changes. And that, of course, is different for every computer. As you can guess, the decision tree gets deep fast.

A SF author I like often said, "If you don't know what you're doing, ask someone that does." In this case, take the locked computer to a experienced computer technician. Unlocking Windows computers is common and should not be expensive; $35 to $50 is common.


Posted by:

pmwill
15 Nov 2017

Great topic Dave. Your info is not wasted on me,
I have wanted to understand for quite some time why it wasn't that simple to change my Windows 7 pass word. And as I get older maybe I will forget my pass word. I will save this information to a safe place I can access in case of such an event or maybe I just want to redo my pass word.
Thanks as Always,
Phil


Posted by:

RandiO
15 Nov 2017

Okay!
So then, the recommended "best practices" for passwords are:
* non-trivial
* probably hard to remember
* isn’t written down on a sticky note
* [isn't] attached to your monitor, and
* you change it every so often.
If a user follows the first 4 recommendations, then the 5th one truly becomes superfluous, especially in light of the 'how to' article on readily changing it, and at whim. Passworded UEFI, passworded TPM, and BitLocker encrypted drives (together) are about the safest means of protection without fuss, at the current time. Surely, it doesn't take a rocket scientist for remembering few unique/complex passwords.


Posted by:

Joe London
15 Nov 2017

Bob - Very useful instructions indeed looking forward to the Windows 10 procedure.

Thank you,

Joe.


Posted by:

Ken
15 Nov 2017

Adding my vote to those asking for a tutorial covering windows 10, Please!


Posted by:

Arlen
16 Nov 2017

Followed the tutorial but it didn't allow me to reset Microsoft account password. Eventually I managed to bypass the login screen with PCUnlocker UEFI version. So I think the method included in your tutorial only works with local account. Is it right? Thanks in advance!


Posted by:

Melanie Goddard
18 Nov 2017

I second the comment by Nigel A - I use Roboform Everywhere, and it has saved my bacon on several occasions. It syncs to all my devices, and therefore is accessible on any one of them, even if I have locked myself out of one of them. So, I have turned to Roboform on my phone to recover the info I needed to get into my laptop, or I have used the phone version to "remember" my ATM password, etc! I am very happy with Roboform, which my husband and I share across Mac and PC devices.


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