Thursday, November 20, 2008

Help with a lost Administrator password - Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008

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Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008

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Help with a lost Administrator password

QI recently got divorced. During the split, I ended up with the computer. The problem is I only have a Limited account. My ex-wife's account is the Administrator account. Unfortunately, she claims to have forgotten the password. I can't access many of the programs and photos on the computer. Can I get into the account without knowing the password?
—Michael in Memphis, TN, listening on WREC 600 AM

AI'm sorry to hear about your divorce. But I'm glad you asked this question. Being locked out of the Administrator account happens more than you think. I've gotten several questions on this very topic.

Now, I'm not encouraging anyone to hack into another's computer. But people do lose passwords. It can happen to anyone. And being stuck in a limited account isn't fun. Your computer loses a lot of functionality in that mode.

How-to ThursdayAlso, you'll see that a password is no panacea in Windows. Anybody who knows much at all can break it.

You can reset the Administrator password without knowing the current password. There are methods for both XP and Vista.

Windows XP is easy

Windows XP has a hidden Administrator account. It can be used to troubleshoot the computer's other accounts. That includes changing passwords. To get to it, you'll have to boot your computer in Safe Mode.

First, restart the computer. As it starts, repeatedly press the F8 key. Instead of the familiar Windows screen, you'll see a text-only Advanced Options Menu. Use the arrow keys to select Safe Mode. Then press Enter.

Select the Administrator account. By default on most computers, it requires no password. Once logged in, you can change the password of the account you normally use.

To make the change, click Start>>Run. In the box, type "control userpasswords2" (without the quotes) and click OK. Select your normal account name in the list. Click the Reset Password button. You'll be prompted for a new password. You can restart the computer and use the new password on the Administrator account.

Vista more difficult

Windows Vista is harder. There is a built-in password reset feature. But you have to plan to use it.

When you create the password, make a Password Reset disk. While logged into the Administrator account, click Start>>Control Panel. Click Classic View from the sidebar. Double-click User Accounts.

Select "Create a password reset disk." This will open the Forgotten Password Wizard. Insert a USB drive. Click Next. Select your USB drive from the dropdown menu. Click Next. Enter your current account password, and click Next. Finally, click Finish.

Store that USB drive somewhere safe. Dig it out if you forget your password. Try logging into your Administrator account with the wrong password. You'll be notified that the password is incorrect. Click OK.

A new button labeled "Reset password" appears below the password field. Click it. You'll be instructed to insert that USB drive. You'll then be able to reset the password.

Crack the password

So, let's say you never created a Password Reset disk in Vista. And the XP solution has been disabled. So, that may not work for you, either.

Your only other option is to crack the password. Several programs can be used. Try NT Password and Registry Editor or Login Recovery. You use these programs to burn a boot disk onto a CD. If you can't download programs in the limited account, use another computer.

Boot from the disk and follow the instructions. You'll be guided through changing the password.

Don't forget again

Windows can provide you with a password hint. This will help you remember your password if it slips your mind. You'll set it up by managing your password in Windows.

In XP, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click User Accounts. Select your account and click "Change my password." You'll be prompted for a new password. You'll also be able to enter your hint.

In Vista, click Start>>Control Panel. Click Classic View from the left sidebar. Select User Accounts. Select your user account and click "Change your password." You'll create your hint here.

If you enter the wrong password, you'll get your hint. Hopefully, the hint will still make sense to you.

You could also use a password manager. These programs allow you to store passwords in an encrypted vault. You'll only need to remember one password to access them all. Three free password managers are Keepass, LastPass and Password Safe.

More password and security advice:

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