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The unthinkable has happened: you’ve forgotten your Windows (XP or Vista) login password.  You’ve gone through multiple attempts at remembering what it was; you’ve even tried using the little hint you left in case this sort of thing ever happened, but you still can’t get in.

But don’t worry, all is not lost!  You do have a couple of options to get into your account.

The first thing to try is boot into safe mode, and attempt to log in as the administrator.  To do this, reboot the computer, and as soon it starts to power up, continually tap the F8 key until you are presented with a menu.  From that menu, you want to select to boot into Safe Mode.  Give it some time to load the necessary drivers, and you will be presented with the familiar account screen—with one difference: you should see Administrator listed as an available account.  If no user on the system has ever set up a password for the Administrator, you should be able to log in by simply selecting it.  Once in, you can change or remove the forgotten password through Control Panel.  Then, reboot the computer normally, and access your account.

Unfortunately, you may run into an obstacle.  If there has been a password set on the Administrator account, and you do not know it either, the previous method obviously will not work.  However, you still have options.

Offline NT Password and Registry Editor is a bootable utility you can use to change or “blank out” the password on a Windows user account.  The site lists the following features of the tool:

  • This is a utility to (re)set the password of any user that has a valid (local) account on your Windows NT/2k/XP/Vista etc system.
  • You do not need to know the old password to set a new one.
  • It works offline, that is, you have to shutdown your computer and boot off a floppydisk or CD or another system.
  • Will detect and offer to unlock locked or disabled out user accounts!
  • There is also a registry editor and other registry utilities that works under linux/unix, and can be used for other things than password editing.

Download the tool and burn it to a disc.  Then, reboot your computer and boot to the disc.  You may have to edit settings in the BIOS to do this.  Often, you can access the BIOS settings by pressing F10 or F12 during your computer’s startup process.  Make sure your CD drive is set as the first boot location.  Once booted to the disc, simply follow the on-screen instructions to remove an account’s password.

Sometimes, though, you don’t want to remove the account’s password.  Rather, it is desired to learn the account’s set password to log in.  For that, the tool Ophcrack can be used.  Ophcrack is a Windows password cracking tool that utilizes rainbow tables to recover lost passwords; and it is extremely fast.  How fast is it?  Jeff Atwood “[had it] crack the password “Fgpyyih804423” in 160 seconds.”  Thought you had a really strong password?  You might think again after seeing this tool.  The power behind it is rainbow tables (more info, even more info).  The tool is similar to the previous one, in that you boot to it from a CD.  It should automatically locate the password hashes, and then you can begin cracking.  If Ophcrack does not automatically load up the built-in rainbow tables, you can load them yourself by clicking ‘Tables’.  It will ask you where to look.  Point Ophcrack to

/mnt/live/mnt/hdX/ophcrack/tables/

Then, click ‘Crack’.  More likely than not, you will have your Windows password in a matter of minutes.

A lost password doesn’t mean a lost system.  With one of the mentioned methods, you should be back on your machine in no time!


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