Most passwords aren’t that difficult to reset, particularly those online. There is one that can give you trouble, however – your Windows login password. If you forget this you will be locked out of your account and unable to access all of the files and software specifically tied to that account.
Unlocking your computer won’t be easy, but it is possible. Let’s take a look at how you can access your system even if the login has been forgotten.
Resetting Your Windows Login Password – The Super Legit Way
Windows has a built-in password reset feature. It would be rather pointless if anyone could reset it, so you have to do the preparation before you forget your login if you want to be able to use this feature. This consists of creating a password recovery disk, which can be any removable USB drive or even a floppy disk. Please note the instructions here apply to Windows Vista/7.
To begin, do a Windows Search for Password Reset Disk. You should see “Create a password reset disk” as your first option. Select it.
This will open the Forgotten Password Wizard. The introductory screen explains the basics, and once you’ve read it, click next. Here you can select the disk that you want to use for password recovery. Since only removable drives can be used, only they will appear as an option. Select a drive and click next.
On the next screen you will have to enter your current password. Do this and click next to begin creation of the password recovery disk. This will likely be a fast progress – it literally took five seconds on my PC. And you’re done.
Resetting your Windows login is now easy as pie. Just click the “reset password” link below the login screen and follow the on-screen steps. You’ll have to select the appropriate disk and then enter a new password. Presto! Your computer is unlocked.
Resetting Your Windows Password – The Not-So-Legit Way
Using the password reset disk is just fine if you have prepared beforehand, but if you are reading this article, I’d say there is a fair chance that you didn’t. I don’t blame you. Windows doesn’t remind users to create a reset disk.
If you are locked out of Windows without the legitimate recovery option you will have to turn to a third-party password cracking tool. The best free option is Ophcrack, a tool which uses something called a “rainbow table” to guess your password.
To use Ophcrack, you must download the .ISO and then burn it to a CD. This creates a live cd that you can boot from. Most computers are set to boot from any bootable CD by default, but you may need to change your BIOS options so that your optical drive is first in your boot order. There are separate versions for Windows XP and Windows Vista (the Vista version should work with Windows 7) so make sure you download the correct one.
Once you boot via the Ophcrack Live CD you need to select a mode. The default is “automatic” and that is what you should generally use. The software will run through several more steps, which include black screens with running lines of text, before entering into the Ophcrack menu and beginning the cracking process. Don’t be alarmed – things are working as intended. Once a password is cracked it appear in the right-hand column on the main window.
There are some severe limitations to what this tool can do. Ophcrack won’t work against strong passwords that use many random characters – particularly if you are trying to crack a Vista/7 password. The cracking process can take some time, as well, depending on the password you are trying to crack. Simple passwords tend to be quick – complex passwords take more time.
Another problem is lack of support. There aren’t many solutions if you run into a bug or error, and since the software runs by booting into a Linux environment, troubleshooting can be particularly tough if you don’t know much about Linux (like me). If you are running in to any problems with the tool, try Ophcrack’s FAQ wiki page.
These methods can work, but they’re not perfect. Recovering your Windows password via the legitimate method requires preparation. Ophcrack, on the other hand, is open source software with poor support that has difficulty with complex passwords.
If you used a complex password on a Windows Vista/7 machine you may be out of luck. This means you may need to reinstall Windows. Don’t forget to recover your files before you reinstall.