You’ve lost control. All the accounts you can access on your Windows computer aren’t Administrator accounts, meaning you’re helpless to install software, update drivers or do any kind of administration whatsoever. You can’t even install games. The humanity!
Don’t panic. There are more than a few tools for recovering a lost Windows Administrator password, so we can get you back into power over your computer in no time. Some methods are legit, but required you to have thought ahead (unlikely). Others are legit but only work for Windows 8. Two more methods are sort of hacking, but perfectly legal to use on your own computer.
Do not, and I mean do not, use this to access computers that aren’t yours. Just don’t.
Note: Windows Vista, 7 and 8 Don’t Have Administrator Accounts
Okay, so before we jump in here, let’s sort one thing out: since Vista, there hasn’t been a system-wide “‘Administrator password”. In Windows XP there was, in addition to your regular accounts, an account called “Administrator”. The password for this account was set during setup and (almost always) immediately forgotten. Occasionally it was even left blank – which is even worse in many ways. Adding to the problem: many people used the Administrator account as their primary account, which was really bad idea from a security point of view – even more so if there was no password.
Realizing this, Microsoft stopped enabling the Administrator account by default starting with Windows Vista. So, in Windows Vista, 7 and 8 the “Administrator” password is basically the password for your primary account – or any account set up to act as an Administrator.
So if you’re trying, and failing, to log in as “Administrator” on your Vista, 7 or 8 computer, the problem isn’t that you’ve forgotten your password – it’s that no such account exists by default. Yes, you can enable a separate Administrator account with some work, but the methods for retrieving your password don’t change much if you’ve done so. For the most part, this article will show you how to get back any password you’ve forgotten – which should give you Administrator access once again.
Got it? Good. Let’s move on.
Recovering Windows 8 Online Accounts
Microsoft overhauled how user accounts work for Windows 8, and the main change was tying most accounts to a cloud service. There are pros and cons here for sure (check out the comments under the article on how Windows 8 user accounts were changed for a primer), but there’s one real plus: online password recovery for Windows. If you forget your Windows password, you can recover it online.
If you’ve forgotten the password for your online-enabled Windows account, you can click here to reset your Windows Live password. You’ll get an email, which you can open on any other account (or another computer altogether). You’ll be back in, quickly, assuming you’ve got an online account and the computer you’re attempting to use is online.
Create A Password Recovery Disk
This one requires some preparation, but if you’re prone to forget your passwords it might be worth it. You can create a password recovery disk. You’ll find the option to do so in the Control Panel, under User Accounts and Family Safety, or by searching in Windows 8:
Just follow the instructions, and be sure to store the disk somewhere secure – anyone with it can easily access your system.
Recovering Your Administrator Password With Ophcrack
If you’re not using Windows 8, and you didn’t have the foresight to create a recovery disk, there is another option. It’s a little complicated, and it might not necessarily work, but it’s worth a shot.
Boot the CD and the software will get to work at cracking your passwords. It may take a while, especially if you’re using Vista or 7, but eventually you’ll see your passwords. Check out the Ophcrack FAQ if you run into problems, and note that it works much better for XP than systems that came after it.
Remove Windows Passwords Completely
Want to remove your password altogether? There’s another live CD for that: Offline NT Password And Registry Editor (clever name, right?) Also available as a live CD, this simple tool allows you to completely remove the password for any account on any system up to Windows 7. All you need to do after that is log in, but be sure to set a new password – you don’t want to leave your system insecure.
Note that, if you use this tool, you’ll lose any files you encrypted using Windows. There’s no way around that, sorry.
It’s been hours and Ophcrack isn’t working! What should I do?
If you got the CD to boot, and it just can’t crack the password, odds are it was pretty secure (ie, long and varied). You might need to just remove the password with Offline NT Password And Registry Editor
How do I get my computer to boot from CD?
It varies from computer to computer, but generally you can change the boot order by entering “Setup”. On-screen instructions should show up when you first turn your computer on telling you how to enter “Setup”, so follow those. Failing that, Google “how to change boot order” followed by the make and model of your computer.
Oh, and make sure you burned the ISO correctly – simply copying the ISO file to the CD isn’t enough.
Wait, if it’s this easy to crack a Windows password why bother with passwords at all?
It’s not a bad question, and generally if someone has physical access to your computer they can get in given enough time. If you really need to secure your files it’s probably a good idea to look into TrueCrypt, but note that if you lose that password you’re simply screwed.
You’re a moron – I know a much better tool for this!
Thanks for being so tactful! I hope you’ll leave your better suggestions in the comments below, along with anything else you have to say.