When passwords go wrong, they cause huge problems. Making stupid mistakes with your passwords can leave them vulnerable to hacking, and everyone forgets sometimes, even if you’re set up a memorable password.
There’s perhaps no scarier password you can lose than the one that gets you into your PC. Whether you’ve lost your password, find that Windows suddenly won’t accept it, or it gets screwed up during an update, here’s how to get back into your account on Windows 10.
If You Use a Microsoft Account to Sign In
There are benefits and drawbacks to using a Microsoft account with Windows 10. In our case, one huge benefit is that you can reset your password by going through Microsoft’s tools without much hassle.
First, make sure that you actually can’t access your account (perhaps your keyboard has a stuck key or something similar). Go to Live.com on your phone or another computer and try to sign in with the Microsoft account you use on your PC. Make sure you don’t mistype your email here. If you still can’t get in, then proceed with resetting your Microsoft password. Head to the Microsoft password reset page to get started.
You’re presented with three options:
- You forgot your password
- You know your password, but it doesn’t work
- You think someone has hacked your account
We’ve already ruled out the second option, so go ahead and pick the first. You’ll then have to provide your account email address and complete a quick CAPTCHA. From here, the site will help you recover your information based on the security info you’ve provided earlier.
It’s worth noting here: If you have a Microsoft account, you should take a few minutes to update your security info on your account page. Adding a phone number and secondary email address will give you options to reset your password should you ever have problems with it.
If You Sign in with a Local Account
The above scenario is the best case, but plenty of people don’t use a Microsoft account with Windows 10. We’ll have to dig deeper to get back into a local account, but it’s still possible.
For resetting a password on a local account, we need to enable the hidden Administrator account. Because this account automatically runs all programs with admin rights and has no password protection, it’s super insecure. Thus, Windows ships with this disabled. We’ve shown how to enable the admin account before, but that way won’t work if you’re locked out of your PC!
Note that if you have another administrator account on the computer aside from the locked one, you don’t need to go through all these steps. Jump down to the Resetting the Password section below and follow those steps to reset the password using the other account.
Setting up the Workaround
First, you’ll need to create a bootable Windows 10 disk on a flash drive. Once you’ve done that, insert the drive into your PC so you can boot from the new installation. On most machines, you need to press F12 or a similar key as soon as you power on your computer to choose a device to boot from. Select your flash drive, let Windows load, and when you see the initial Windows 10 setup screen, press Shift + F10 to open a Command Prompt.
Next, you may need to do a bit of fumbling around to find out which partition the Windows installation is on. Usually, this will be the C: drive or the D: drive. To check, type the following command, which will change the active directory of the command prompt to the root of the C: drive (or whichever letter you insert). If the command returns The system cannot find the drive specified, then that letter isn’t right.
Once you find the right drive, we want to change the directory again (that’s the cd command). Type this line to access the System32 folder:
Here’s where we pull a little trick. Windows provides a shortcut to the Ease of Access menu on the sign-in page for users who need visual or other help. We can use a few commands to replace this shortcut with a command prompt instead, giving access to the system. Type these two commands, one at a time. The first backs up the Ease of Access shortcut so we can restore it later; the second replaces it with a command prompt shortcut.
ren utilman.exe utilman.exe.bak ren cmd.exe utilman.exe
We’re all done here, so type this command to reboot the computer and head back to the normal sign-in screen:
Resetting the Password
Back on the sign-in screen, click the Ease of Access shortcut in the bottom-right of the screen to launch a command prompt. It looks like clock hands surrounded by a dotted line, and you’ll find it between the power and network connection icons.
Now that we’re into a command prompt, use the following line to enable the default Admin account:
net user Administrator /active:yes
After this, you need to reboot again, which you can do quickly with this command:
shutdown -t 0 -r
One more time on the sign-in screen, and this time you should click the Administrator account in the bottom-left corner. There isn’t a password on this account, so it should sign you right in. Now, you can reset your own password.
If you’re running Windows 10 Pro, you can right-click on the Start button and choose Computer Management, then click Local Users and Groups on the left sidebar to open the user manager. Right-click on your account and choose Set password to choose a new password. Then, sign out of the admin account and make sure you can log back into your own account!
If you use Windows 10 Home, you’ll have to perform the same action through a Command Prompt. Right-click on the Start button and choose Command Prompt (Admin) to open a new command prompt window, then type this command to see all user accounts:
Locate the name of your account, then type this command with your name inserted and the system will prompt you to set a password:
net user USERNAME *
After this, enter a new password, log off, and you’re all set to log back in to your account!
Need a New Account?
If your account is really screwed up and you can’t reset the password, your best bet is making a new account and setting it as an administrator. To do this, open an administrator command prompt, and type these commands:
net user USERNAME PASSWORD /add net localgroup Adminstrators USERNAME /add
Once done, reboot and sign into your new account with the new password. To recover your files, browse to your old user directory in the File Explorer and copy everything you need to your new account:
Putting Everything Back
Once you’ve logged into your own account, we’re almost done! We just need to fix the shortcuts we changed and call it a day. Go ahead and reboot again using the Windows 10 installation disk you created earlier. Once the initial welcome screen loads, press Shift + F10 and navigate to C:\Windows\System32 as you did before.
Use these two commands to put the Ease of Access shortcut back as it was:
ren utilman.exe cmd.exe ren utilman.exe.bak utilman.exe
want to secure Windows? try creating a NEW user account for yourself where you're NOT Administrator… Admin only for changing system :)
— sean swayze (@sswayze) October 26, 2009
Because the Admin account is a security risk, you should disable it here until you need it again. Type this to disable it:
net user Administrator /active:no
One more reboot, and you can get back to your normal computer usage!
How to Prevent this in the Future
Depending on why you couldn’t log in to begin with, you can take a few precautions to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
If you just forgot your password, consider using a password manager to keep them all straight. While the convenience of password managers lies in their auto-filling functions for websites, you can manually add your Windows login so that it’s accessible yet safe in emergencies. Since you can access your password vault via your phone or another computer’s browser, you’ll always have it handy.
If you don’t use a Microsoft account to sign in, consider switching to one. Aside from the far easier method of resetting your password, you can also use a PIN instead of a password to sign into Windows. A PIN is local to your machine so it won’t work elsewhere if stolen, and is much easier to type than a long password.
Back in Business
Resetting your Windows password is a bit more work than resetting one for a website, but it’s far from impossible. No matter what happened that locked you out of your account, you’ve found your way back in. With a bit of preparation, you can make sure that this doesn’t happen again.
Once you’re back in control, make sure your system is running the best security software so you can stay safe.
Have you ever had a scary password reset experience? Let us know if these methods helped you get back into your locked Windows account!
Originally written by Joe Keeley on 23 June, 2016.