If you forget your Windows admin password, try this

All is not lost. You just have to wiggle the lock on the virtual back door.

Kkumjae Lee forgot his logon password. Here’s how to regain access.

Yes, you can log into Windows even if you forgot your password—even if there is no other administrative account on the PC. From a security point of view, this is actually scary news. But there are legitimate reasons to use the tricks below, and none of them will let a criminal log in without your knowledge (the password is changed, not revealed) or access encrypted data. Yet another reason to encrypt your sensitive files.

I’ve provided instructions here for Windows 7 and 10. Windows 8 users should have no trouble following the Windows 10 instructions.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

Windows 7

You’ll need a Windows 7 System Repair Disc. You can use one created on someone else’s Windows 7 PC--providing that one of the PCs isn't 64-bit and the other 32. You’ll find instructions for making one in my Boot discs explained article.

To change the password, boot from the System Repair Disc. When prompted, press any key.

Eventually you’ll get to the System Recovery Options screen. Note the operating system location; it might be C:, or D:, or whatever. Click Next.

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At the next page, click Command Prompt.

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Once there, type each of these lines, pressing Enter after each one. Replace the in the first line with the operating system location you noted above.

  • x:
  • cd windows\system32
  • ren utilman.exe utilhold.exe
  • copy cmd.exe utilman.exe
  • exit
1016 recover password 3

Remove the disc and reboot.

At the log-on screen, click the Ease of access icon in the lower-left corner to bring up a command prompt.

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Within that command prompt, type net user username newpassword, replacing username with your current username (it’s clearly visible on the screen), and replace newpassword with—I’ll leave that up to you.

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Finally, close the command prompt and log in with your new password.

Windows 10

Your Windows 10 user account is almost certainly connected to your online Microsoft.com account. This makes replacing a forgotten password easier—and arguably more secure.

1016 win10 online

On another computer, go to Microsoft’s Sign in page. Once there, enter your email address and click Can’t access your account.

Then follow the wizard. You’ll have to prove that you really are you, based on answers and phone numbers that you’ve previously provided. Eventually, you’ll be asked to create a new password.

That technique won’t work if you took the pains to create a local account. In that case, use the Windows 7 instructions above, with these exceptions:

  • Boot from a Windows 10 Recovery Drive and use that to get to the command line. You’ll find the instructions in my Windows 10 Safe Mode article.
  • The ease of access icon is in the lower-right corner, between the Power and Connect to Internet icons.
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