Reset a forgotten Open Firmware password on a PowerPC Apple iBook

Jason WatkinsIT Project Leader
Apple's line of laptop computers has made significant strides forward in the last few years. The biggest change being the switch to Intel processors in 2005. One thing about Apple hardware, especially that from a few years ago, is the tendency for it to last years. Despite the planned obsolescence designed into many Apple products and their ever-growing lack of support for items only a couple of years old, legacy iBooks can still be somewhat useful.

PowerPC-based Macs use a system for controlling direct hardware access by the system, called "Open Firmware". This performs in a similar manner to a PC's BIOS. The easiest way to circumvent access control mechanisms and the password protection of a computer's operating system is to go around them. Booting a computer to an alternate operating system can allow direct access to a computer's hard drive without any barriers. The BIOS has the ability to password protect the boot sequence as well as the boot device. Setting an Open Firmware password on a Mac will require anyone booting from a CD/DVD, Firewire HDD, or network location to enter a password.

If the Open Firmware password should be forgotten, recovery is not as straight-forward as setting a new Open Firmware password. Forgetting this password will not pose a day-to-day problem, unless one tries to reinstall Mac OS, or create an offline disk image of the hard drive. Passwords that are rarely entered, are the first ones forgotten.

WARNING: You may not be able to access your hard drive data if the computer uses full-disk encryption on the drive after performing this procedure.

A BIOS/Open Firmware password should be used along with a full-disk encryption suite to secure a laptop's hard drive. Forgetting the password, or recovery key for a full-disk encryption suite can make data inaccessible and result in data loss. Make sure a recent and valid backup exists before committing to any data encryption tools.

There is a way to reset, not recover, a forgotten Open Firmware password.

1. Remove a piece of the iBook's RAM. Make sure not to remove it all, or you will be troubleshooting a boot problem next.

2. Flash the PRAM by restarting the iBook while holding-down the Command, Option, P and R keys (all at the same time).

3. Let the startup chime echo three times, then try to boot from an alternate device.
Jason WatkinsIT Project Leader

Comments (2)

Jason WatkinsIT Project Leader


Thank you for your help in getting the article published.
Author of the Year 2011
Top Expert 2006

As usual, you have provided some good information. This article should be helpful to the EE Members.

"Yes" vote above.

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