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Windows XP password recovery

Posted on 2011-03-01
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Last Modified: 2012-05-11
I got a call from a lady who's husband died and he owned a cleaning service. She is trying to get into his computer to access the software that he ran the business with but she doesn't know the Windows XP password. Any good ideas? Should I pay the $99 with Microsoft and see if they can help me?
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Question by:ccattron
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Scovndrel earned 250 total points
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Depending on how this computer was set up, this might be easy, or it might not be.

Many times, on Windows XP, the local administrator account is active, and the password is blank. It's just that the "Welcome Screen" is enabled and you don't see the Administrator account as an option to log onto.

If you are looking at a username button instead of a field that you can type a username into, try pressing CTRL-ALT-DEL twice in a row. This will shift from the Welcome screen to a login prompt. You can type Administrator, and try a blank password. If that works, you're all set. You can right-click My Computer, select Manage, go to Local Users and Groups, Users, and reset the password for the user you want. You have to do this locally. You can't do this via Remote Desktop.

If the Administrator account does have a password set, and you don't know what it is, then you can download a freeware linux-based password reset disk (ISO image), burn a CD, boot from the CD, and follow the prompts to reset either the administrator password, of the user's password. I'd start with the Administrator password.

Here is an article with many links to different password reset disks you can try: http://www.petri.co.il/forgot_administrator_password.htm

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by:Reece Dodds
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Try booting into safe-mode (F8 on startup) and logging in with the Administrator account.
On most default XP installs, the Administrator account is disabled and therefore is never configured with a password.  If you can log in with this, you can go to Control Panel > User accounts and remove the password from the other profile(s).

If the admin account has a password, you can use the UBCD to use one of the password recovery/removal utilities.  http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/
The tool that comes to mind is the Offline NT Password and Registry editor.
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by:cmartell
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I have used this one many times to blank the administrator password on XP
http://www.pogostick.net/~pnh/ntpasswd/

Here is a free tool I have not tried that will recover the password
http://sourceforge.net/projects/ophcrack/

Be warned that changing the password this way will render any encrypted files unreadable but how many people do you know that use Windows to encrypt files.
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by:ccattron
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I am meeting her tomorrow at 3:00 so I will try these solutions. I have downloaded the pogostick boot disk and will burn it and try it if needed. Thank you for the suggestions and I will update this question when I am done.
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by:cmartell
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The disk, unless it has changed since I downloaded it a few years ago, will ask you a bunch of questions.  Just keep hitting Enter, the defaults always worked for me.
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by:cmartell
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and when you get to the end it will ask you if you want to reset the password to something or blank it.  Resetting it has never worked and blanking works every time.
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by:ccattron
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Awesome! Hopefully there is no admin password and I won't need to use the boot disk. I will let you know tomorrow. Thank you again.
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by:Scovndrel
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One other thing to consider is that depending on how old the software is, and how it is configured, you might be able to remove the hard disk, put it as a secondary in another computer, install the business software, copy the program/data folders over from the hard disk you pulled, and get into the software that way.

Obviously, try the easy road first and see if you hit roadblocks.

Good luck!
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by:ccattron
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Yea, I already thought about that. Hopefully it won't come down to that. Thanks again and I will let you know tomorrow how it goes.
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by:ocanada_techguy
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Scovendrel, reecem and cmartell are all correct
Yes the NT password reset by PNH at pogostick, which is among the listed tools at petri.co.il too and on ubcd
I agree blanking usually works better
Be advised though, if and only if (which hardly anybody ever does) the files are encrypted (EFS, BitLocker) they'd be inaccessible by resetting the password.
Furthermore, "remembered passwords" may no longer be remembered under that account after you clear the password since they're crypto'd too.  Whether passwords are remembered for websites is unlikely to matter, but where it sometimes matters is for connecting to email, depending what email program is used.  For the most part if email is ISP they can reset it with the right identity authentication, and web-based email like hotmail, yahoo, gmail have password recovery procedures but often depend on secret questions and answers or alternate email addresses that many times users do not bother to set up.
Still, odds are very good you will be able to get into the software used for the business.
If the business depends on email, that'll depend on email program and hosting used.

Also
If she tried excessive bad password attempts the account may've temporarily locked out, by the time you see her it may have passed the time unless she kept trying.  The password reset disk will also show if the account is locked, if her husband's account is locked clear that, I believe it's 4 on the same deep menu.
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by:ccattron
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Thank you
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by:ccattron
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Well, thank you all for the suggestions and info but when she called me and said she couldn't get onto the computer because she didn't have the password, she actually meant she couldn't get into the software package. I called the company that makes the software and found out that the username and password is stored in a bianary file so I just opened it in Notepad and voila, all fixed.
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