How to: Reset Any Password: Windows Vista, 7, 8, 10

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader 'ltb223' writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I have a Windows 7 Pro computer which I haven't used for a long time. Now I want to use it, but I cannot remember my password. It has only one user account, so I believe I need to reset the admin password. Is there anyway to recover the lost password or am I stuck with reinstalling Windows and losing all previous data and programs? "

My response:

It's possible to reset the admin password, or any user password using a special password reset 'trick', known as the 'utilman' and 'sticky keys' exploit. This exploit effectively allows you to circumvent the operating system in order to reset your password in order to gain access to the system.

Best of all: this password reset method works with Windows Vista, 7, 8, 10 and 11. I've tested these methods myself and have written instructions accordingly in simple English.

How to Reset Admin Password for Windows Vista, 7, 8, 10 and 11

In summary, here are the steps to reset the admin password, or any user password:

  1. Locate and boot from Windows DVD or USB.
  2. Launch a command prompt and overwrite utilman.exe with cmd.exe.
  3. Restart your computer.
  4. At the login, click the Ease of Access button to open a command prompt.
  5. Convert Microsoft Account to Local Account (Win8, 10, and 11 only!)
  6. Reset your password using the command prompt.
  7. Login to Windows with your new password.
  8. Optionally: put back the Ease of Access feature.
  9. Optionally: restart your computer and create a password reset disk.

Below are the password reset steps in detail.

1. Locate your Windows install Media (DVD or USB), or Create Your Own

If you don't have a Windows DVD (or a DVD drive for that matter), you can download a copy from the Internet (for free, 100% legit) from Microsoft via DigitalRiver. Instructions on how to download and create a Windows DVD / USB are here. If you own Windows 10 or 11, you can download Windows install media using the Media Creation Tool for Windows 10 or Media Creation Tool for Windows 11.

2. Boot from the Windows DVD / USB

The next step is to restart your computer with the Windows DVD / USB.

When the computer restarts, the Windows install media should start booting and will present you with a message to "Press and key to Boot from DVD (or USB)..." At that point, press the space bar to begin. After the Windows install media boots, click Next, then on the proceeding screen, click the Repair your Computer option located at the bottom of the screen.

If using Windows 7 or 8: Windows will scan your hard drive and eventually present you with repair options; select Command Prompt. On Windows 10 and 11, you will need to select Troubleshoot -> Advanced Options -> Command Prompt.

3. Launch a command prompt and overwrite utilman.exe with cmd.exe

Update 2022/03/14: note - this article was originally published in 2015. Recently, Microsoft has patched the utilman.exe (ease of access) and sethc.exe (sticky keys) exploit that allows you to reset your password using a command prompt without having to login to the system to do so. There is a way around the patch which requires disabling Windows Defender using the 'reg' commands in point #3 below.

  1. On the proceeding System Recovery Options window, click on the link for Command Prompt.
     
  2. A black window will appear; enter in the commands below. Note if your Windows drive letter is not D (identified in Step #3 above), replace it with the corresponding drive letter.
     
  3. Next, input the following commands (below). Please carefully note the spaces between each command as you are typing it in, or the command won't work (resulting in an error message). When prompted to overwrite the utilman.exe file, select Yes.

    Note: you do NOT need to enter the 'rem' statements. These are 'remarks' and are used as notes.

    d:
    cd \windows\system32\
    copy utilman.exe utilman.bak
    copy cmd.exe utilman.exe

    rem update 2022/03/14 circumvent Windows Defender to allow exploit
    reg load HKLM\temp-hive d:\windows\system32\config\SOFTWARE
    reg add "HKLM\temp-hive\Policies\Microsoft\Windows Defender" /v DisableAntiSpyware /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
    reg unload HKLM\temp-hive

    rem sticky keys hack
    rem OPTIONAL: the same exploit works for 'sticky keys' which can be activated by pressing shift 5 times instead of clicking ease of access
    rem copy sethc.exe sethc.bak
    rem copy cmd.exe sethc.exe

    exit

Proceed to the next step.

4. Restart your computer

Upon typing in the 'Exit' command above, you should see the System Recovery Options window again. Click the Restart button on the bottom right of the window. When the computer restarts, you can remove the Windows DVD / USB drive as you will no longer need to boot from it. At this point, Windows should boot from your hard drive as usual.

5. At the login, click the Ease of Access button to open a command prompt

After the computer has rebooted, you will now be presented with the regular Windows login screen. Instead of entering your password, locate and click the 'Ease of Use' icon at the lower left of the screen. The Ease of Use icon is a square button, and somewhat resembles a clock (with dots). A black command prompt window will now appear.

If you've activated the sticky keys exploit: press shift 5 times and a command prompt will appear.

6. Convert Microsoft Account to Local Account (Win8, 10, and 11 only!)

If you are not using an email address to login to windows, please skip this step.

This step is for Windows 8, 10 and 11 users and applies only to users that are using an email address to login to Windows. This involves: enabling the Administrator user, then converting your Microsoft Account (email login) to a local account so that you are then able to login to Windows with a new password. You can then convert your local account back to a Microsoft Account later, if you wish.

To do so, enter in the following command into the command prompt you opened in Step #5 (above). Please carefully note the spaces between each command as you type it in, otherwise you will get an error message.

net user administrator /active:yes
exit

Next: at the bottom right of the login screen is a 'power' icon - click it and select restart. After the computer has rebooted, Windows will display the login screen. Look at the bottom left of the screen and you should see an Administrator user icon. Click it to login as the Administrator user. Once that is finished, please refer to my article on how to convert your Microsoft Account (with email login) to a local account (no email login). This guide will also demonstrate how to set a new password for your account, so you can login to the machine using your account again.

Once that is done, you can come back to this article to undo the 'hack'. To do so: resume at Step #9 below (skip Steps #7 and #8).

7. Reset your password using the command prompt

If you are not using an email address to login to Windows, you are using a local account. In that case, follow the steps below:

Enter in the following commands, replacing User Name with your user name and your_new_password with your desired password. Use quotes around your user name and do not use any spaces for your password:

net user "User Name" your_new_password
exit

8. Login to Windows with your new password

At the Windows login prompt, select your user (if applicable) and enter the same password you used in the previous step. You should now be able to login to the system.

9. Put back the Ease of Access feature

You will want to put the Ease of Access program back to where it was originally; otherwise, anyone can open a command prompt window without having to login to your machine. To reverse the changes, reboot the computer using your Windows install media and enter in the following commands:

d:
cd \windows\system32
copy utilman.bak utilman.exe
copy sethc.bak sethc.exe
exit

10. Restart your computer; create a password reset disk

Click the Restart button on the Windows Recovery Window.

This will restart your computer and put you back to the Windows login screen. Everything is now set. Should you need to reset your password again, follow the same steps. Optionally you can create a password reset disk from within Windows, which would also reset your password should you get locked out again.

--

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Additional Support: From Dennis

If all of this is too technical for you and you need additional support getting the job done, I am able to assist you over remote desktop support. Simply contact me using the contact form and we'll set up a time to meet and discuss your options.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question -- or even a computer problem that needs fixing -- please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of Infopackets.com. With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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Comments

lgehring_3984's picture

A few months ago, a friend of mine let herself get talked into granting remote control to her computer and was attacked with some kind of ransomware that required a password.

I was able to slave the laptop drive and retrieve all her files. I then reformatted and reinstalled her win XP OS. Is there something like this available for XP and would this solution work on such an attack on W7?

Dennis Faas's picture

The password reset 'fix' described in this article (which is technically more like a 'hack') would not be applicable to a malware / ransomware infection. In this case, the method you used would be the best approach to clear the malwarwe, or by downloading and burning an antivirus CD.

vicupdate_3992's picture

You can simply use a bootable Linux Cd, or any bootable cd/dvd with DART (Digital Advanced Response Toolkit).

bill.adragna's picture

I think that using a HIRENS boot CD, and the password reset utility are far fewer steps than this method, plus I think the instructions should include replacing the ease of access executable.

musicreporter_11715's picture

what if we do not have a Windows DVD or CD, only a partition on the hard drive, - which we can't access?

boffs's picture

Due to changes my company made to my work computer, I got completely locked out. After hours going through countless solutions that didn't work, this was the first one that did. The "switch users" function still doesn't work in Windows, but I can tackle that another time. Thanks again

kitekrazy's picture

I guess you would have to print them out or have a computer next to it. Sad when you have to hack your own systems.