BOOT CAMP 529 (17/06/08)
User Accounts and Password Recovery part 4
In Google or your favourite search engine’s Search box
type ‘windows forgotten password’ and if you look at a few of the millions of
hits you will quickly discover that password protection in Windows 7, Vista and XP is
about as secure as wet paper bag.
There are countless companies who, for a fee, will reveal
or reset your Administrator and User account passwords for you and it really
isn’t that difficult, as we shall see over the next two episodes of Boot Camp.
This is because of the way Windows stores Administrator and User account
passwords. They’re held in an area of the Registry called the SAM (Security
Accounts Manager). The actual password file is encrypted and virtually
inaccessible whilst Windows is running, but there is a massive loophole.
If the PC is booted using the Linux operating system the
SAM file can be opened and the passwords changed or reset. The latter is the
easiest option, the Admin or a User password can be set to blank so you can
regain control of the PC and set up new passwords. The only downside is that
access to files encrypted with Windows EFS (Encrypting File System) in XP will
be lost as the Admin password is used to encrypt the data. The only way around
that is to use specialised software to extract the SAM and reveal the password
but this is a bit more complicated, so we’ll leave that for another day.
You may be alarmed and even concerned at how easy it is
to break into a Windows computer but by showing you how to create a password
reset disk we are not giving away any secrets. This information is readily
available to anyone who cares to look for it and it underlines the importance
of encrypting valuable or sensitive data, (though if you are forgetful you
might want to think twice about using the EFS system…).
The recovery disc we’ll be making is one of several that
use a compact version of Linux. It is configured to boot the computer so that
Windows and the data on your hard drive should be quite safe, at least until
you start using the disc. You can also copy the program to a USB drive, see
this week’s Top Tip.
On the subject of safety, you use this disc entirely at
your own risk. It is a powerful tool and not for absolute novices. In addition
to the password reset facilities it contains other options that can erase data
and stop Windows working, though it is extremely unlikely you could ever use
them by mistake. However, the real problem for newbies is that it is quite unlike
Windows (and most other versions of Linux you may have seen). There are no
graphics or icons to click on and it uses command line instructions, which will
probably look like complete gibberish. On the plus side it is very
straightforward, you don’t have to learn any new tricks and if you follow the
instructions you can’t go far wrong.
Like all good DIY projects we’ll start with the list of
ingredients. It’s quite short, and all you need is a PC with an Internet
connection and a CD/DVD burner. The first job is to download two files onto
your PC and the first one, called TRK or Trinity Rescue Kit contains the
utility we’ll be using to blank your Windows password. You will find a link to
the TRK download file by going to: http://tinyurl.com/55pwlx.
At the time of writing there were two versions, 3.2, the current stable release
and a 3.3 beta; both work well, but if you want to play it safe use 3.2 as the
author concedes that there still may be bugs. The download links are about
halfway down the page, and the file you are looking for is called trinity-rescue-kit.3.2-build
279.iso. Save the file to your hard drive, it is around 104Mb, so it may
take a few minutes.
The second file download is optional. It’s a program
called ImgBurn (http://tinyurl.com/5u3rsr)
and is used to burn bootable CDs and DVDs from iso files; the download is
only around 2Mb. You may already have a program with this facility on your PC
(Roxio, Nero etc), but this one is really easy to use and. If you are
comfortable using your own software, fine, otherwise I recommend using ImgBurn
because it is simple, fast and very reliable.
Install ImgBurn by clicking on the file download icon and
follow the prompts. You should now be ready to create your password disc. Pop a
blank CD into the drive and open ImgBurn, click Write Image file to Disk and on
the dialogue box that opens use the file browse icon under Source to locate
your TRK .iso file. Click the Write icon and let the program get on with it. It
should only take a minute or two and after which the file will be verified (the
CD draw opens and closes). If everything is okay you’ll hear a tinkly tune from
the PC speakers and it’s ready to use, so don’t miss next week’s final
Next Week – User Accounts
and Password Recovery part 5
Part 1 2 3 5
instruction, to tell a PC to do something, as opposed to clicking on a menu or
Organisation Image file (aka ISO 9660) filing system used on recordable media
structured to support an operating system
of freely distributed ‘Open Source’ computer operating systems
Many PCs built within the last five years can be set to boot from
a USB drive, though this feature isn’t always enabled by default. To do so it
is necessary to open the computer’s BIOS or Setup program. The exact procedure
varies but usually it involves pressing a Function ‘F’ key, or combination of
keys immediately after switch on. Check your user or motherboard manual for
details. Once the BIOS has started look for the Boot menu and this will contain
a list of the devices your PC can boot from, and the order they are checked, by
the BIOS for boot information. If a USB option exists make sure it is number 1
or 2 on the list, ahead of the main hard drive.
Don't forget, there's a
full archive of previous Boot Camp Top Tips at www.pctoptips.co.uk
© R. Maybury 2008, 2805
Part 1 2 3 5