BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2008

  

 

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 instalment.

 

Next Week – User Accounts and Password Recovery part 5

Part 1 2 3 5

 

JARGON FILTER

 

COMMAND LINE

A typed instruction, to tell a PC to do something, as opposed to clicking on a menu or icon

 

ISO IMAGE

International Standards Organisation Image file (aka ISO 9660) filing system used on recordable media structured to support an operating system

 

LINUX

Family of freely distributed ‘Open Source’ computer operating systems

 

 

TOP TIP

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

 

---end---

© R. Maybury 2008, 2805

 

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