How to reset a Windows 8 password

If you forgot the administrator password, it is no big deal to reset the password on a Windows 8 computer. This easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide shows how. The procedure described here also works for Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP, although I will use a Windows 8 boot DVD in the guide.

Michael PietroforteMVP By Michael Pietroforte - Wed, March 6, 2013 - 27 comments google+ icon

Michael Pietroforte is the founder and editor of 4sysops. He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) with more than 30 years of experience in system administration.

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Reset Windows password

There are many ways to reset a forgotten admin password. There are free and commercial tools that all essentially do the same thing. However, as a proud DevOp or cool hacker, it is against your honor to use third-party tools. The guide below describes how to reset a password on a Windows 8 machine where you have no administrator password, in an easy way that even a typical iPad user could follow.

Before I start, I have to add a warning. Resetting a password of a Windows account always means that data that has been encrypted by Windows tools, such as the Encrypting File System (EFS) or stored Internet Explorer passwords, will be lost. You can avoid this by resetting the password of an account that hasn’t been used. For instance, you could enable the built-in administrator account to be able to secure the encrypted data first. If you used BitLocker to encrypt the system drive, you first have to unlock the encrypted Windows partition. If you didn’t use any Windows-based encryption you are save to reset your password with this guide.

The ultimate Windows 8 password reset guide

  1. Insert your Windows 8 boot DVD or boot flash drive, turn on the computer, and wait until you see the message Press any key to boot from CD or DVD. Follow the instructions precisely and press any key. (Note: If you don’t see this message, you probably have to change the boot drive order in the BIOS and/or disable Secure Boot. This usually is nothing for post PC users. Ask someone with a solid computer education.)
    Press any key to boot from CD or DVD
  2. Well done! The most difficult part is behind us. Windows 8 Setup will greet you and encourage you to configure your language settings. Press SHIFT+F10 to open a command prompt. (Note: I could shorten this part of my original post thanks of the tip given by PCFreak. See comment below.)
  3. Here you are. The unlimited possibilities of the Windows command prompt are now at your fingertips. Type copy d:\windows\system32\sethc.exe d:\. (Note: If you get the error message The system cannot find the specified path, you probably have an unusual drive configuration. Replace “d:” in the command above with different drive letters until the error message disappears.)
  4. Now comes the real hacking. Type copy /y d:\windows\system32\cmd.exe d:\windows\system32\sethc.exe. This replaces the Sticky Keys app on your Windows 8 machine with the command prompt. More later about this.
    Reset Windows 8 password with the Sticky Keys trick
  5. Close the Language setup windows by clicking the X in the upper right corner and then confirm that you want to cancel the Windows installation. Yes, this guide can also be followed by post Windows users.
    Cancel Windows installation
  6. Wait until you see the Windows 8 Lock Screen.
    Windows 8 Lock Screen
  7. Hit the SHIFT key five times. Yes, we are doing magic here. No wand is needed, though. We replaced the Sticky Keys app that helps people who can’t press CTRL-ALT-DEL easily. You should now see the command prompt.
    Hit SHIFT five times
  8. Type net user. This will produce a list of user names on the Windows 8 computer. (Note: The Windows 8 Lock Screen will reappear while you hack along.)
    List available user accounts
  9. Choose the user name for which you want to reset the password and type net user user_name new_password, where user_name has to be replaced with your user name and new_password, ah, I think you will figure this out yourself. (Note: If your user name or password contains blanks, you have to set it in quotes: net user “Tim Cook” “I will never forget my Windows 8 password again”).
    Set new password
  10. Congrats! You just reset your Windows 8 password. Close the command prompt (I hope you remember how) and log on with the new password (I hope you didn’t forget it again).

You might want to restore the Sticky Keys app (sethc.exe). For this, you have to follow the procedure above again until step 6 and use this command in step 7: copy /y d:\sethc.exe d:\windows\system32\sethc.exe.

You can now bookmark this page so you can come back in a few months when you have again forgotten your password, or you could create a password reset media right away. I like the first option.

Series Navigation12 ways how to reset the Windows administrator password – Windows 7, Vista, Windows XP - Forgot the administrator password? The Sticky Keys trick

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27 Comments- Leave a Reply

  1. Ian says:

    This doesn’t work on Connected/Microsoft Accounts :)

  2. PCFreak says:

    To get a command prompt on the Windows 8 Setup DVD, why not just press SHIFT + F10 ? This directly opens a command prompt.

    I also recommend not to copy/replace system executables. There is a better way by adding a registry key to the registry of the offline system with the reg command.

    I describe the process in this video on Youtube

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghp2_BmZZU8

    You can adapt this to your way with 4 steps.

    1. Load the offline registry hive
    e.g. REG LOAD “HKLM\TEMP” D:\Windows\System32\config\SYSTEM

    2. Add a key that replaces utilman.exe (or if you like sethc.exe)

    REG ADD “HKLM\TEMP\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options\Utilman.exe” /v Debugger /d “cmd.exe /c start “”"Utilman Exploit by PCFreak”"” cmd.exe /s /k REG DELETE “”"HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options\Utilman.exe”"” /f && @echo Enjoy!” /f”

    3. Unload the Hive
    REG UNLOAD “HKLM\TEMP”

    4. Reboot your machine and then press on the network icon on the start screen and then on the next screen on the Ease of access button.

  3. Ian, that is correct. Tanks for the hint. I will post a workaround for Microsoft accounts in the coming days.

  4. Rory Schmitz says:

    I know someone who has forgotten their password of their connected account, which is a local admin. They’ve been able to reset their password online from a different machine and the original machine is connected to the Internet, but their new password won’t work. What gives? There’s another local, non-connected, account, but it’s not a local admin. Are there any options with the NET USER command to make that account a local admin?

  5. PCFreak, thanks for the tip about SHIFT+F10! Didn’t know that. I shortened the article accordingly. As for editing the registry, I am unsure if this wouldn’t cause more trouble than just replacing sethc.exe.

    Rory, I will cover connected accounts in my next post.

  6. Ian says:

    Looking forward to your next article Michael!

    PCFreak is correct that you can hijack the launching of sethc or utilman with IFEO entries, but yeah, either way you’re making complex changes. The subjectively nice thing about IFEO is that it avoids any potential permission issues on the files in system32, but at the same time you’re in WinRE and people are often more comfortable changing file stuff than registry stuff.

    Some other side information: there’s a Microsoft Account Troubleshooter that you would think could be helpful in a case like Rory’s, though last I used it it couldn’t be run from the built-in Administrator account, making it pretty useless in diagnosing why I couldn’t sign in to the connected account. There is though an event log that tracks the connected account / syncing stuff that proved loosely helpful in the past. Setting-sync I think?

  7. Bruce Roberts says:

    “This replaces the command prompt on your Windows 8 machine with the Sticky Keys app.”

    You must mean that it replaces the Sticky Keys app with the command prompt.

    “Required fields are marked *”

    There are none!

  8. Ian, thanks!

    Bruce, thank you! I mixed up the two. I corrected it now. What do you mean with “required fields”?

  9. Bruce Roberts says:

    When entering comments here, name and email have no “*”.

  10. Bruce, thanks for the hint. I corrected it.

  11. Paul says:

    AWESOME!!!!!! Can’t say thanks enough!

  12. Danica Jandoc says:

    How can I reset my password if I do not have the Windows 8 disk?

  13. Danica, most methods to reset a password require a boot disk. This post lists a few other options.

  14. Danica Jandoc says:

    Thanks. But I still don’t know what to do. I don’t have a boot disk. Where can I get one?
    Some help, please?

  15. Angela says:

    I have an HP Pavillion dv9000 laptop. My admin, regular account, and guest account have been locked out because the HP help desk told me to type the ‘netuser…’ during the safe mode command prompt. When I tried the guest account (which requires no password), I receive an Sens error (system event?). I have been running the restore since Sunday morning, and it still states ‘Finalizing restore files’. How long does this take? Should I use my System Recovery DVD and restore it to the factory state, and use my external drive to download my info?
    All this occurred because I was trying to load the latest service pack 2. I’m ready to jump ship and buy an iPad :(

  16. Angela, a system restore usually only takes a couple of minutes. So I think something went wrong. You could try another restore point.

  17. Angela says:

    Thanks, Michael!!
    It actually finished Wednesday morning…couldn’t believe it took 4 days!! My coworker provided a Hivens disk, and it worked! I created a new profile, and was able to change the password. The old profile is corrupt, but I could still access the data via Explorer, and copied the files to the guest account. Also created a backup HPAdmin account just in case.

  18. Jacky says:

    Hi, I want to THANK YOU A LOT ! It works perfectly. The Shift pressed 5 times is really magic ! I tried a lot of other sw without a ny success (boot from USB, CD, etc), no way. You procedure is very simple and efficient.May I ask what happens if we do not apply the Sticky Key procedure : “You might want to restore the Sticky Keys app (sethc.exe). For this, you have to follow the procedure above again until step 6 and use this command in step 7: copy /y d:\sethc.exe d:\windows\system32\sethc.exe” ? Thanks again, magician !
    Jacky

  19. Rocky Patel says:

    My cmd is showing acces denied 0 file Copied while coping sethc.exe to c:\

  20. Rocky, did you boot from a DVD?

  21. bradavon says:

    Thanks for the guide Michael.

    A couple of questions please:

    1. Linked to a Windows 8 Microsoft connected user account is a regular local admin account (usually admin), won’t ‘net user USERNAME PASSWORD’ work if you type the local admin username instead of the Microsoft account username?

    2. Rory Schmitz above has done what you describe in your article for resetting Windows 8 Microsoft account passwords and it hasn’t worked.

    Does resetting a Microsoft account’s (i.e. – Hotmail/Outlook.com) password at https://account.live.com/password/reset definitely then also reset it on the Windows 8 login screen?

    Assuming you have Internet access.

    Thanks

  22. bradavon, the procedure described here only works for local accounts. I wrote another article about resetting a Microsoft account password.

  23. bradavon says:

    Hello Michael,

    Thanks. I know, that’s what I’m referring to with Rory Schmitz’s comment in this article above :-). Rory has followed your instructions for Microsoft accounts but it hasn’t worked?

    I was also wondering if you enter NET USER LOCALUSERNAME NEWPASSWORD would it work. When I logged into Windows 8 for the first time using my Hotmail address Windows 8 also created a local username based on my first name, inside C:\USERS I have a folder called FRED. This is linked with my @hotmail.com Microsoft account.

    What would happen if I enter NET USER FRED NEWPASSWORD instead of NET USER FRED@HOTMAIL.COM NEWPASSWORD?

    Thanks

  24. I don’t know why resetting the Microsoft account didn’t work bradavon. Perhaps the second machine wasn’t connected to the internet?

    I think you are working with a Microsoft account and net user is therefore useless. You can enable the built-in admin account and then create a new local account.

  25. bradavon says:

    Thanks Michael.

  26. mahender g says:

    Hi,
    Iam beginner in this administration field.this topic is very helpful to me.

    I have some doubts

    how can we edit system admin password underwork group mode with sam files and if there are no other accounts on that system?

    Pl explain all the possible tips?

  27. For the procedure above you don’t need an account. This works because you edit the sam file offline from a second operating system. If no account exists where you could reset the password you have to offline enable the built-in admin account.

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