How to Recover a Lost Windows Vista Password - dummies

How to Recover a Lost Windows Vista Password

By Woody Leonhard

There is a downside to creating good, strong passwords. What if you forget yours? Recovering a lost password in Windows Vista can be a nightmare if you don’t take the right precautions. But there are some things you can try.

This might sound simplistic, but before you do anything rash, check to see if your Caps Lock key is on. You’d be amazed how many people come crying to technicians to find a way into their computer only to have the technician turn off the Caps Lock and tell them to try again. Save yourself some embarrassment and check first.

Recover using your password reset disk

If you have your password reset disk handy, follow these steps to reset the password to one you can remember.

  1. On the Vista welcome screen, after you’ve failed to enter the correct password, click the link that says Reset Password.

    The Password Reset Wizard appears.

  2. Attach any drive containing the latest version of userkey.psw before you click Next.

    The wizard asks you to choose the “password key disk.”

  3. Choose the removable drive that contains userkey.psw. Click Next.


    The wizard asks you to provide a new password.

  4. Give the wizard a new password and hint for this account. Click Next.

    The wizard reaches into Vista and changes the password for this particular user. It doesn’t matter what the old password was; this new password now takes effect.

  5. Click the Finish button and then log on with the new password you specified.

    Now everything is back to normal. Just be sure to use the new password you created.

If you don’t have a password reset disk

So what do you do if you forget your password, you don’t have a network administrator to bail you out, and you didn’t create a password reset disk?

It depends on whether your system uses the NTFS file system and its Encrypted File System.

  • If you do have this kind of file system and forget your password and don’t have a password reset disk, don’t attempt anything listed here. If you succeed in changing the password, you clobber all those encrypted files. Some companies claim to have software that opens those encrypted files, but it’s far from a sure thing. Spend some time on the Internet and keep trying.

  • If you don’t use the Encrypted File System, try to log on with a different Administrator account, bring up your account in User Accounts and Family Safety, and change your password. This approach really is as simple as it sounds.

Unfortunately, if you’re using BitLocker and you forget or lose your key, you’re probably beyond help.

Good luck. If none of these options work for you, you might be stuck with doing a full System Recovery, which will make your computer functional again, but will destroy all your files and settings.

When you change your account’s password, you will lose any other passwords that Internet Explorer has stored for you, as well as some other stored passwords — so you may have to provide your password again the next time you check out of Amazon, for example, and you have to come up with your wireless network password, if you have one. But these inconveniences are usually a small price to pay.