Locked out of your Windows 10 account? Here’s how you can hack your way back in.
Being locked out of Windows 10 is a pain. What’s worse is not even knowing if you can hack into Windows to gain access and fix your password woes. Much like drawing a blank when trying to remember your credit-card details or forgetting your PIN, getting a message that your Windows password is incorrect and being refused entry can be infuriating.
Sometimes it’s just a case of typing the password again, turning off Caps Lock or, on rare occasions, replacing a malfunctioning keyboard. But there are also those times when everything’s working correctly, except your memory.
Thankfully, there is a solution to the problem, but it all really hinges on what type of Windows account you’re using.
The two types of Windows accounts
One type of Windows account is a “local” account stored only on your computer, providing access to Windows only. The second is a Microsoft account – debuted in Windows 8 – and is linked to a registered email address. You’re asked to choose which account type to use when installing Windows, and you can change it in the Accounts section of the Settings tool in Windows at any time.
Using a Microsoft account is, unsurprisingly, Microsoft’s favoured method because it automatically logs you into built-in Windows programs (such as the Microsoft Store, OneDrive and Skype). This method also lets you use a PIN instead of your full password. Despite – or because of – the features offered by a Microsoft account, many people prefer to stick to using a local account.
Hack into Windows: Roll back to an old Password via System Restore
Picture the scene: you’ve had the same password for years, then decide it’s time for a change. You dream up a devilishly complicated new password, enter it twice as instructed, then carry on as normal. If you often go days between restarts, you may find that when you finally try to log back into Windows, your memorable password is anything but. The result? You’re locked out of Windows.
If you have System Restore activated, it could be your ticket to getting back into Windows. Be warned that Microsoft often disables System Restore after you’ve installed an update, so it’s worth making sure it’s running after each update. Because you can’t log in to run System Restore in Windows, you’ll need to boot your computer using your original Windows installation disc. If you don’t have one, don’t worry – just hop on to another computer and create an installation media on a DVD or USB stick.
Once you’ve inserted your disc or USB stick, restart your computer and follow these steps.
- Click the ‘Repair your computer’ option. In the next screen, select Troubleshoot | System Restore, then the version of Windows you’re running.
- When System Restore loads, click “Next” to view all available restore points and select one dated before you changed your password.
- Click “Next”, then “Finish” and wait for Windows to reload. When it does, you should be able to enter your old password to log in (assuming you can still remember it).
You can also use this method if you recently switched from a local account to a Microsoft one and can’t log in. You’ll just need to have a restore point dated before the switch.
Hack into Windows: Reset a local account password using Sticky Keys
If the System Restore method doesn’t work, there is an alternative that manipulates the Sticky Keys shortcut on the Windows login screen (Sticky Keys lets you use key combinations such as Ctrl+Alt+Delete by pressing one key). This tip only works with local accounts, so skip to the next section if you’re using a Microsoft account.
- First, restart your computer with the Windows installation media as described above. Click ‘Repair your computer’ | Troubleshoot | Command Prompt. (You can take some of the following commands from this Pastebin page to save you the hassle of typing everything out).
- In Command Prompt type “copy c:windowssystem32sethc.exe c:” then press Enter (replace c: with another letter if your Windows installation is on a different drive). This step ensures you can reverse the process once you’re back into Windows.
- Next, type “copy c:windowssystem32cmd.exec:windowssystem32sethc.exe” and confirm the copy. This replaces the Sticky Keys program with Command Prompt, but keeps its filename and, therefore, the shortcut to it.
- Restart your computer and, when the Windows login screen appears, tap the Shift key five times in quick succession. You’ll hear a beep, then a Command Prompt window will appear (if not, try repeating the key taps).
- In this window, type “net user [username] [password]” – replacing [username] with your Windows account username and [password] with your new password (see screenshot above).
- Press Enter. If you can’t remember what your username is, type “net user” and press Enter to display all Windows accounts.
- Close the Command Prompt window and log into Windows using your new password.
- Now you’re back into Windows, you can revert the Sticky Keys file back to its previous state. Click Start, type cmd and press Enter, then type “copy c:sethc.exec:windowssystem32sethc.exe” and confirm the copy.
Hack into Windows: Reset a Microsoft account password
If you use a Microsoft account to log into Windows and have forgotten the password, you may need to enlist Microsoft’s help to reset it. First, click the ‘I forgot my password’ link on the login screen. You’ll be prompted to enter the secondary email address or mobile number you supplied when setting up your account. If neither work, you’ll need to fill out an ‘Account recovery’ form. As well as your ‘memorable’ word, the form requests info such as the addresses you’ve recently sent emails to, the subjects of recent messages and old passwords for the account.
As long as you can enter enough information, you’ll be sent a password reset link via email. If not, you’ll be told, “you didn’t provide us with enough information to confirm your identity”, at which point it’s best to contact Microsoft direct. You can do this via email or chat on the support page, but if reports online are anything to go by, it could be several days before your account is finally reset.