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How can I troubleshoot Windows PCs if I don't know users' passwords?

You don't always need users' passwords to fix problems with Windows desktops. If the computer is domain-joined, you can use any account.

It's an age-old dilemma: How can you troubleshoot a user's PC if you don't have his password? The answer depends on whether the PC is domain-joined and how big your organization is.

If the PC runs Windows and it is joined to an Active Directory domain, then you don't need the user's password. You can log into the PC using any authorized domain account. If you need to log in for troubleshooting purposes, then it is important to avoid using an account that has domain administrative privileges. Until you diagnose the problem, you really don't know its cause. If malware caused the initial problem and you log in using an administrative account, then it's possible to compromise the account and the security of the network.

Many organizations have come to the realization that manually troubleshooting Windows PCs can be extremely time consuming, and larger organizations tend to lack the manpower and other resources to manually fix problems with enterprise desktops. Such environments typically redeploy desktop images when problems occur rather than taking the time to diagnose individual problems.

If the PC you need to troubleshoot is not domain-joined, then all is not lost. There may be ways to repair the PC without actually logging into it. For example, you may be able to remove the hard disk and attach it to another Windows PC as a slave drive. By doing so, you can run utilities such as CHKDSK or repair boot sector problems without ever logging into the PC.

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This was last published in November 2015

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