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In the SAM, each user account can be assigned a local area network (LAN) password and a Windows password. Both are encrypted. If someone attempts to log on to the system and the user name and associated passwords match an entry in the SAM, a sequence of events takes place ultimately allowing that person access to the system. If the user name or passwords do not properly match any entry in the SAM, an error message is returned requesting that the information be entered again.
In personal computers (PCs) not connected into a LAN and for which there is only one user, Windows asks for only one password when the system is booted up. This function can be disabled if the user does not want to enter authentication data every time the computer is switched on or restarted. The main purpose of the SAM in a PC environment is to make it difficult for a thief to access the data on a stolen machine. It can also provide some measure of security against online hackers.