Can't remember any passwords?

How to bring the workstation back, even if you have amnesia.

Recently I was placed in scenario where a user forgot the administrator's password on a Windows NT 4.0 standalone workstation. Worst yet, the user had even forgotten the regular user-account password. And there was no Emergency Repair Disk (ERD) available. Having one would have made life a whole lot easier in restoring the SAM database and necessary NTUSER.DAT files.

But there was some good news: the workstation, being a standalone unit, wasn't used a lot, so there was no long user-account listing.

How to restore user access to the workstation? Here's the procedure I followed.

You have to have the following:

  • Three NT 4.0 workstation setup disks
  • The NT 4.0 workstation CD-ROM

Boot NT using setup disk 1.
Follow the on-screen installation instructions.
During the installation process you will see a screen that will include an option to Repair a current installation, which you should select.

Now you'll see a screen with these options:

  • Inspect Registry Files
  • Inspect startup environment
  • Verify Windows NT system files
  • Inspect boot sector

Select verify Windows NT system files, and deselect the rest.

Select only:

NTUSER.DAT; and
Security

from the list of options that follows.

The repair process you have just started will then restore the original SAM database. Then you'll get a prompt to restart the workstation.

After the reboot, the system will show the default administrator's. Click OK to logon with the default administrator's account (you do not have to enter any password).

Please note that all other user accounts created previously will not be present since the original SAM is restored. So you'll have to recreate any user accounts you want, apply the proper security restrictions, etc.

The lesson learned here is that it is always advisable to have a copy of the Emergency Repair Disk (ERD) updated and readily available. Had that been the case in this situation, all I would have had to do was to use this disk when prompted during the setup procedure.


Adesh Rampat has 10 years experience with network and IT administration. He is a member of the Association Of Internet Professionals, the Institute For Network Professionals, and the International Webmasters Association. He has also lectured extensively on a variety of topics.


This was first published in March 2003

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