Getting back into a Windows 10 account

I have been working on a Windows 10 laptop from 2012. It came with Windows 7 but got upgraded during Microsoft’s all-but-forced “trick you into upgrading” period.  It has an AMD E-300 CPU which wasn’t zippy even when brand new.  The user has been logging in using a Microsoft account password as well as with a PIN.  Unfortunately, the computer has networking issues where it sometimes won’t connect to a wireless access point via Wi-Fi nor directly when plugged in using an Ethernet cable.  I’ve been working on that issue but that’s still an on-going process.

In an attempt speed up this excruciatingly slow computer, I went into msconfig and turned off all non-Microsoft services and disabled all startups.  Much to my dismay, it didn’t ask for the PIN to log in when I restarted it nor did it ask for the Microsoft password.  This was most likely due it not connecting to the Internet yet again. It seemed to revert to the local account password which the user didn’t know.  There were no other accounts on the computer.  After many restarts and password guessing attempts, nothing changed. I just couldn’t log in.

As I haven’t worked with a Windows 10 computer (I’m still using Windows 7 and a Mac) I had to Google how to get into safe mode.  The easiest way seemed to be clicking on the power icon on the login screen and hold shift while pressing restart.  From there I got options to do different things but they all required me to be able to log into the account which I couldn’t do.

After much searching I found a page (https://www.urtech.ca/2016/01/solved-how-to-reset-a-password-in-windows-10-without-using-a-reset-disk/) that described a process that might work by creating another user account on the computer by changing the program launched by the Ease of Access icon on the login screen.  Another page (https://www.howtogeek.com/222262/how-to-reset-your-forgotten-password-in-windows-10/) described the same process but added how to change the password of the original account using “Local Users and Groups” which unfortunately I found isn’t on the version of Windows 10 I’m working with on this computer.

The steps to create an account are:

  • Boot from a Windows 10 DVD or USB
  • When Windows Setup starts, press SHIFT + F10 to launch a command window
  • Find the drive letter with Windows.  This can vary from C, D, E, or possibly higher.  Just type C:\ and press ENTER then type dir and press ENTER and see if Windows is one of the directories.  If not, go to D:\ and repeat until you find it.  It was on E: on the computer I was working with so I will use e:\ in the following instructions.  You should substitute the drive letter where you found Windows on your computer.
  • Create a backup of the Ease of Access program by renaming it.  Type ren e:\windows\system32\utilman.exe utilman.exe.bak and press ENTER.
  • Make a Command window the program to be launched when the Ease of Access button is pressed by typing copy e:\windows\system32\cmd.exe e:\windows\system32\utilman.exe and press ENTER.
  • Exit the Windows 10 setup program by shutting the computer down by pressing the power button. Make sure the USB stick or DVD is removed before restarting the computer.
  • Start the computer normally and at the login screen, click the Ease of Access icon. (It’s supposed to open a Command window but didn’t as I describe below. I also describe how I fixed the problem.)
  • (From here, it is assumed the Command window opened) type net user test /add and press ENTER (This adds a user named “test” to the computer)
  • Type net localgroup administrators test /add and press ENTER. (This gives the user “test” administrative privileges)
  • Type exit and press ENTER to close the Command window
  • Click the power icon on the login screen and click Restart.
  • Sign in as “test” without a password.

Someone left a comment on the first page I linked saying the trick didn’t seem to work anymore (in September 2018) and must have been patched by Microsoft.  Well, I found that’s not quite the case.  It’s not Windows stopping the trick from working but rather the antivirus.  This page (https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/windows-defender-can-detect-accessibility-tool-backdoors/) describes how Windows Defender monitors backdoors and prevents them from being exploited.  I’m guess it does that by comparing the hash value of the files against what it should be.  All was not lost though.  When I restarted by going to the login screen and pressing SHIFT while clicking the power icon and clicking restart, one of the options I was presented with after digging through the various options in changing the startup behavior was stopping the antivirus from loading early.  With Windows Defender effectively turned off, clicking the Ease of Access icon did indeed launch the Command window and I could proceed with the rest of the steps.  If it still didn’t work, I would have next researched how to temporarily disable the antivirus program from the Command prompt of the Windows 10 installation USB or DVD.

Speaking of which, I found directions on how to download and create the Windows 10 installation USB or DVD from this page (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10).  It’s perfectly legal as it’s from Microsoft and you can’t use it to install Windows 10 on a computer that isn’t licensed for it.

Now I never got far enough to figure out how to change the local password of the original account from the test account, if it’s even possible.  I was able to get the networking card working again so upon restarting, it once again asked for the Microsoft password of the original account which the user knew.  I’m not sure but my guess is the networking stopped working when I disabled some services or start up items related to it.  It’s something I’ll have to look into in the future.  As far as the original account goes, I think you’ll have access to the user’s files from the “test” account so you can copy them out and start with a new user account if needed.

Keep in mind that the Ease of Access program was renamed in following these instructions so you’ll have to change it back if you ever plan to use it.  The test account will still be there too unless you decide to delete it. This was a challenging endeavor that took a few hours to figure out but it’s satisfying when the issue is finally resolved. It also proves that hackers can do anything to your computer under normal circumstances if they have physical access to it. Ciao!