Unlocking a Windows 8.1 machine with MSN password

September 20, 2015

Recently, I inherited a laptop that came with Windows 8.1 installed. The previous owner had forgotten the login password, and no longer had the phones/accounts that were associated with the machine either. (If you have the choice, I’d recommend you avoid Alzheimer’s disease. It sucks.) I wanted to get the user information off before wiping it and reinstalling. Unfortunately, this machine had a Windows Live / MSN password, rather than a local password.

I started with these instructions. They take advantage of an exploit to enable a command shell from the login screen. In short:

  1. Go into Advanced Startup Options and Troubleshoot -> Advanced Options -> Command Prompt
  2. copy c:\windows\system32\utilman.exe c:\
  3. copy c:\windows\system32\cmd.exe c:\windows\system32\utilman.exe
  4. Reboot
  5. Click the “Ease of Access” icon at the bottom left of the login screen. Now this will open a command shell.
  6. If the user had a local account, you’d be home free now. (net user “username” new-password and then copy the original utilman.exe back). But I wasn’t – instead I saw “System error 8646 : The system is not authoritative for the specified account”. That was because the machine had a MSN login / Microsoft Live password. So instead…
  7. net user brandnewuser secretpassword
  8. Reboot again (probably not necessary, but I did this)
  9. Get back into the “Ease of Access” shell
  10. net localgroup Administrators brandnewuser /add
  11. Reboot
  12. Log in as brandnewuser rather than the original user.
  13. Wait a really really long time (10 minutes or so) for Windows to rebuild the desktop for the new user.
  14. At this point, you can navigate to C:\Users and copy the files from the original user to somewhere else. You will probably have to run the Explorer as Adminstrator in order to do this. I recall being prompted with “You don’t have access to this directory, do you want to get it permanently” once or twice. I said “Yes”.
  15. And that’s it – the pictures can now be copied to CD for preservation (except the ones that were stored in Windows Live, of course). After that you can create restore media and wipe/reinstall.