Losing access to your computer files is a frightening and frustrating experience. Whether you’re a student, professional, or just use your PC for editing home videos and calling friends and family around the world, a lost password can spell disaster for your projects.
Computer manufacturers and software developers like Apple and Microsoft are doing everything they can to bolster security and protect user files from intrusion. This is something that we can all be thankful for—until you need to strong-arm your way into your own computer after having lost your password.
If you’ve found yourself in such a situation, don’t panic. There are password recovery solutions available, which we’ll cover below. Work your way through the list, and with patience and some luck, you should be able to regain access.
These tools should only be used to gain access to your own files, never for the purpose of cracking somebody else’s password.
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Best password recovery solutions - at a glance
Passware is a leading password recovery software developer that has a success rate of about 70%, which is quite good, considering the task at hand. The Basic, Standard, and Standard Plus kits are all intended for home use, although there are Business and even Forensics solutions available, depending on how difficult the job is.
The Basic kit costs just $49 and works on Microsoft Windows Vista, Server 2003/2008/2012/2016, and Windows 7/8.x/10. The software can grant you quick access to a wide variety of file types, either through brute force attacks or Passware’s “Instant Recovery” method, as well as general Windows passwords.
The Kit Standard Plus version, which costs $195, can also unlock password managers like LastPass and Keepass, as well as recent Windows local accounts, server accounts, and Microsoft Live ID accounts.
While somewhat costly and like all solutions, not guaranteed to work in every case, this is a good place to start for a robust password recovery application with a good track record.
A well-known name in the password recovery business, Ophcrack is one of the best freeware solutions available. It’s designed for average users with little knowledge of cracking passwords, so even novices can follow the simple step-by-step instructions.
There’s no need to install Ophcrack on a separate device. Instead, you can download an ISO image directly from the website to be burned onto a CD or flash drive, and boot from either of these to access powerful password recovery options. Ophcrack will locate Windows user accounts and automatically recover the passwords.
Ophcrack currently supports Windows XP/Vista/8/8. It cracks passwords based on “rainbow tables”, which uses less processing time than a brute-force attack. These tables can be downloaded for free from the Ophcrack website. There’s also a brute-force mode for simple passwords.
The software is free and open-source, which is a big advantage both in terms of cost and transparency. While you may not have the user support of a paid solution, Ophcrack has a good track record and can be used to reliably recover many Windows accounts.
Lazesoft is another freeware option for recovering a Windows admin password. You can remove the Windows password entirely, reset it to blank, and unlock, enable, or disable user accounts.
The Home edition has a graphical user interface, making it simple to use. Just follow the step-by-step instructions to create a bootable CD that you’ll use to recover your passwords.
Lazesoft boasts a 100% recovery rate when used on Windows 2000, XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, and even 10. It can also be used to retrieve lost product keys from Windows installations. Finally, Lazesoft has free technical support available, so if you get stuck, you can check out its comprehensive FAQ and knowledge base, and then if necessary, contact by email.
Don’t let the name scare you: John the Ripper is a reputable password recovery tool available for Unix, macOS, Windows, and others. The free version is only available in source code, which isn’t well suited to novice users. However, a Pro version is available for Linux and macOS, starting at $39.95, with a seven-day money-back guarantee.
In both cases, there’s no graphical user interface, so if you’re not familiar with command-line, this tool is probably not for you.
Even if you take the free version, however, the wordlists required to use the program are paid. There’s also a mailing list where you can ask questions if you run into any trouble, although responses may vary in promptness and usefulness.
Trininity Rescue Kit (TRK) is a live Linux distribution that can be used to recover Windows passwords, which can then easily be reset using a simple (text) menu interface. The software also includes five different virus scans and a tool for disk cleanup, with recovery and undeletion of certain files and lost partitions.
The documentation is also extensive—very extensive. Given this and the fact that it runs only on Linux, it may not be a suitable solution for many users. That said, it’s entirely free, has a small download size, and has a five-star rating from its users.
TRK works for Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 10.
- Also check out our roundup of the best password managers