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Tech Line

Last Resort Recovery Console Access

Enabling automatic logon to the Recovery Console may get you access to a system with an unknown local administrator password or when portions of the Registry are corrupt.

Chris: I cannot logon to my Windows XP Home desktop. Every time it starts up, I receive the error “When trying to update a password the return status indicates that the value provided as the current password is not correct.” The system then reboots and the cycle starts all over again. I tried following the procedures in Microsoft KB article 307545, but I’m unable to logon to the Recovery Console as Administrator. Each time I try, I’m told that the password is invalid.

I’m completely stuck and don’t want to lose any data. Can you help?
-- Rachelle

Rachelle: Your problem turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. The MS KB article you mentioned does an excellent job of getting administrators to recover a system when the Registry is corrupt -- however, the level of corruption of your Registry didn’t even allow you to logon.

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At this point, I thought about telling some silly corruption joke but decided that no matter who I compare corruption to I’m liable to offend someone. So in the name of staying employed by MCPmag.com, I’ll leave that one alone.

My first instinct was to reset the Windows Administrator password to null using the procedure that I discussed in my Tech Line tip "Admin Access ... Denied!" The procedure documented in this article shows you how to reset the local administrator account on any Windows computer using a Linux boot floppy or CD-ROM. When Rachelle tried this, it didn’t work. Even with a local administrator account set to null, she still couldn’t logon to the Recovery Console in order to follow the procedures in MS KB article 307545.

On a hunch, I decided to try to enable automatic administrative logon for the Recovery Console. If you are logged onto a system, you can do this by running regedit and navigating to the following Registry key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Setup\RecoveryConsole

From here, you would need to create a DWORD value named "SecurityLevel." Once the value is created, double-click on it and set its value data to 1. This entire procedure is documented in Microsoft KB article 312149.

Of course, this is useless to Rachelle since she can’t logon in the first place. This is again where the Offline NT Password & Registry Editor Bootdisk/CD comes in handy. To gain access to the Recovery Console, Rachelle performed the following steps:

  1. Download the Offline NT Password & Registry Editor Bootdisk ISO image file and burn it to a CD.
  2. Boot the XP system from the CD.
  3. When prompted to select the partition, enter the partition number that contains the OS (1 is the default) and press Enter.
  4. Hit Enter to accept the default location of the Registry files.
  5. Press “2” and hit Enter to select to edit the Recovery Console parameters.
  6. Press “3” and hit Enter to select to edit Recovery Console settings.
  7. You should now see that “Administrator password login” is set to “Enforced.” Hit “y” to change it and then press Enter.
  8. Press “q” to quit.
  9. You will then see the “You are about to write files back! Do it?” prompt. Type “y” here and press Enter. The default is “n,” so as a result many people use this utility and then don’t save any changes.
  10. At the “New run?” prompt, type “n” and press Enter.

You can now reboot the computer and boot into the Recovery Console. If the Recovery Console is installed, you can select it from the boot menu. If the console is not installed, you can boot off the Windows XP setup CD to access the Recovery Console. That process is also documented in Microsoft KB article 307545, which was mentioned earlier.

Once at the Recovery Console, Rachelle was able to complete the repair of her system. Keep in mind that if you enable automatic administrative logon to the Recovery Console as a temporary means to gain access, you should disable automatic Recovery Console logon after the system has been recovered by running regedit and setting the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Setup\RecoveryConsole\SecurityLevel DWORD value to 0.

About the Author

Chris Wolf is a Microsoft MVP for Windows --Virtual Machine and is a MCSE, MCT, and CCNA. He's a Senior Analyst for Burton Group who specializes in the areas of virtualization solutions, high availability, storage and enterprise management. Chris is the author of Virtualization: From the Desktop to the Enterprise (Apress), Troubleshooting Microsoft Technologies (Addison Wesley), and a contributor to the Windows Server 2003 Deployment Kit (Microsoft Press).learningstore-20/">Troubleshooting Microsoft Technologies (Addison Wesley) and a contributor to the Windows Server 2003 Deployment Kit (Microsoft Press).

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Sep 6, 2010 Patrick Metro Manila, Philippines

i followed all the steps from step 1 to 10, and yet, when i access my recovery console, it still says that i entered an invalid password. i did the above process for about a dozen times already, each time i would patiently screen each line, making sure i followed every detail. please help, i've got 160gig worth of files in my hard drive...

Mon, Jul 6, 2009

These instructions seem great, but I can' seem to get past #2! If I boot the system from the CD, I am not prompted to do anything except decide how to start up windows. What's wrong here?

Sun, Mar 1, 2009 Anonymous Anonymous

Incredible article! I had this utility from the UBCD and could not get into the recovery console because of this administrator password that cannot be reset! YOU ROCK!

Thu, Jan 15, 2009 Anonymous Anonymous

Excuse me. I feel about airplanes the way I feel about diets. It seems to me they are wonderful things for other people to go on.
I am from Japan and too poorly know English, give true I wrote the following sentence:

Sat, Oct 27, 2007 Paul Kentucky

Excellent column Chris! I needed to rebuild my boot.ini file but was unable to access the Recovery Console to do so until following your instructions on using the Offline NT Password & Registry Editor Bootdisk. Thanks!

Tue, Oct 3, 2006 nick ohio

Chris, rarely do I find a solution to a complex problem I am having with a system. Thanks for this article!

Tue, Oct 18, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

Thanks Chris! That one really helped me out. Somehow my SAM wasn't working (the admin password didn't work, neither did a password changer boot CD). Excellent!

Wed, Sep 7, 2005 DeafMCSA Anonymous

Sven, the system is not dead, it not allowing the user to use the administrator password. Another option is that if you really want to rebuild the system, you can use an external USB shell case for that hard drive. On another system you can coipy the data to another machine and redo the computer. My recommendation would be to use a new fresh hard drive and rebuild that hard drive adn transfer the data from corupted hard drive to the fresh new hard drive. Ther eis so many possible solution to this, but if you MUST use the current hard drive and it settings, then Offline NT Password & Registry Editor Bootdisk/CD may be your best answer.

Wed, Sep 7, 2005 DeafMCSA Anonymous

Regarding to the Offline NT Password & Registry Editor Bootdisk/CD. You want to force the administrator password to be BLANK, there is a information on there step by step. Usually it default most of the way to make changes on the password if it forgotten.

However if it a default Windows OS from Dell, HP, etc, it may not have an administrator password. It may be just blank. May need to check on that, however using Offline NT Password & Registry Editor Bootdisk/CD is your own risk. I had confirmed that this had worked for Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP Home Edition, Windows XP Professional, and Windows 2003 Server.

The instruction that Chris had posted is almost completely correct except step 7, do not enter a password you want, should use blank, once you are in Windows, then change the administrator password that you would not forget, keep in mind to make it complicated not simple.

I also would add additional line (11) once you reboot the system, let the Windows run a check disk, and you should get the windows prompt. If this system is on a network, make sure you are using the local machine setting not the domain. I do not believe that this tools will work for network issue, just the local machine.

Tue, Sep 6, 2005 Andy H Dublin, Oh, USA

as an extra step i would have tried setting the administrative password to a known value if null didn't work. I've found that sometimes null doesn't work, but setting the password to something like "andy" will get you in.

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