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, 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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