How-To: Create and Use a Vista Password Reset Disk

By Ronald Pacchiano | Posted August 20, 2009

Most people never bother to password-protect their computers, but several of Windows Vista’s built-in applications and features require a password for your user account. Although this is fairly simple, many people forget the password they created. Did they use any capital letters? Did they place a number sequence at the beginning or the end of the word? It’s this lack of continuity that gets them into trouble.

It’s not hard to imagine that one day you’ll sit down in front of your PC to enter your password and draw a blank. If you forget the password to your Windows Vista machine, there really isn’t much you can do to get back into it.

Anticipating that this might be a problem, Microsoft was kind enough to build a password insurance policy into Vista. It’s called Password Reset Disk. As the name implies, this disk can easily reset your password should you ever forget it. However, like any other insurance policy, you must set it up before you actually need it. If not, you’ll have to reinstall Vista or search the Internet for hacking tools and hope for the best.

Creating and using the password reset disk on a USB flash drive is very simple, and an old 128MB or 256MB drive will do the trick. Insert the flash drive into the PC. Once it’s been recognized by the system, we can begin.

  1. To create the Password Reset Disk, go to the Control Panel and select User Accounts. Under the Tasks pane on the left of the screen, click Create a password reset disk.
  2. This will launch the Forgotten Password Wizard. Press Next to proceed.
  3. Now select the drive letter (example, F:) on which you would like to create the password reset disk. Press Next to continue.
  4. Type the password for your user account and press Next.
  5. When the Progress indicates 100 percent complete, press Next.
  6. Press Finish to complete the password reset disk process.

You have now successfully created a password rest disk for this user account. Remember, anyone can use this disk to reset your password so be sure to store it in a secure location.

If the day comes when you need to use your password reset disk, it is a remarkably simple procedure.

  1. Once you have entered the incorrect password into your workstation you’ll see Reset password… underneath the password entry window. Click it. This will launch the Password Reset Wizard. Press Next to proceed.
  2. The wizard will now ask you for the location of the password reset disk. Select it (example, F: ) and press Next to continue.
  3. Enter a new password, confirm it and then create a hint for your new password. Your hint should be something that you would recognize, yet not be especially helpful to anyone else who might try to access your system. Press Next to start the reset process.
  4. When the process completes, press Finish to close the Password Reset Wizard. This will bring you back to the Windows login screen.
  5. Now just enter your new password to login to your Windows user account.

You do not need to update the password reset disk after you have reset your password. Just continue to store it in a secure location until you need it again. Note: you can use the password reset disk only with a local user account. It does not support user accounts authenticated by a domain server. Those accounts can only be reset by the network administrator.

If your Vista computer has multiple user accounts, you need to create a password reset disk for each of those accounts using a different USB Flash drive for each. You can’t keep multiple keys on a single flash drive. However, there is a way for you to use just one USB flash drive for each of these accounts.

The password reset disk is a 2KB file called USERKEY.PSW, and you can find it on the root of the USB flash drive. If your flash drive had a drive letter “F”, then this file would be found at F:USERKEY.PSW. Once you’ve created this file, you can move it to a sub-folder on the flash drive for safe keeping. With the file safely tucked away, you can add another user account to the USB flash drive.

Let’s say you have three user accounts on your PC and you’d like to create a password reset disk for each. Create a folder for each of the users nn your USB flash drive (ex. F:PAUL, F:JOHN, F:GEORGE). Login to the first account (PAUL) and create the USERKEY.PSW file. Then copy this file into the PAUL folder you created on the USB flash drive.

Now logout and repeat the process for the other two people. You have created and copied a USERKEY.PSW file for each of the users. If you need to reset the password for JOHN, simply copy the USERKEY.PSW file from his folder to the root of the USB flash drive (example: COPY F:JOHNUSERKEY.PSW F:). Now just perform the reset as normal. This method lets you store password reset keys for an entire office or department on a single USB flash drive. Just remember that if you reset a person’s password, you’ll need to copy the updated USERKEY.PSW file back to the corresponding sub-folder on the flash drive.  

Here are several guidelines to help you create a secure password.

  • Your password should be at least eight characters long (15 characters max), but the longer the better
  • It should include a combination of numbers (0-9), symbols (@,$,*,&) and letters; both upper and lower case (A,a, B,b).
  • Ideally it shouldn’t be a real word, nor should it be something obvious like your child's name
  • Finally, it should be significantly different from any of your previous passwords.

An example of a secure password would be something like: J0gRh97V6%$dsP8. This password is 15 characters long and contains a combination of numbers, symbols, plus upper and lowercase letters. Since it’s long and totally random, it becomes exceedingly difficult for someone to hack.

However, having a secure password is meaningless if you can’t remember it. It’s even more useless if you write it down and leave it someplace where anybody could find it.

If remembering a totally random password proves too difficult, try creating a password based on something easy for you to remember. I’m a big fan of using a favorite movie. Let’s say for instance that my favorite movie was 2001 a Space Odyssey. My password could be something like 2001@Space0disy; while not as secure as a completely random password, it is still quite effective. Experiment with some of your own.

Ronald Pacchiano is a contributing writer for SmallBusinessComputing.com.

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