The irony in creating super tough passwords is that they’re easy to forget, or if you scribbled one down somewhere and then loose the paper or it’s been digitally erased, you’re back to square one. Or even minus square one if it was the password to your computer. But all is not lost, it is possible to retrieve your password or even circumvent the requirement.
 

So you’ve lost your computer password, can’t remember it and desperately need to gain access to all of your documents?

Given that most PCs in the world run some form of Windows, we’re assuming you’ve got a Microsoft-based computer.

And unfortunately Microsoft won’t help you if you have lost your password – it’s their security policy.

In fact, the software behemoth strongly recommends that you set a password recovery hint when setting up your computer and creating your password.

It also recommends that you create a password reset disk as soon as you first start using the computer.

If you’ve not already done so and it’s not too late, Microsoft provides a web page that explains how to set up password hints and create a password reset disk. Don’t be put off, by the jargon, it’s a fairly simple process and all you really need is a USB stick.

However, if you’ve already lost or forgotten your password there are a number of options you can try to access your computer.

But with so many Windows operating systems now in use, methods to gain access to your computer can vary. That said, listed below are a few generic methods that you can try.

Accessing the computer as ‘administrator’

On Windows, there is a hidden account named Administrator. Most of the time, this account has no password set.

That means that you can start your computer with this account, open the Control Panel to delete or change the password of any users and fix your problem.

To do this requires a few simple steps:

  • Boot your computer and immediately press on the F8 key repeatedly until your computer displays the boot menu.
  • With the arrow keys, choose Safe Mode and press the Enter key.
  • On the home screen click on Administrator.
  • If you have no home screen, type Administrator and leave the password field as blank.
  • Click on the Start menu in the bottom left corner, go in the Control Panel, then in User Accounts you can change any user passwords easily.

This method may or may not work depending on which operating system you are running.

Password reset disk for Windows 7

Given that Windows 7 is still in widespread use we’ve included this section on creating a password reset disk for the Windows 7 operating system.

But you need to take these steps before you bypass your password setup. So if you have lost your password and you don’t have password reset disk, this section is irrelevant.

Taking the steps

Windows 7 has a built-in password reset feature. But to access it, you have to do a little bit of groundwork.

This consists of creating a password recovery disk, which can be a removable USB drive.

  • To begin, do a Windows Search for Password Reset Disk.
  • You should see ‘Create a password reset disk’ as your first option. Select it. This will open the Forgotten Password Wizard.
  • An introductory screen appears which explains the basics - once you’ve read it, click next.
  • You can select the disk that you want to use for password recovery. Since only removable drives can be used, only they will appear as an option which is where your USB stick should appear. Click on this.
  • On the next screen you will have to enter your password. Do this and click next to begin creation of the password recovery disk.
  • Resetting your Windows login is now easy. Just click the ‘reset password’ link below the login screen and follow the on-screen steps. You’ll have to select the appropriate disk and then enter a new password.
  • Your computer should now be unlocked.

Back up directly from BullGuard to your Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive accounts.

There’s some very powerful spy software available for snooping on mobile phones. But nobody would spy on you would they? Well, bugging happens at all sorts of levels from political worthies to anonymous everyday people. If you find your mobile phone chewing through battery life or your data usage rockets skywards, these could be signs of snooping. And if not read on to become acquainted with snooping clues, in this age of mass surveillance they could be very useful.
 

Why would someone want to spy on me? It’s a question that is asked a lot especially by people who have been spied on. Well, maybe you have information that someone else wants. If you’re in business it could be details about sales strategies, new product development and so on. It could be to find out whether an affair is taking place or it could be related to a court case.
 

But if you’ve never spied on anyone, the concept of you being spied upon will probably seem outlandish and ludicrous. But for some people spying on others is a way of life and in this technology and mobile age it’s a lot easier than it ever used to be. If your phone has been handled by someone else, for instance during repairs or for some other reason, a backdoor application could have been installed to piggyback your GPS service or spy software could have been installed on your mobile device.
 

But don’t take our word for it, there’s a large, legitimate and thriving industry solely dedicated to snooping on others via spy software. And some of this software is very powerful indeed. But it’s not so powerful that you can’t see the clues if you know what you’re looking for.

How to tell if your cell phone is being spied on

There are several tell-tale signs that suggest your phone is being tracked, tapped or monitored in some way. The signs can be quite subtle but when you know what to look out for, they can also be glaring:

  • Unusual sounds during calls

If there are clicking sounds, static or distant voices coming through your phone during conversations it could be a sign that you’re being snooped on. This is not normal for today’s phones on digital networks. It’s a thing of the past and associated with old-style analogue networks. If you are hearing fragmentary voices, they may not be in your head; it’s a possibility that your phone has been tapped.

  • Decreased battery capacity

Another indication of a bugged cell phone is reduced battery performance. If a mobile phone is tapped it is recording your activities and transmitting them to a third party. This leaves a footprint in the form of increased battery usage and as a result the battery loses life faster. A tapped cell phone can also be constantly recording conversations in the room, even when the phone appears to be idle. And of course as a result it will chew through battery life. You can test this by using your battery in another phone of the same model and compare the results. Is your phone using more battery power than a phone of the same model and software? If so, it could be that your phone is bugged, or it’s defective in some way.

  • Phone shows activity when not in use

Is your phone making noises or lighting up its screen when you’re not using it? Call and message alerts to one side your phone should be as silent as a sleeping baby when not in use. Does it also reboot for no reason at all? If so it’s possible that someone has remote access to your device.

  • Phone takes a long time to shut down

Before a smart phone shuts down it must complete any tasks that are processing. If your phone is transmitting data to someone it will have to complete the process before it shuts down. As a result if a phone takes longer than usual to turn off especially after a call, text, email or web browsing it could be sending information to a third party.

  • Battery temperature feels warm

A further indicator of a possible phone tap is the temperature of your battery. If the phone feels warm even when you haven’t used your phone it could be still in use secretly transmitting data. However this is only a potential sign.

  • Receiving unusual texts

Are you receiving strange text messages containing random numbers, symbols or characters? The remote control feature of spy software works by sending secret coded text messages to your phone and in some cases these can be seen if the software is not working correctly. If this happens regularly you could have a spy app on your phone.

  • Increased data usage

Some of the less reliable spy apps use extra data to send the information collected from your phone, so look out for any unexplained increase in your monthly data usage. The best spy software programs data usage has been reduced and will be almost impossible to spot but the poor programs will show significant data use.

How to find spy software on your phone (Android and iOS)

Android

It’s possible to find spy software on an Android by looking inside the files on the phone. Go to Settings – Applications – Manage Applications or Running Services, and you may be able to spot suspicious looking files. Good spy programs usually disguise the file names so that they don’t stand out but sometimes they may contain terms like spy, monitor, stealth and so on. Some of the poorer quality software programs are still quite easy to spot.
 

Don’t worry, if you are only looking for confirmation of spy software you won’t do any damage to the phone, but it’s probably best not to remove or delete any files unless you really know what you are doing. And if you do find suspicious software it’s a good idea to take your device to someone who does know what they are doing.

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iPhone

Generally, if you have an iPhone and someone wants to install spy software they have to jailbreak the phone first. That said vulnerabilities have been discovered in the past that allowed someone with access to a network used by the device to download significant amounts of personal data. These holes have been patched but you can never be too certain about new vulnerabilities emerging.
 

Sometimes you might find software on your iPhone that you don’t remember downloading. You can check the Apple store and see if that software is available and if not then it’s likely your phone has been jail broken.
 

Looking deeper inside the iPhone directories is more difficult than with Android but there is an easy way to remove spy software from the iPhone. Simply upgrade to the latest OS version via iTunes which will remove the jailbreak and any external software not from Apple. But make sure to back up any important data on your phone before you do this.
 

Factory resets

Resetting your phone to its factory settings, whether Android or iPhone, will remove any spy software, but again be sure to back up your data such as contacts, photos and music or you will lose them.

If you do take this approach then you will also need a strong passcode to prevent unauthorized access to your device in the future. For Android devices, you can also install an app, like AppNotifier that will email you when programs are loaded onto your phone, giving you a heads up if someone is trying to do something they shouldn’t.

Did you just discovered that someone is spying on you?

It can be a shock to discover that someone is monitoring you with spy software.  Most targets of spy software aren’t even aware that this kind of software exists much less that someone would want to snoop on them. It may not be personal perhaps it’s for business reasons. It may be personal, perhaps there’s an abusive ex-partner on your trail who just won’t let go. But if you’ve detected any of the behaviours above perhaps you’re already suspicious. And if you have spotted unusual behaviours on your phone it’s at least worth checking out and remembering that there is lots of very power and easy to use spy software out there.

 

Using utilities

There are many computer utilities you can use to help access your computer if you’ve lost your password.

A utility is a computer program developed for a specific task usually something to do with system resource management. They are generally a lot smaller than applications so don’t require lots of memory.

Thankfully there are a number of free and commercial utilities available for bypassing or changing a lost password in Windows.

  • Emergency Boot CD - The EBCD (Emergency Boot CD) is powerful toolset designed to fix unbootable computers and recover data from them. It has a raft of useful features one of which is the ability to change the password without needing to know the previous password. And if you’ve lost your password EBCD could be right up your street.
  • Offline NT Password & Registry Editor - The Offline NT password & Registry Editor is a great utility that enables users to overwrite their Windows SAM file. It’s a technical term but the SAM file on your computer contains passwords. Using this you won’t be able to see the previous password, but you can gain access to unencrypted files.

Password cracking tools

You can always try a third party password cracking tool too. You may feel like you are stepping into the realms of hacking but legitimate developers create these tools to help peers and colleagues, and also to test the efficacy of existing security methods.

In short, the search for ever better security is a steady on-going operation and improvements can only be made when weaknesses are discovered. As the well-known industry saying goes ‘don’t learn to hack, hack to learn.’

One of the most mooted is Ophcrack, a free option which uses something called a ‘rainbow table’ to guess your password. It’s available for different Windows operating systems including Windows 7 and Windows 8 as well as the now unsupported XP and Vista too.

That said there are also lot more options. You can do your own research or you might want to consider one the following, all of which are popular:

  • Brutus - Brutus is one of the most popular remote online password cracking tools. It claims to be the fastest and most flexible password cracking tool. It is free and is only available for Windows systems. And it’s been around a bit which, is a good sign - it released back in October 2000.
  • Cain and Abel - Cain and Abel is a well-known password cracking tool that is capable of handling a variety of tasks. It’s only available for Windows platforms. It can crack encrypted passwords using something called the dictionary attack and it can also carry out brute force attacks, cryptanalysis attacks, uncover cached passwords, decode scrambled passwords and analyse routing protocols. It might be a bit heavyweight if all you’re trying to do is get into your computer – but then again if you want to learn about technology security it’s a box of magic tricks that will more than give you a feel for what some hackers get up to.
  • John the Ripper - John the Ripper is another well-known free open source password cracking tool that is primarily aimed at Linux, Unix and Mac OS X. But a Windows version is also available. This tool can detect weak passwords. A pro version of the tool is also available, which offers better features.
  • L0phtCrack - L0phtCrack is an alternative to OphCrack. It attempts to crack Windows password from hashes. For cracking passwords, it uses Windows workstations, network servers, primary domain controllers, and Active Directory. It also uses dictionary and brute force attacking for generating and guessing passwords.
  • RainbowCrack - RainbowCrack is a hash cracker tool that uses a large-scale time-memory trade off process for faster password cracking than traditional brute force tools. Time-memory trade-off is a computational process in which all plain text and hash pairs are calculated by using a selected hash algorithm. The process is time consuming as it creates a table but once ready it can crack a password must faster than brute force tools.

Not an endorsement

Please note, by listing the above tools we’re certainly not advocating hacking in any sense. These tools are used and researched by well-respected security institutes around the world. If researchers in this field didn’t have knowledge of different password cracking methods and tools, and how to use them, they would be seriously falling down in their responsibilities.

In fact, we strongly suspect most BullGuard blog readers won’t go down this route to recover a lost password; it’s easier to use a utilities tool or take your computer to the local IT guy who can do it for you.  But it does no harm to create awareness and indeed if anything it reinforces the need for good security and online vigilance.

And if you create a strong password, one that combines symbols, upper and lower case letters and numbers it will defeat many of the cracking methods listed above – just don’t lose it.