Sunday, April 25, 2010

Windows XP password reset raises concerns

Q I was concerned to read about how to reset passwords on a Windows XP computer. I have never seen this question answered before and am worried about the security of my computer.

Passwords don’t just get lost or forgotten, this could be used to get access to my computer without permission. When I showed it to my boss he was even more concerned and asked me not to tell anyone about this solution. How should a computer be protected?

A You’re quite right that this is quite a serious security flaw and one that we are pleased to have seen fixed in Vista and Windows 7.

Although it is useful to be able to reset forgotten passwords, it highlights the importance of physical security. Once someone is sitting at the computer it is far harder to restrict what they do. The solution we printed was also suggested by Microsoft.

If you’re worried that someone might abuse this vulnerability in Windows XP, we recommend logging onto your computer and following our instructions on how to add a secure password to the Administrator account. Don’t forget to make a password-reset disk or write the password down and keep them in a safe place; if this and your passwords are lost it may be impossible to recover documents and emails.

Regarding your employer's concerns, the solution given should only work on Windows XP Home and not Professional, the version of Windows XP used in workplaces. It is also normally the responsibility of the company systems administrator to make sure that there are no missing passwords.

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