Whether you've forgotten your password or you have a more malicious intent, it's actually extremely easy to break into a Windows computer without knowing the password. Here's how to do it, and how to prevent others from doing the same to you.
Tagged With password recovery
CNET's Michael Horowitz runs down the ins and outs of securing and restoring private, secure access to your Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail account, whether it's been infiltrated, locked you out, or you're just looking to ensure its privacy. It's a good guide that might make you think twice about your web mail practices, especially if you haven't run through his final bit of advice: Test your password recovery procedure—the kind that left Sarah Palin's Yahoo Mail account wide open—before anyone else does.
Anyone involved in backing up computer files knows the importance of testing the recovery process and the same applies with Web mail. The best way to insure that you can recover or reset your password is try it.
Horowitz covers the pros and cons of the three major web mail services, so if you're using a different service with better (or worse) security, tell us how you lock it down in the comments.Being smart about Web mail
Windows only: Freeware PDF Unlocker, a free Windows utility, doesn't do everything that commerical packages like those from Elcomsoft do, but it will help if you just need to unlock copy/paste and editing restrictions on a PDF. Simply drag a copy-protected PDF onto PDF Unlocker's icon, and a new, non-protected copy will be created. You can also strip PDF files of passwords needed to open and read them, but you, uh, need the password to do so. For simple restrictions, however, it does the job. Freeware PDF Unlocker is a free download for Windows systems.Freeware PDF Unlocker
ACCESS DENIED. Those two bone-chilling words are the last thing you want to see when you're trying to log into a system or open a file, but they're not necessarily a dead end. Several free tools can help you find lost passwords you can't remember or that your computer has saved but obscured. Let's take a look at a few free remedies for lost password panic when you're trying to log onto a computer, network, or just figure out what's behind that string of asterisks.
Windows only: When you dig up that old Outlook PST (Personal Folders) file from years ago you cleverly secured with a hard-to-guess password—and now you can't guess it—you want PstPassword. Turns out that Outlook passwords aren't that difficult to figure out, because this handy utility detects the PST's on your system (or you can open one up specifically) and reveals several possible passwords that can open the file. The developer writes:
All systems with access to a Windows partition: The free, open source Windows password cracker, Ophcrack Live CD, has updated to version 3.0 with faster cracking, a better interface, and an all-new Vista version. We've walked you through how to crack a Windows password with Ophcrack in the past (and offered tips for securing your password against Ophcrack), but the new and improved version has been rebuilt to beef up the already impressive tool. The Ophcrack source code is free to download and also available as a Windows installer, but the live CD .ISO file is the quickest and easiest way to get cracking. If you give it a try, let's hear how your passwords fared in the comments.Ophcrack
Windows only: Freeware application WirelessKeyView recovers the wireless network keys saved to your computer by the Windows Wireless Zero Configuration service of XP or the WLAN AutoConfig service in Vista. As with any password-finding tool, this can be put to use both for the powers of good or evil, but we trust you'll stick to good—say when you're doing tech support on your parents' laptop and they can't remember what their Wi-Fi password is. WirelessKeyView is freeware, Windows only. Got more password cracking needs done? Crack your Windows password with Ophcrack, or roll up your sleeves on your network passwords with Cain and Abel.WirelessKeyView
If time were no object, we'd all live a more secure computer life—we'd beef up our browsers, use complex passwords, and keep our data locked up with encryption Skynet couldn't crack. But that kind of stuff requires obscure software, tricky command line work, and most of a free weekend, right? Nope. Anybody can feel more secure about their systems with the help of some free software and easy tweaks and add-ons. We've rounded up a good deal of these swift and simple security fixes for Windows, Mac, and Linux, so bust out the tinfoil hats and check 'em out after the jump. Photo by ul Marga.