Windows password recovery tools are used to recover, or reset lost user and administrator passwords used to log on to Windows operating systems.
Password recovery tools are often called "password cracker" tools because they are sometimes used to "crack" passwords by hackers. Legally cracking or unlocking your own Windows password is certainly a legitimate practice!
Note: A Windows password recovery program is just one of several ways to find a lost Windows password.
Need to Crack a Different Kind of Password? See my list of free password crackers for free programs to crack PDF files, Word & Excel documents, RAR & ZIP archives, and more.
The Ophcrack Windows password cracker is by far the best free Windows password recovery tool available. It's fast and easy enough for a first time Windows password cracker with a basic knowledge of Windows.
With Ophcrack, you don't need any access to Windows to be able to recover your lost passwords. From another computer, visit the site, download the free ISO image, burn it to a CD and boot from the CD. The Ophcrack program starts, locates the Windows user accounts, and proceeds to recover (crack) the passwords - all automatically.
In a test on a Windows 8 PC, Ophcrack recovered the 8-character password (mixed letters and numbers) to my administrator account in 3 minutes and 29 seconds. Ophcrack supports Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP.
Offline NT Password & Registry Editor (ONTP&RE) works differently than most password recovery programs in that it erases your Windows password instead of recovering it. You can think of it as more of a Windows password reset tool.
Like Ophcrack, you boot to a burned CD created with the Offline NT Password & Registry Editor ISO file. After running the program, you can log in to your Windows account without entering a password at all.
If you like this "password deleting" strategy then I highly recommend this program. It requires some seemingly difficult command line work but I have a full walkthrough available. In other words: you can do this!
I've tested Offline NT Password & Registry Editor on 64-bit & 32-bit versions of Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP PCs and it reset the passwords immediately without problem. It should work on Windows 2000 and Windows NT operating systems too.
3. PC Login Now
PC Login Now is one of the better free Windows password recovery programs I've tested... even though it doesn't actually recover passwords.
Instead of discovering and displaying your current Windows password, PC Login Now deletes it, allowing you to access Windows without a password, after which you can create a new one.
PC Login Now works just like the free and popular Offline NT Password & Registry Editor (listed above) only it's much easier to use.
The trade-off with PC Login Now over Offline NT Password & Registry Editor is that PC Login Now causes Windows to detect a possible hard drive problem on the first reboot after deleting the password. I've never seen nor heard of a problem actually happening but it's still a little bothersome.
In a test on a Windows 7 PC, PC Login Now deleted the 15-character password to my user account instantly. PC Login Now supports Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP. PC Login Now did not work properly in my tests with Windows 8.
Kon-Boot works differently than the two password reset tools above, so if you have problems using them, give Kon-Boot a try. It's very, very easy to use and probably the fastest password reset, and certainly password recovery, tool available.
Unfortunately, Kon-Boot 1.0 does not work with 64-bit versions of Windows, nor any version of Windows 7 or Windows 8.
I used Kon-Boot v1.0 to successfully delete the password on a Windows Vista PC and then also on a Windows XP PC. A commercial version of Kon-Boot, version 2.2, supposedly works with 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8 but I haven't tried it myself.
5. Cain & Abel
Cain & Abel is a free, fast and effective Windows password recovery tool.
Unlike Ophcrack and other popular Windows password hacking programs, Cain & Abel requires access to Windows under an administrator account. Due to this fact, Cain & Abel is a valuable resource to recover passwords to accounts other than the one you're using.
Add that to the fact that Cain & Abel is a bit more complicated to use than other password recovery apps and you have what is, in my book, a pretty advanced tool. Check it out if you think it might be useful to you.
Cain & Abel was able to recover the 10-character password to the Windows XP "Administrator" account in ten seconds. While it only officially supports Windows XP, 2000, and NT, some users have had luck getting it to work in Windows Vista and Windows 7. I've tried it with Windows 8, 7, and Vista and was unsuccessful each time.
LCP is yet another free password recovery software tool for Windows.
Like Cain & Abel, LCP is a standard Windows program you download from LCPSoft's website and install inside of Windows, meaning you'll need access to a user account on the computer.
LCP can be a little intimidating to those new to Windows password recovery tools so some prior knowledge is very helpful to avoid even bigger problems with your PC.
I haven't been able to get LCP to work for me in Windows XP, the newest version of Windows it supports. If you've successfully used LCP and would like to share your experiences, please let me know.
John the Ripper is a very popular free password recovery tool that can be used to find Windows account passwords.
While the password recovery application itself is free, the wordlists used by John the Ripper to discover passwords do cost and are required for the software to work.
Note: I'm told there are free wordlist alternatives that work with John the Ripper which is why this Windows password recovery tool is still listed as free. However, I have not tested any of them.
John the Ripper is operated at the command line making it a password cracking tool reserved for the very advanced user. In theory, John the Ripper should support all popular versions of Windows like Windows 8, 7, Vista, and XP.
Windows Password Recovery Tools Aren't Necessary if You're Proactive!
These Windows password recovery tools are great if you need them, but there's a much easier way to access your account if you forget your password - a password reset disk! See How To Create a Password Reset Disk for a tutorial.
A password reset disk is a special disk you can insert in your PC during the logon process that will allow you to change your Windows password without knowing your current password. You will need to create this disk before you lose access to your account!