Custom boot CDs help fix Windows disasters

Ryan russell By Ryan Russell

What do you do when your PC won’t load Windows — or it loads, but you’re locked out?

Panic is the first thing that comes to mind. But a better alternative is to create custom boot CDs to access your files andrecover lost passwords.

Different boot CDs for different needs

The boot CD most familiar to Windows users is the installation disc that came with their system. There are, however, many more specialized, third-party boot CDs that help with difficult recovery and maintenance tasks.

For example, the anti-malware rescue CDs produced by AV vendors scan hard drives for malicious code and attempt to remove it. These boot CDs are invaluable when malware renders a Windows machine unusable or unbootable — PCs so hosed that it’s no longer possible to install and use normal anti-malware tools.

That’s just one kind of boot CD. There are many others, and I’ll give you some examples. In particularly difficult cases, you should try multiple types of boot discs to see which works best for you. As I’ve mentioned many times before in this column — multiple tools, multiple scans.

In most cases, you won’t be buying a specialized boot CD but rather making it yourself. You’ll download an image file and burn a disc on a functioning computer. Not too tall an order for most knowledgeable PC users nowadays — especially if you’re a part-time, friends-and-family computer tech.

Recovering lost passwords using boot CDs

For every PC user, there comes a time when you need a password and don’t have it. Someone hands you a computer to use, but no one remembers the password. Someone leaves the company, and you cannot get those critical files off the PC left behind. You’re running the Windows installation CD to perform a repair, and surprise! It asks you for an administrator password you never knew you’d created. I’ve run into all of these problems and more.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2010-04-22:

Ryan Russell

About Ryan Russell

Ryan Russell is a quality assurance manager at BigFix Inc., a configuration management company. He moderated the vuln-dev mailing list for three years under the alias "Blue Boar." He was the lead author of Hack-Proofing Your Network, 2nd Ed., and the technical editor of the Stealing the Network book series.