Turbotodd

Ruminations on IT, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

My Big Hack Attack

with 5 comments

I had to hack into my own computer last night.

Let me set the stage.

I have too many computers and related electronic devices.

Which means I also have too many passwords.

I try to carry them all around in my head, because I’m not supposed to write them down anywhere where somebody other than me might find them.

Unfortunately, sometimes, not unlike my computers, not enough ROM gets overwhelmed by too much RAM, and I find myself in the situation I found myself in last night.

In this particular instance, what happened was this: I forgot my Windows login password on my ThinkPad.

Now, I don’t know if you know what happens when you find yourself in this particular circumstance, but I can assure you it’s not pretty.

In fact, recognizing the severity of the situation, I almost went into a panic.  This was my work ThinkPad on which I had every file, application, etc. necessary to do my job.

It had every presentation I’d worked on recently, and which wasn’t backed up.  Anywhere.

And I forgot my password.

I’ve learned to become self-reliant in situations like this.

And I figured calling our help desk would just result in someone telling me I was going to have to reinstall the image on my PC and lose everything.

Uh, thanks, but no thanks.

I had to get creative.

I went to The Google.

The Google has the all-knowing answers to everything.

Notice I didn’t say I went to The Bing, which, considering this was a Windows password issue, might have been a logical thing to do.

But I was worried that The Bing, which is trying to be an awful lot like The Google, might just tell me to buy a new computer with Windows 7, which I don’t need (at least, not on this particular computer).

Once at The Google, I went to the search query and entered “windows forgotten password.”

There were 3,050,000 results for this particular query as of around 7 PM CST last night.

Ruh roh.

Fortunately, The Google, being the all-knowing entity it is, was able to get me very quickly to a Website that seemed to promise me the answer I was looking for (other than reinstalling Windows from scratch or buying Windows 7).

The solution involved building a CD for a product called “Ophcrack,” which promised to be a “free Windows password cracker based on rainbow tables. It is a very efficient implementation of rainbow tables done by the inventors of the method.  It comes with a Graphical User Interface and runs on multiple platforms.”

Well, I certainly hadn’t seen a rainbow in quite some time, although I didn’t expect to see one while trying to crack my Windows admin password.  But hey, whatever works.

And the idea of a GUI certainly worked for me, as I left the DOS command prompt behind oh, say, around 1996.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that I needed another computer to build the Ophcrack boot CD.  And I didn’t have another Windows computer I could use.

Fortunately, my MacBook Pro came to the rescue.  I was able to download the ISO tool, build the CD (I tried DVD first, but my external drive was CD, not DVD.  I’m telling you, this got complicated!), and finally run the application.

It failed on the first pass.  So, I tried it in “text mode.”  That didn’t work either.

I had one more shot: Low RAM mode.

Little did I know how important Low RAM mode would become to this attempt to hack my own computer. Without Low RAM mode, I might have been sent to the rubber room for people who forgot their Windows admin passwords and bounce off the walls.

But Low RAM mode saved the day…I watched with morbid fascination as the program attempted a brute force attack on my PC.

I felt like Matthew Broderick in “War Games.”  Only the Internet as we know it didn’t exist back when “War Games” came out, and for that matter, neither did WindowsXP.

What would Matthew have done, I wondered aloud…before deciding that he, too, would go in search of the Ophcrack rainbow tables and Low RAM mode.

Of course he would!

Though the brute force attack failed (nice to know there’s at least SOME security with Windows passwords), whatever other mode the Ophcrack program went into — which did NOT have a clever name like “Jupiter Mothball Circumvention” or anything —  took a good hour or so before the magic first letters of my password starting appearing onscreen (assuming with the help of those lovely rainbow tables).

It was like Vanna White magically appearing before my computer screen and turning the letters to a solved puzzle.  Soon, enough letters appeared so that I remembered what my stupid password was.

For the record, I’m a marketeer, not a technologist.  I never aspired to be a hacker.  But circumstances forced my hand.

If I broke any official IBM rules with IBM IT I also apologize in advance.  I hope you won’t fire me.  My password was in jail and I had to rescue it like some digital SWAT team taking out the hacker terrorists.

You’d have done the same thing.

But here’s the lesson: If Turbo the marketeer can find out how to hack a Windows password via The Google in about 15 minutes, you can only imagine what those with malicious intent might be able to do.

As for Ophcrack, I’m sure there are many Windows admins who hate you with a passion.

But I can say without reservation that I love and adore you and your GUI interface and rainbow tables and Low RAM modes and want to have your baby.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go change my password.

BLOGGER’S NOTE: If you’d like to listen to the TurboTech podcast edition of this post, click here to listen to the MP3.

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Written by turbotodd

August 3, 2010 at 5:05 pm

5 Responses

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  1. And IBM don’t stop you from booting your device from a cd. Sounds like they need some lessons before you start pointing the finger?

    Justin

    August 3, 2010 at 8:28 pm

  2. Not aware of any issues with booting from a CD, and thank Heavens I had that option. As for fingerpointing, I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to. I blame nobody but myself for forgetting my own password!

    Todd Watson

    August 3, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    • what Justin said is that if this notebook would be property of ibm company and had inside company confidential data …. it would be too easy to stole theese data … but this notebook is your personal notebook, not ibm’s property is’nt it ?:-)

      Luigi

      August 3, 2010 at 9:03 pm

      • Luigi, actually, it doesn’t matter if the machine is mine or IBM’s (and for security reasons, I won’t be revealing which is the case here ; ) And in any case, that’s why the password was there in the first place, to protect proprietary information.

        turbotodd

        August 3, 2010 at 9:53 pm

  3. Well, instead of spending all those hours in front of the PC waiting for a miracle, maybe it would have been more useful to get a Linux Live CD that boots in 5 minutes, back up all the data and then install a fresh copy of Windows. Or at least poke things around from a GUI. Maybe even try this: http://www.psychocats.net/ubuntucat/resetwindowspassword/if it happens next time :)

    /cd

    cdavid

    August 3, 2010 at 11:44 pm


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