Access Is Denied Message After Sysprep–How To Fix

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If before you use Sysprep to prepare a Windows machine for imaging you set the administrators password “User cannot change password” then sysprep will not clear this setting, but will set the “User must change password at next logon” setting. Normally these two settings are mutually exclusive, but in the scenario for sysprep it seems they can both end up being set.

This means you get prompted to reset you password at first logon after sysprep completes and then find you have “Access Denied” as the response. There is seemingly no way around this Catch-22.

That is unless you use the Offline NT Password and Registry Editor. This tool allows password resets when booting the server from a CD or USB key (so physical access to the server is required). As the download for this is an iso file, it can also be used in virtual environments by configuring your virtual machine to boot from the iso you have downloaded.

To allow you to logon to your machine following the above issue, all you need to in the Offline NT Password tool is to blank out the administrators password and unlock the account. These are options 1 and 4 during the password reset stage. Full instructions with screenshots follow:

  1. Boot the server with the issue with the Offline NT Password and Registry Editor iso file:
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  2. Choose the correct boot option (or just press Enter for the defaults):
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  3. For Vista and earlier select the default of Option 1. For Windows 7 and Windows 2008 and later select Option 2 (to boot into the second partition on the disk). You might need to select a different option if you have more partitions. You need to select the partition that Windows is installed on.
  4. If the disk is marked as Read-Only ensure that the server went through a clean boot and was not shutdown incorrectly. Once the messages indicate a writable partition
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  5. Select the presented folder (by pressing Enter again). You can typically just press Enter through most of these stages. You will be asked what you want to do – we want to reset passwords:
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  6. Select Option 1 to Edit user data and passwords:
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  7. Press Enter to choose the Administrator account:
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  8. Type 1 to Clear (blank) user password. You should get back the message “Password cleared!”:
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  9. Press Enter again to reselect the Administrator account, and this time select Option 4 to unlock the account (even though this program tells you the account is already unlocked):
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  10. Once you see “Unlocked!” you can quit from this program. The process to quit requires you to save your changes. Note that the default setting is not to save changes, so you cannot now use Enter to select the default option.
  11. Enter ! to quit from the password reset program:
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  12. Enter q to quit from the script and to ask about saving changes:
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  13. Enter y to write back the files that have been changed:
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  14. You should have been told “***** EDIT COMPLETE *****”. Press Enter to finish the program scripts:
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  15. At this final screen you can remove the CD or unmount the iso image from your virtual machine and press CTRL+ALT+DEL to restart the server. The server should now boot into Windows and auto-logon as it has a blank password.
  16. Change the password and optionally untick the “User cannot change password” setting.