GUIDE TO (mostly) HARMLESS HACKING
Beginners’ Series #2, Section 2.
Hacking into Windows 95 (and a little bit of NT lore)!
Important warning: this is a beginners lesson. BEGINNERS. Will all you
geniuses who were born already knowing 32-bit Windows just skip reading this
one, OK? We don’t need to hear how disgusted you are that not everyone
already knows this.
PARENTAL DISCRETION ADVISED!
This lesson will lay the foundation for learning how to hack what now is the
most commonly installed workstation operating system: Windows NT. In fact,
Windows NT is coming into wide use as a local area network (LAN), Internet,
intranet, and Web server. So if you want to call yourself a serious hacker,
you’d better get a firm grasp on Win NT.
In this lesson you will learn serious hacking techniques useful on both
Windows 95 and Win NT systems while playing in complete safety on your own
In this lesson we explore:
· Several ways to hack your Windows 95 logon password
· How to hack your Pentium CMOS password
· How to hack a Windows Registry — which is where access control on
Windows-based LANs, intranets and Internet and Webs servers are hidden!
Let’s set the stage for this lesson. You have your buddies over to your home
to see you hack on your Windows 95 box. You’ve already put in a really
industrial haxor-looking bootup screen, so they are already trembling at the
thought of what a tremendously elite d00d you are. So what do you do next?
How about clicking on “Start,” clicking “settings” then “control panel” then
“passwords.” Tell your friends your password and get them to enter a secret
new one. Then shut down your computer and tell them you are about to show
them how fast you can break their password and get back into your own box!
This feat is so easy I’m almost embarrassed to tell you how it’s done.
That’s because you’ll say “Sheesh, you call that password protection? Any
idiot can break into a Win 95 box! And of course you’re right. But that’s
the Micro$oft way. Remember this next time you expect to keep something on
your Win95 box confidential.
And when it comes time to learn Win NT hacking, remember this Micro$oft
security mindset. The funny thing is that very few hackers mess with NT
today because they’re all busy cracking into Unix boxes. But there are
countless amazing Win NT exploits just waiting to be discovered. Once you
see how easy it is to break into your Win 95 box, you’ll feel in your bones
that even without us holding your hand, you could discover ways to crack Win
NT boxes, too.
But back to your buddies waiting to see what an elite hacker you are. Maybe
you’ll want them to turn their backs so all they know is you can break into
a Win95 box in less than one minute. Or maybe you’ll be a nice guy and show
them exactly how it’s done.
But first, here’s a warning. The first few techniques we’re showing work on
most home Win 95 installations. But, especially in corporate local area
networks (LANs), several of these techniques don’t work. But never fear, in
this lesson we will cover enough ways to break in that you will be able to
gain control of absolutely *any* Win 95 box to which you have physical
access. But we’ll start with the easy ways first.
Easy Win 95 Breakin #1:
Step one: boot up your computer.
Step two: When the “system configuration” screen comes up, press the “F5”
key. If your system doesn’t show this screen, just keep on pressing the F5 key.
If your Win 95 has the right settings, this boots you into “safe mode.”
Everything looks weird, but you don’t have to give your password and you
still can run your programs.
Too easy! OK, if you want to do something that looks a little classier,
here’s another way to evade that new password.
Easy Win 95 Breakin #2:
Step one: Boot up.
Step two: when you get to the “system configuration” screen, press the F8
key. This gives you the Microsoft Windows 95 Startup Menu.
Step three: choose number 7. This puts you into MS-DOS. At the prompt, give
the command “rename c:\windows\*pwl c:\windows\*zzz.”
Newbie note: MS-DOS stands for Microsoft Disk Operating System, an ancient
operating system dating from 1981. It is a command-line operating system,
meaning that you get a prompt (probably c:\>) after which you type in a
command and press the enter key. MS-DOS is often abbreviated DOS. It is a
little bit similar to Unix, and in fact in its first version it incorporated
thousands of lines of Unix code.
Step four: reboot. You will get the password dialog screen. You can then
fake out your friends by entering any darn password you want. It will ask
you to reenter it to confirm your new password.
Step five. Your friends are smart enough to suspect you just created a new
password, huh? Well, you can put the old one your friends picked. Use any
tool you like — File Manager, Explorer or MS-DOS — to rename *.zzz back to
Step six: reboot and let your friends use their secret password. It still
Think about it. If someone where to be sneaking around another person’s Win
95 computer, using this technique, the only way the victim could determine
there had been an intruder is to check for recently changed files and
discover that the *.pwl files have been messed with
Evil genius tip: Unless the msdos.sys file bootkeys=0 option is active, the
keys that can do something during the bootup process are F4, F5, F6, F8,
Shift+F5, Control+F5 and Shift+F8. Play with them!
Now let’s suppose you discovered that your Win 95 box doesn’t respond to the
bootup keys. You can still break in.
If your computer does allow use of the boot keys, you may wish to disable
them in order to be a teeny bit more secure. Besides, it’s phun to show your
friends how to use the boot keys and then disable these so when they try to
mess with your computer they will discover you’ve locked them out.
The easiest — but slowest — way to disable the boot keys is to pick the
proper settings while installing Win 95. But we’re hackers, so we can pull a
fast trick to do the same thing. We are going to learn how to edit the Win
95 msdos.sys file, which controls the boot sequence.
Easy Way to Edit your Msdos.sys File:
Step zero: Back up your computer completely, especially the system files.
Make sure you have a Windows 95 boot disk. We are about to play with fire!
If you are doing this on someone else’s computer, let’s just hope either you
have permission to destroy the operating system, or else you are so good you
couldn’t possibly make a serious mistake.
Newbie note: You don’t have a boot disk? Shame, shame, shame! Everyone ought
to have a boot disk for their computer just in case you or your buddies do
something really horrible to your system files. If you don’t already have a
Win 95 boot disk, here’s how to make one.
To do this you need an empty floppy disk and your Win 95 installation
disk(s). Click on Start, then Settings, then Control Panel, then Add/Remove
Programs, then Startup Disk. From here just follow instructions.
Step one: Find the file msdos.sys. It is in the root directory (usually
C:\). Since this is a hidden system file, the easiest way to find it is to
click on My Computer, right click the icon for your boot drive (usually C:),
left click Explore, then scroll down the right side frame until you find the
Step two: Make msdos.sys writable. To do this, right click on msdos.sys,
then left click “properties.” This brings up a screen on which you uncheck
the “read only” and “hidden” boxes. You have now made this a file that you
can pull into a word processor to edit.
Step three: Bring msdos.sys up in Word Pad. To do this, you go to File
Manager. Find msdos.sys again and click on it. Then click “associate” under
the “file” menu. Then click on “Word Pad.” It is very important to use Word
Pad and not Notepad or any other word processing program! Then double click
Step four: We are ready to edit. You will see that Word Pad has come up with
msdos.sys loaded. You will see something that looks like this:
;The following lines are required for compatibility with other programs.
;Do not remove them (MSDOS>SYS needs to be >1024 bytes).
To disable the function keys during bootup, directly below [Options] you
should insert the command “BootKeys=0.”
Or, another way to disable the boot keys is to insert the command
BootDelay=0. You can really mess up your snoopy hacker wannabe friends by
putting in both statements and hope they don’t know about BootDelay. Then
Step five: since msdos.sys is absolutely essential to your computer, you’d
better write protect it like it was before you edited it. Click on My
Computer, then Explore, then click the icon for your boot drive (usually
C:), then scroll down the right side until you find the file “msdos.sys.”
Click on msdos.sys, then left click “properties.” This brings back that
screen with the “read only” and “hidden” boxes. Check “read only.”
Step six: You *are* running a virus scanner, aren’t you? You never know what
your phriends might do to your computer while your back is turned. When you
next boot up, your virus scanner will see that msdos.sys has changed. It
will assume the worst and want to make your msdos.sys file look just like it
did before. You have to stop it from doing this. I run Norton Antivirus, so
all I have to do when the virus warning screen comes up it to tell it to
Hard Way to Edit your (or someone else’s) Msdos.sys File.
Step zero. This is useful practice for using DOS to run rampant someday in
Win NT LANs, Web and Internet servers. Put a Win 95 boot disk in the a:
drive. Boot up. This gives you a DOS prompt A:\.
Step one: Make msdos.sys writable. Give the command “attrib -h -r -s
(This assumes the c: drive is the boot disk.)
Step two: give the command “edit msdos.sys” This brings up this file into
the word processor.
Step three: Use the edit program to alter msdos.sys. Save it. Exit the edit
Step four: At the DOS prompt, give the command “attrib +r +h +s
c:\msdos.sys” to return the msdos.sys file to the status of hidden,
read-only system file.
OK, now your computer’s boot keys are disabled. Does this mean no one can
break in? Sorry, this isn’t good enough.
As you may have guessed from the “Hard Way to Edit your Msdos.sys”
instruction, your next option for Win 95 breakins is to use a boot disk that
goes in the a: floppy drive.
How to Break into a Win 95 Box Using a Boot Disk
Step one: shut down your computer.
Step two: put boot disk into A: drive.
Step three: boot up.
Step four: at the A:\ prompt, give the command: rename c:\windows\*.pwl
Step four: boot up again. You can enter anything or nothing at the password
prompt and get in.
Step five: Cover your tracks by renaming the password files back to what
Wow, this is just too easy! What do you do if you want to keep your
prankster friends out of your Win 95 box? Well, there is one more thing you
can do. This is a common trick on LANs where the network administrator
doesn’t want to have to deal with people monkeying around with each others’
computers. The answer — but not a very good answer — is to use a CMOS
How to Mess With CMOS #1
The basic settings on your computer such as how many and what kinds of disk
drives and which ones are used for booting are held in a CMOS chip on the
mother board. A tiny battery keeps this chip always running so that whenever
you turn your computer back on, it remembers what is the first drive to
check in for bootup instructions. On a home computer it will typically be
set to first look in the A: drive. If the A: drive is empty, it next will
look at the C: drive.
On my computer, if I want to change the CMOS settings I press the delete key
at the very beginning of the bootup sequence. Then, because I have
instructed the CMOS settings to ask for a password, I have to give it my
password to change anything.
If I don’t want someone to boot from the A: drive and mess with my password
file, I can set it so it only boots from the C: drive. Or even so that it
only boots from a remote drive on a LAN.
So, is there a way to break into a Win 95 box that won’t boot from the A:
drive? Absolutely yes! But before trying this one out, be sure to write down
*ALL* your CMOS settings. And be prepared to make a total wreck of your
computer. Hacking CMOS is even more destructive than hacking system files.
Step one: get a phillips screwdriver, solder sucker and soldering iron.
Step two: open up your victim.
Step three: remove the battery .
Step four: plug the battery back in.
Alternate step three: many motherboards have a 3 pin jumper to reset the
CMOS to its default settings. Look for a jumper close to the battery or look
at your manual if you have one.
For example, you might find a three pin device with pins one and two
jumpered. If you move the jumper to pins two and three and leave it there
for over five seconds, it may reset the CMOS. Warning — this will not work
on all computers!
Step five: Your victim computer now hopefully has the CMOS default settings.
Put everything back the way they were, with the exception of setting it to
first check the A: drive when booting up.
You can get fired warning: If you do this wrong, and this is a computer you
use at work, and you have to go crying to the systems administrator to get
your computer working again, you had better have a convincing story.
Whatever you do, don’t tell the sysadmin or your boss that “The Happy Hacker
made me do it”!
Step six: proceed with the A: drive boot disk break-in instructions.
Does this sound too hairy? Want an easy way to mess with CMOS? There’s a
program you can run that does it without having to play with your mother board.
How to Mess with CMOS #2
Boy, I sure hope you decided to read to the end of this GTMHH before taking
solder gun to your motherboard. There’s an easy solution to the CMOS
password problem. It’s a program called KillCMOS which you can download from
http://www.koasp.com. (Warning: if I were you, I’d first check out this site
using the Lynx browser, which you can use from Linux or your shell account).
Now suppose you like to surf the Web but your Win 95 box is set up so some
sort of net nanny program restricts access to places you would really like
to visit. Does this mean you are doomed to live in a Brady Family world? No way.
There are several ways to evade those programs that censor what Web sites
Now what I am about to discuss is not with the intention of feeding
pornography to little kids. The sad fact is that these net censorship
programs have no way of evaluating everything on the Web. So what they do is
only allow access to a relatively small number of Web sites. This keeps kids
form discovering many wonderful things on the Web.
As the mother of four, I understand how worried parents can get over what
their kids encounter on the Internet. But these Web censor programs are a
poor substitute for spending time with your kids so that they learn how to
use computers responsibly and become really dynamite hackers! Um, I mean,
become responsible cyberspace citizens. Besides, these programs can all be
hacked way to easily.
The first tactic to use with a Web censor program is hit control-alt-delete.
This brings up the task list. If the censorship program is on the list, turn
Second tactic is to edit the autoexec.bat file to delete any mention of the
web censor program. This keeps it from getting loaded in the first place.
But what if your parents (or your boss or spouse) is savvy enough to check
where you’ve been surfing? You’ve got to get rid of those incriminating
records whowing that you’ve been surfing Dilbert!
It’s easy to fix with Netscape. Open Netscape.ini with either Notepad or
Word Pad. It probably will be in the directory C:\Netscape\netscape.ini.
Near the bottom you will find your URL history. Delete those lines.
But Internet Explorer is a really tough browser to defeat.
Editing the Registry is the only way (that I have found, at least) to defeat
the censorship feature on Internet Explorer. And, guess what, it even hides
several records of your browsing history in the Registry. Brrrr!
Newbie note: Registry! It is the Valhalla of those who wish to crack
Windows. Whoever controls the Registry of a network server controls the
network — totally. Whoever controls the Registry of a Win 95 or Win NT box
controls that computer — totally. The ability to edit the Registry is
comparable to having root access to a Unix machine.
How to edit the Registry:
Step zero: Back up all your files. Have a boot disk handy. If you mess up
the Registry badly enough you may have to reinstall your operating system.
You can get fired warning: If you edit the Registry of a computer at work,
if you get caught you had better have a good explanation for the sysadmin
and your boss. Figure out how to edit the Registry of a LAN server at work
and you may be in real trouble.
You can go to jail warning: Mess with the Registry of someone else’s
computer and you may be violating the law. Get permission before you mess
with Registries of computers you don’t own.
Step one: Find the Registry. This is not simple, because the Microsoft
theory is what you don’t know won’t hurt you. So the idea is to hide the
Registry from clueless types. But, hey, we don’t care if we totally trash
our computers, right? So we click Start, then Programs, then Windows
Explorer, then click on the Windows directory and look for a file named
Step two: Run Regedit. Click on it. It brings up several folders:
What we are looking at is in some ways like a password file, but it’s much
more than this. It holds all sorts of settings — how your desk top looks,
what short cuts you are using, what files you are allowed to access. If you
are used to Unix, you are going to have to make major revisions in how you
view file permissions and passwords. But, hey, this is a beginners’ lesson
so we’ll gloss over this part.
Evil genius tip: You can run Regedit from DOS from a boot disk. Verrrry
handy in certain situations…
Step three. Get into one of these HKEY thingies. Let’s check out
CURRENT_USER by clicking the plus sign to the left of it. Play around
awhile. See how the Regedit gives you menu choices to pick new settings.
You’ll soon realize that Microsoft is babysitting you. All you see is
pictures with no clue of who these files look in DOS. It’s called “security
by obscurity.” This isn’t how hackers edit the Registry.
Step four. Now we get act like real hackers. We are going to put part of the
Registry where we can see — and change — anything. First click the
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT line to highlight it. Then go up to the Registry heading
on the Regedit menu bar. Click it, then choose “Export Registry File.” Give
it any name you want, but be sure it ends with “.reg”.
Step five. Open that part of the Registry in Word Pad. It is important to
use that program instead of Note Pad or any other word processing program.
One way is to right click on it from Explorer. IMPORTANT WARNING: if you
left click on it, it will automatically import it back into the Registry. If
you were messing with it and accidentally left click, you could trash your
computer big time.
Step six: Read everything you ever wanted to know about Windows security
that Microsoft was afraid to let you find out. Things that look like:
The stuff inside the brackets in this last line is an encrypted password
controlling access to a program or features of a program such as the net
censorship feature of Internet Explorer. What it does in encrypt the
password when you enter it, then compare it with the unencrypted version on
Step seven: It isn’t real obvious which password goes to what program. I say
delete them all! Of course this means your stored passwords for logging on
to your ISP, for example, may disappear. Also, Internet Explorer will pop up
with a warning that “Content Advisor configuration information is missing.
Someone may have tried to tamper with it.” This will look really bad to your
Also, if you trash your operating system in the process, you’d better have a
good explanation for your Mom and Dad about why your computer is so sick.
It’s a good idea to know how to use your boot disk to reinstall Win 95 it
this doesn’t work out.
Step eight (optional): Want to erase your surfing records? For Internet
Explorer you’ll have to edit HKEY_CURRENT_USER, HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE and
HKEY_USERS. You can also delete the files c:\windows\cookies\mm2048.dat and
c:\windows\cookies\mm256.dat. These also store URL data.
Step nine. Import your .reg files back into the Registry. Either click on
your .reg files in Explorer or else use the “Import” feature next to the
“Export” you just used in Regedit. This only works if you remembered to name
them with the .reg extension.
Step nine: Oh, no, Internet Explorer makes this loud obnoxious noise the
first time I run it and puts up a bright red “X” with the message that I
tampered with the net nanny feature! My parents will seriously kill me!
Or, worse yet, oh, no, I trashed my computer!
All is not lost. Erase the Registry and its backups. These are in four
files: system.dat, user.dat, and their backups, system.da0 and user.da0.
Your operating system will immediately commit suicide. (This was a really
exciting test, folks, but I luuuv that adrenaline!) If you get cold feet,
the Recycle bin still works after trashing your Registry files, so you can
restore them and your computer will be back to the mess you just made of it.
But if you really have guts, just kill those files and shut it down.
Then use your Win 95 boot disk to bring your computer back to life.
Reinstall Windows 95. If your desk top looks different, proudly tell
everyone you learned a whole big bunch about Win 95 and decided to practice
on how your desk top looks. Hope they don’t check Internet Explorer to see
if the censorship program still is enabled.
And if your parents catch you surfing a Nazi explosives instruction site, or
if you catch your kids at bianca’s Smut Shack, don’t blame it on Happy
Hacker. Blame it on Microsoft security — or on parents being too busy to
teach their kids right from wrong.
So why, instead of having you edit the Registry, didn’t I just tell you to
delete those four files and reinstall Win 95? It’s because if you are even
halfway serious about hacking, you need to learn how to edit the Registry of
a Win NT computer. You just got a little taste of what it will be like here,
done on the safety of your home computer.
You also may have gotten a taste of how easy it is to make a huge mess when
messing with the Registry. Now you don’t have to take my work for it, you
know first hand how disastrous a clumsy hacker can be when messing in
someone else’s computer systems.
So what is the bottom line on Windows 95 security? Is there any way to set
up a Win 95 box so no one can break into it? Hey, how about that little key
on your computer? Sorry, that won’t do much good, either. It’s easy to
disconnect so you can still boot the box. Sorry, Win 95 is totally vulnerable.
In fact, if you have physical access to *ANY* computer, the only way to keep
you from breaking into it is to encrypt its files with a strong encryption
algorithm. It doesn’t matter what kind of computer it is, files on any
computer can one way or another be read by someone with physical access to
it — unless they are encrypted with a strong algorithm such as RSA.
We haven’t gone into all the ways to break into a Win 95 box remotely, but
there are plenty of ways. Any Win 95 box on a network is vulnerable, unless
you encrypt its information.
And the ways to evade Web censor programs are so many, the only way you can
make them work is to either hope your kids stay dumb, or else that they will
voluntarily choose to fill their minds with worthwhile material. Sorry,
there is no technological substitute for bringing up your kids to know right
Evil Genius tip: Want to trash most of the policies can be invoked on a
workstation running Windows 95? Paste these into the appropriate locations
in the Registry. Warning: results may vary and you may get into all sorts of
trouble whether you do this successfully or unsuccessfully.
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