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Issue #545: December 31, 2017 – January 6, 2018

Q: I have a HP laptop with Win 10. Somehow I got into the Administrator mode and cannot get out. Even if I sign on normally, it wants the admin password for everything. I keep records of passwords but none of these seem to work. I cannot even restore to factory specs. Any suggestions?

– Roger M.
DeFuniak Springs, Florida

A:  The first thing I’ll tell you is that your perception of what’s going on doesn’t quite jibe with reality as I know it.  You seem to think you’re stuck in some mode that has elevated privileges, when what’s actually happening is that Windows is asking for authorization from someone with elevated privileges to continue whatever action you just initiated.  Now, I’m unfamiliar with anything that could be called “the Administrator mode” in Windows.  The closest thing would be a user account that is a member of the Administrator group, but that would explain the prompts you’re getting. 

The prompt for an Administrator password comes from a feature of Windows called User Account Control, or UAC.  It is a security feature that is designed to limit applications’ and users’ abilities to perform certain actions on the system until an Administrator authorizes it.  It has been around since Windows Vista, and has evolved into a pretty useful tool.  Before the existence of UAC, any process or application that was launched under a given user account automatically inherited all of the rights and privileges of that account.  And most people insist on running with full administrator privileges, even though they almost never need them, and in spite of advice from Geeks like me to not do that.  Then, when a malware installer manages to sneak past your anti-malware gatekeeper, it runs with full administrator privileges, so it has all the power it needs to get into parts of the operating system that would normally be protected.  This can include taking ownership of files and encrypting or altering their contents, adding browser add-ons, changing the software that automatically launches when Windows boots, and so on.  UAC put an end to all of that nonsense by stopping and requesting permission from someone who has administrator privileges on the computer before proceeding.  And it works pretty well.  That is, until people get tired of entering that password and choose convenience over security, and their kneejerk reaction is to turn UAC completely off.  That’s never a good idea on any system that has access to the Internet.  Instead, there are a variety of security levels that allow you to configure UAC so that it works for you, rather than the other way around.

In your case, Roger, I’d venture to say that what happened is that your UAC level got set to the highest setting.  This can’t, and won’t make it ask for the administrator password “for everything” as you said, but it certainly will increase the frequency of UAC dialogs.  To set it to something more reasonable, go to the Windows Start menu, and enter” UAC” in the search box.  Click on “Change User Account Control settings” and the User Account Control Settings dialog should display.  Use your mouse to adjust the notification level.  Yours is probably set to “Always notify”.  The recommended setting for typical users is one notch below that.  At this level, UAC will continue to notify you when something tries to make changes to the computer, but not “for everything”.  Click the OK button to apply the new setting, and exit the UAC box.  Now be warned, changing the UAC settings is an administrator-level task, so you will probably need to know the password of an account with administrator privileges in order to perform this action.

 From the Shameless Plug Division of Geek Central: Before I submit this last column of 2017 for publication, I want to take an inch of column space to say thank-you to everyone who visited this year’s Geek Lights on the Corner – my annual Christmas lights and music show.  The show continues until January 6th – the real and true end of the Christmas season and the legendary “12-Days of Christmas”.  If you haven’t caught this season’s show, or if you’re not quite ready to let go of that Christmas magic, time is quickly running out!  For complete information, visit the show’s page at

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