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How To Use the Restore Partition to Break Into a Mac Running OS X Lion

It’s trivial to break into a Mac using an OS X boot disk, but new Macs use a restore partition for OS installations. Here’s how you can use that partition to reset a user password and break into a Mac.

All laptops that come with OS X 10.7 “Lion” or laptops that were upgraded to Lion have a restore partition for easy OS recovery. This easy-to-use recovery partition also opens up hackers to break into your Mac without needing any additional tools.

To reset a user password on a Mac with Lion you first need to restart the computer and hold the Command+R (⌘+R) keys. When the gray Apple logo shows up on the screen you can release the keys. Your computer should automatically boot into the recovery partition.

Start by selecting your language and then go to Utilities -> Terminal in the menu.

When the terminal opens, type the command

resetpassword

and the password reset utility will automatically start.

Once the tool opens, select the user you want to reset the password for and enter a new password (or nothing to blank the password).

Reboot the computer and you can log into the account with the new password.

The only way for a Mac user to protect themselves from this attack is to either set a firmware password or encrypt their hard drive. Even if the recovery partition is erased from the hard drive a hacker can automatically restore the partition by using Apple’s internet recovery feature. Look for more details on these options in future articles.

Justin is a Linux and HTPC enthusiast who loves to try new projects. He isn't scared of bricking a cell phone in the name of freedom.

  • Published 04/4/12

Comments (7)

  1. Jennifer

    I had to use this a few weeks ago. I’m really surprised they made this so easy.

  2. Israel Alvarez

    If you have physical access to any computer, it’s trivial for anyone with a bit of knowledge to break into it. This is (and always has been) true for every OS and computer in general public and business use. Putting roadblocks in the way of physical users of personal machines only serves to give a false sense of security and generate billing for tech support companies.

  3. Brian

    It’s amazing how many people marvel at the fact that I can reset a Windows or OSx password in a few minutes… it really isn’t that hard! ;)

  4. Tyler

    This isn’t exclusive to Lion either. If you start in Single User mode (command + S) you can mount the drive and change any users password by running the “passwd” command. As far as I know, this affects all versions of OS X.

  5. andriajohn

    Thanks for giving the more information about the How To Use the Restore Partition to Break Into a Mac Running OS X Lion

  6. nick

    256 bit aes. That will keep you busy for an afternoon.

  7. Nathan

    Hooray! I’ve been trying to find something like this for a long time (i want to hack the school computers ;D).

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