Is there a way (when logged in as an administrator, or as a member of the administrators group) to masquerade as a non-privileged user? Especially in an AD environment.

e.g., in the Unix world I could do the following (as root):

# whoami
# su johnsmith
johnsmith> whoami
johnsmith> exit
# exit

I need to test/configure something on a user's account, and I don't want to have to know their password or have to reset it.

runas won't cut it. Ideally, my whole desktop would become the user's, etc. and not just in a cmd window.

  • Just curious, but why do you need to login as the user? I would usually only need to do this to configure email. However, I've found that most of the time I can configure everything via Group Policy/Scripts/etc. Jun 1, 2009 at 15:46

7 Answers 7


I'm pretty certain there is no supported way to run as a different user without having that user's credentials. It's a non-repudiation measure. Someone can't say: "I didn't do it", because either they did it, or someone with their credentials did it. And for the second they'd have to give the other person the credentials.

Normally how I do what I need to do while logged in as another user is to use remote assistance to essentially RDP into the session, and have them grant me control. Then I do whatever while they're watching (presumably, anyway).

Anything else can usually be done with GPO/scripts.

  • 8
    I believe this is correct. And, IMHO this is a security improvement over the UNIX world. I like the idea that not even an admin can be me without my password.
    – tomjedrz
    Jun 1, 2009 at 16:30
  • 3
    An admin can take over another user, by resetting their password. Then they can login as you. However, there is an evidence trail if you do this. First, the users password was changed so they'll know. Second, there will be audit logs (assuming auditing is enabled). Jun 1, 2009 at 16:53
  • 3
    This is typically how I operate as well. However, there's points that I say "It would be so much easier to do this for Bob if I was Bob", but Bob went home an hour ago.
    – BIBD
    Jun 1, 2009 at 16:55
  • 1
    As far as "non-repudiation" goes, making me reset their password first doesn't stop me from committing malicious/stupid acts as another user. It just means I'd have to do more work to cover up who was responsible.
    – BIBD
    Jun 1, 2009 at 16:57
  • 10
    I understand what they are trying to do. I just think it's more security-theater than actual security.
    – BIBD
    Jun 1, 2009 at 19:36

I've noticed a lot of other people mentioning variations on the runas command and how you need to know the users password, which is true, but I don't think that anyone has quiet answered the question. of "wanting the whole desktop would become the user's, etc. and not just in a cmd window". Here's the way I go about it:

Note: I'm going to refer to this first Command Prompt as CP1 to eliminate confussion later.

Under your admin account, open Command Prompt

For local account

runas /profile /user:computernamehere\username cmd

For domain account

runas /profile /user:domainname\username cmd

OR the way that I prefer it

runas /profile /user:username@domainname cmd

Note: A new command prompt will open (CP2), this is the user who are you trying to login as.

Open CP1 and type:

taskkill /f /IM explorer.exe

Open CP2 and type:


Depending on the computer, it may create a profile for the user if they have never logged onto there before. You can save yourself the hassel later by keeping the command prompt windows open for later use.

When you're done with your work, just do the same thing in reverse.

In CP2 type:

taskkill /f /IM explorer.exe

Open CP1 and type:


You should now be back into the orginal administrator account. You can do a quick check by tapping the Windows key and looking for the current user panel.

Hope this helped.

  • 3
    That is some deep magic.
    – mskfisher
    Apr 17, 2015 at 13:02
  • @mskfisher Haha, if you think that one's crazy, you should see what I had to do to figure out how to kill a psexec session that had locked up after running a bad wmic command. ...Pskill from a second command prompt, pointed at the remote machine, after using psservices to track down the process id for psexec on the first command prompt!
    – Sawta
    Apr 17, 2015 at 16:59
  • Well 4 years later I was reminded of this question and when I had time to test this. WOW!
    – BIBD
    Oct 26, 2016 at 14:53
  • On Windows 10, using runas prompts for the user's password.
    – TheAmigo
    Aug 29, 2017 at 13:45

There's no built-in mechanism in Windows to do this. It can be done, but you're going to have to have something written to do what you want, and you're probably going to have to muck around with undocumented APIs.

One of the posters here, grawity, has it right w/ calling CreateProcessAsUser(), but you'll need to create a token with the undocumented native API zwCreateToken first. If you killed off Explorer and fired up a new Explorer instance w/ CreateProcessAsUser() I'm fairly certain you'd get want you want.

Microsoft doesn't make what you want to do easy because it's not the way they want you using NT. If you need to be logged-on as a user to troubleshoot their issues, in most cases you're going about it in a sub-optimal way.

You can make changes to the user's registry w/o logging-on as them (by attaching their registry hive and manipulating it that way). You can make changes to files in their user profile w/o being logged-on as the user. If you need to "setup email" or other such activities "as the user", you should be writing scripts or taking advantage of built-in functionality (Group Policy Administrative Templates, preferences, etc) to do your dirty work for you.

If you have to do this, have a look at RunAsEx on Code Project. That code should give you a fairly good idea of what you'll need to do. I haven't tried the program, but it looks like it's going about everything in the right way.


You can use the following command on Windows XP and later:


The command line options are available here.

This will not work without knowing the users password. I do not believe there is a way in Windows to operate under a users account without the password due to how the Security Identifiers are loaded.

  • 3
    I believe the RunAs program still requires you to know the users' password which I believe the original question states is not known Jun 1, 2009 at 15:12
  • You are correct...I had forgot about that.
    – Doug Luxem
    Jun 1, 2009 at 15:14

(Just a guess.) If your account has SeCreateTokenPrivilege, you could write a small program to create a process using CreateProcessAsUser() or a similar function... (But not even administrators have the privilege by default.)


Although I do not have personal experience with some of the sudo solutions mentioned on this site, I highly recommend nonadmin started by the excellent Aaron Margosis. It is a huge help as you roll out limited users. I mainly jumped with something since everyone else is saying use Runas. However, I think most or all of these so called sudo for windows deal more with elevation rather than acting as another user without their password.


Process Explorer procexp.exe on http://live.sysinternals.com has a run as limited user (on the file menu) which will let you run a program using your current credentials, but with your ACL stripped down to that of a normal user (non-admin) user. Not what you wanted exactly, but good for testing.

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