Why does my computer say I need to be administrator, when I am?

In Windows Vista and Windows 7, your account may be administrator but you still may be denied access, saying you need to be administrator. I'll show why and what to do.

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My computer says that I need to be the administrator [to perform a task], but I already am! Any ideas as to what is happening?

Sure.

You’re not the administrator. Not really.

Oh, sure, you may think that you’re the administrator. And Windows may have even lead you to believe that you’re the administrator.

But, as the result of a new security feature introduced in Windows Vista and made less obnoxious in Windows 7, you’re not the real administrator by default.

But you can be.

Administrator … But Not

UAC, or User Account Control, is an important security feature that, in essence, makes the account that you’ve created to be the administrator not have administrative privileges by default.

The reason is that most users run as administrator on their own machine. That means that without this feature, any programs you run also have full administrative privileges.

Use ‘Run as administrator’ with caution and only when you’re sure you need to use it.

Including malware.

Whether you want it or not.

The solution is to think of your administrator account more like “administrator capable”, rather than being the actual real-life administrator.

By administrator-capable, I mean that Windows will often ask you for permission before performing tasks that require true administrative access and you’ll just have to say yes or no.

UAC asking permission

Accounts which are not administrator-capable will have to supply the administrator password to prove that the user has the authorization to do something that requires administrative privileges.

Asking Versus Denying

Not all programs are written in such a way that they can ask and it’s not always possible to ask in every situation. The best that can happen then is to deny whatever it is you’re attempting if it requires administrative access.

The solution is to run the program as administrator. Because your account is administrator-capable, you can run a program with full administrative privileges.

Many programs have this option, including the Windows Command Prompt, which is where I most often use this trick. I’ll use the more commonly used Windows Explorer as an example.

Right-click on the Windows Explorer icon:

Right-clicking on the Windows Explorer icon

Now, right-click again, but this time, on the Windows Explorer line in that pop-up menu:

Right-clicking on the Windows Explorer line in the pop-up menu

As you can see, there’s what we’re looking for: “Run as administrator”. Click on that. You’ll get the UAC confirmation prompt. After clicking Yes, that instance of Windows Explorer has full administrative privileges.

Cautions

It’s tempting to just leave that Windows Explorer open and running so that you’ll never bump into the restriction, but this opens up risks.

Any program that you start from within that copy of Windows Explorer inherits administrative privileges. If you run your mail, your browser, your word processing program or instant messaging client by double-clicking on their icon in this instance of Windows Explorer, they’ll be able to do anything. And that includes any malware, such as emailed attachments, that they might “invite” onto your system. Essentially, you’ll have completely subverted the security measures that the UAC puts into place.

In addition, Windows treats file ownership and security differently, depending on what user you are and whether you have full administrative privileges. In other words, the files that you create with full administrative privileges might not be accessible to you without those privileges – even though you were logged in with the same administrator-capable account.

In short, the security put into place with the UAC is there for an important reason and helps keep your machine safe from many forms of malware and exploits. Use “Run as administrator” with caution and only when you’re sure that you need to use it. And even then, use it only for those things that require it. Close the program (Windows Explorer in our example above) as soon as you no longer need
the extra capabilities.

Comments

  1. kim

    why do i get this error?? Windows security…these files can’t be opened…your internet security settings prevented one or more files from being opened. Does it have to do with the administrator account?? I get this everytime i type something into the start menu serarch area…i had vista but upgraded to windows 7?? can you help??

  2. David Usher

    Thank you. With “Administrator”, can I turn off driver certificate requirements? I have BlazeDTV which works perfectly with XP, but 7 will not allow the drivers!!!

  3. Sebastian Magnano

    All of a sudden when I open e mail with attachments that I know, the email comes thru without the attachment available. Is it the sender?? or is it my email?? I use Windows mail. This started about one month ago.

  4. Harry Torossian

    I tried spybot and it would not delete 31 items saying I wasn’t the administrator. Well I am. I find this very irritating .

  5. Keith McGee

    Thanks VERY much! This issue was really perplexing and I could find nothing on the MS “help” venues. Now I can run Spybot again. 😀

  6. Sandy Killila

    I’m with Keith. I was never so disappointed as when I had to abandon SpyBot because I didn’t know how to be more of an administrator than I already was. I love SpyBot and now I can…again…and be an Administrator! Wow.

  7. Robert Byrne

    Brilliant. This problem has bedevilled me ever since I installed Vista O/S. Because I am a one user one machine man I always thought I was the Administrator but I now understand why I am not and what to do when I have similar problems in future. Well done Leo

  8. Mario

    This admistrator issue gave me so many headaches!! No more from now on!!Thanks Leo!! It was a great idea to subscribe to your newsletter!!!!

  9. Ted Ramsey

    That’s fine, if you Visa or 7; but what about XP? I tried what you suggested and it doesn’t work that way. So what can I do because I have the same problem?

    The concept doesn’t apply to XP. In XP if you’re logged in with an account that has administrative privilegess, then you have those all the time without asking. (That’s the security issue that UAC fixes.) When logged in as an administrator you can assign administrative privileges to another account: How do I get administrative privileges on Windows XP?

    Leo
    10-Mar-2011

  10. Edy Medor.

    I, myself, was always trying to understand this issue about administrative rights and I am pretty darn sure that everyone at one time or another had to face this mind-boggling problem while using their PC. I really extol this article which really gives a good understanding of what it’s all about.

    Many thanks Leo!.

  11. Saetana

    I’m running Windows 7 64 bit Home Premium and I have completely disabled UAC, those popups are annoying, even at the lower security levels, plus I had some issues with installing software (probably because of this same admin-not admin issue). I wouldn’t recommend it for computer novices but I’ve had no problems and not one single bit of malware since I got this PC 12 months ago (I do run full security software plus a few other precautions), then again I do combine this with being careful using the internet ;o)

  12. Mike

    Leo, bless you, thank you! I learned the HARD way never to disable the UAC, but not having Administrator privileges when needing to install certain programs has been a real pain. Somehow, stumbling around, I’ve gotten it to do what I want, but NOW I can do it intelligently.

  13. Frank

    Wow, I just taught this very topic to my students in Operating Systems class. Monday, I am going to share this article with them for a clear explanation! Good article!

  14. Nikon Chick

    Thanx for the info! My son built me a kick ass computer but went back to college and I kept having this problem and its so frustrating. But now I’m back to ruling my computer :)

  15. Robin Clay

    Thank you for the instructions. Alas! They don’t work for me (running Win7) :-(

    When I right-click on the Explorer icon, and ditto on “Run as administrator”, it asks in a new window, “Do you want to allow the following program to make changes to your computer, Yes or No”. Click on “Yes”, and… up comes yet another window, “This file does not have a program associated with it for performing this action. Please install a program, or, if one is already installed, create an association in the Default Programs control panel”.

    What’s going on ?

  16. Lom

    Hi Leo! Here’s one of your italian fan 😀 I have a problem similar to this. I have installed a videogame (excuse me if I disturb you with such a stupid problem but is really annoying). When I try to run the .exe file a window pops up saying “impossible to axcess to the dispositive, to the path or the specificated file. It is probable that you don’t have the autorizations requested.” (translated from italian, I hope you’ll understand =) ) i tried running with UAC disabled, with the “run as administrator” option but never worked. How to do? please help me =

  17. Angel Ryan

    Leo, my computer is completely down and it too involves the Administrator password. Mine won’t accept it. We can’t reboot or anything. Your article taught me a lot about the term Administrator, can you expand it a little to cover computers that won’t accept Administrator passwords? I am the Administrator (well you know what I mean) and I have always used the same password for years so it’s not like I forgot it. It just won’t accept it. Thanks so much and keep up the good work.

    Well, you can try reseting the administrator password: I’ve lost the password to my Windows Administrator account, how do I get it back?

    Leo
    07-Feb-2012
  18. venkatesh bc

    i did all circus to access my control panel of windows 7 ultimate……….( if i open control panel dis operation has been canceled due to restrictions in effects on this computer. please contact administrator… and i am d administrator. plzzzzzzzz someone help me…

    This isn’t referring to the administrator account, it’s referring to whomever setup and administers your machine. This scenario is most commonly associated with malware – run up to date scans as soon as possible.

    Leo
    22-Jun-2012
  19. Anthony

    Hi Leo, I followed your instructions but this did not work for me. I ended up getting another box saying “File Access Denied”. Where do I go from here Leo

  20. Ad

    I’m on Win XP. Admin account – the only one. Can not install SW – it asks for Admin rights… It used to be a part of a domain but no longer. It’s connected to MSHOME network. No password and no problem logging in. Please help. Thanks very much – Ad

  21. Ad

    Trying to install a wireless USB adapter and it gives an Error #1303 -the installer has insufficient privileges to access this directory: c:program filesnetgear.
    There’s only one account – Administrator
    Thanks again.
    Ad

  22. Richard

    Thanks for the article for I just had an experience where I had to do a system recovery and I wondered why the computer generated these “new” accounts. Found them when after the recovery I was cleaning up and reloading things back into users personal stuff. Click open C:, opened Users, and sat back and said “WHAAAT!?” Who are these accounts I didn’t set up. I know how to access the “hidden” admin account, so I’m glad I came across this article before possibly inflicting damage. To me it’s a “looks ugly, but it works” situation. It was a frustrating, long time to find an answer and you had it! I am very glad to have found your newsletter and becoming a subscriber. That deserves a Facebook “like”. Thank you for doing what you do.

  23. Makade Vassele

    okay I just updated to windows 8 and im trying to activate it for sure but it says ” cant activate at this time, please contract your system admin or technical support department.” please help

  24. John Gaines

    When I right click on the Windows Explorer icon I get no such options. All that happens is WE opens.

  25. Eric

    Hello Leo,

    I’m trying to use a System Restore to get rid of a ICE trojan popup. At the moment the System Restore button is grayed out showing I need to be administrator…. and yet my account already says I am? What else can I do? I’m aware there is a Safe Mode with networking option but I keep going to the screen where its loadng windows Files and gets stuck there. Any advice you can provide will be greatly apprieciated. I just want my computer to work again without having to restart it every half an hour.

  26. angela

    My problem started with the IE saying it needs to be upgraded….the upgrade will not install unless I have windows service pack 2….found out that I needed SP1 first…try to install SP1, it said it installed but it didn’t, tried about 10 times….now it says that system restore was turned of by group policy and that I need to contact my “Domain Administrator”. I bought this computer in 2006 and no one has ever touched it but me….So what does it mean “domain administrator” and how do I turn System Restore back on and How do I upgrade or replace my Internet Browser??? Please help so mad right now that I can’t even see straight….Thank you, angie

  27. JudgeDredd

    A couple of extremely important questions your very helpful article does not address. 1) If your browser is already running while you make this change does it then inherit the permissions you warned about? 2) Is there some way to check what permissions a given program has? 3) Is there any way to revert these permissions if someone accidentally clicked on a program while running as an admin?

  28. plasmadog7

    I cannot remove a picture file I created literally 1 minute ago, saying I need administrator access to perform this action. Click continue. Then it says “You need permission to perform this action. You require permission from the computer administrator to delete this file. Click try again, or cancel. Try again does nothing. thought about using cmd.com in reboot, but not sure this will work cmd.com wont let me delete it in windows. I don’t get it, Im the only account on this PC, marked as administrator in UAC account settings, and have never really had this problem until recently. I have 2 antivirus programs on the PC, Norton and Windows Defender. Found cookies but only 1 virus in the years I have used this thing. Any ideas? I thought about creating a new administrator account, but I had this problem with my mom’s new Windows 8 laptop and couldn’t get around it.

    Thanks!
    Ryan

      • Plasmadog7

        No I did not. I used my computer, which doesn’t appear to have the option to ‘run as administrator’ when you right click on the icon. I assumed (although incorrectly since you pointed out in your article) that it was for applications like Word or Adobe Acrobat etc. rather than what I would consider more core windows files like My Computer, Network Places, etc, although this too is probably incorrect. As mentioned below, I doubt it had much to do with administrator privilege at all since the file was removed using the exact same method without issue after closing IE.

  29. Plasmadog7

    I wrote above and I believe the situation is resolved.

    I think the file may have been in use because I was trying to upload the file to Ebay. I actually cropped the photo in pant and uploaded the new file, but later I had no issues. I thought it usually told you ‘the file was in use’ versus the message I received regarding administrator permissions. When I went to try again later I had no problem deleting or moving the files. Thank you anyway, I think your service is very cool and great for people like me. But since my issues resolved, you needn’t address this or the above problems.

    Sorry and thank you Leo,

  30. Mac

    I haven’t seen an answer yet to my question: Why do I NOW need permission to run Internet Explorer when I didn’t before? (Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit).
    This issue is recent (like just a couple of days ago it started doing this).. When I would run IE from the task bar or the start menu, IE would come right up to my google home page — NO DELAY WITH ANY KIND OF PERMISSION!….. NOW it DOES!.

    Thank You

    Mac

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