Disable F8 Key and Boot Options to Block Access to Safe Mode during Windows Startup

Whenever Windows is not working properly, most of the time the first thing that knowledgeable users will do is boot the computer into Safe Mode and see if the problem still persists. If Windows will only boot into safe mode and not normal mode, then typically it has a major problem such as disk corruption or the installation of poorly configured software or hardware driver that prevents the operating system from successfully booting normally. Windows in safe mode will have reduced functionality, but the task of isolating problems is easier because many non core components are turned off.

Although Safe Mode is very useful for troubleshooting computer problems, it can also be used to bypass some security software that will auto start with a normal Windows boot. An example is if you installed an internet monitoring software which restricts or watches your children to use the computer at certain times, they can simply boot in to Safe Mode if they know how and use the computer the whole day. There are times when we need to disable Safe Mode for extra security. There isn’t one single setting to disable Safe Mode in Windows, but a number of hacks and workarounds. Here’s some for you to have a look at.

Disabling Safe Mode in Windows XP

Firstly we’ll show you some ways you can disable safe Mode if you’re using Windows XP.

Editing the Windows XP Registry

Quite a well known method is to modify your system registry with the idea of renaming the keys that Safe Mode relies on to boot, this in turn causes the computer to reboot or throw up a blue screen of death if anyone tries to get into Safe Mode. Just follow the steps below on how to accomplish it.

1. Go to Start -> Run (or Win key+R), type regedit and press enter.

2. Navigate to:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\SafeBoot

3. Expand the SafeBoot key and you should see 2 sub keys with the names Minimal and Network. DON’T delete them, but rename both of the keys to something else, for example, Minimal to MinimalX and Network to NetworkX.

Rename SafeBoot Registry Keys

Now if you try to boot in to Safe Mode, it doesn’t matter if you select the normal Safe Mode, Safe Mode with Networking or Safe Mode with Command Prompt, the computer will either auto reboot or throw up a blue screen of death (BSOD) with a STOP error.

Blue Screen in Safe Mode

To enable Safe Mode again, just go back into the registry and rename MinimalX to Minimal and NetworkX to Network. This solution isn’t perfect because anyone who knows about this trick can simply modify the registry to re-enable Safe Mode. If Windows doesn’t boot and you want to get into Safe Mode, you will need to edit the registry keys offline using a boot CD. Follow the instructions in our article “How To Edit Registry Key Values without Booting into Windows“.

Enable/Disable Safemode Tool

If you’re not comfortable in modifying your system’s registry, here’s a small free tool called Enable/Disable SafeMode which does just that. Basically it does the exact same thing as above which is renaming the SafeBoot Minimal and Network keys. You can also set an application password to prevent unauthorized access to this tool.

Enable Disable SafeMode tool

The program is easy to use and is pretty much self explanatory, click the buttons to enable or disable and optionally supply a password to stop any unauthorized use of the tool. Actually, if you can create a Limited User account, you wouldn’t need to use this registry hack because a limited user cannot access the registry. These registry edits are solutions to those that for some reason don’t want to create a Limited User.

Download Enable/Disable Safemode

Hacking the NTLDR Boot Loader

This method is to hex edit the hidden NTLDR file in the root of the drive where the operating system is installed. This won’t work on anything above XP because newer operating systems use BOOTMGR/Winload.exe. Follow the steps below.

1. Assuming that your XP Windows install is currently the C: drive, press Win key+R and type in the following to unhide and make the file writable:

attrib -r -s -h -a c:\ntldr

2. Go to the C: drive and make a backup copy of NTLDR and either keep it in the root of C: as “Copy of NTLDR”, or keep it in a safe place.

3. Download HxD, a freeware portable hex editor, extract and run HxD.exe. Drag and drop the ntldr file onto the HxD window to open it for editing.

4. Scroll down the window a little and look for the offset line “00000770”, then change the values “0F 85 09″ to “90 90 90″.

Editing NTLDR in a hex editor

5. Click the Save button (Ctrl+S) and close HxD. It will also create backup of the file with a .bak extension.

6. Go back to the Run dialog (Win key+R) and type the following to set the read only, hide and system attributes back to default:

attrib +r +s +h +a c:\ntldr

The next time you restart your computer F8 will no longer work and have no effect before starting up Windows. This hack totally disables all keyboard input. There are still drawbacks to this method though because you can still get into Safe Mode using the /SAFEBOOT option in the Boot.ini tab from Msconfig. Obviously if you multi boot with different operating systems, you will also need access to the boot menu and keys to select the O/S.

If you want to boot in to Safe Mode and Windows is unable to start, you can boot up the computer with a Live Linux or rescue disc such as Hiren’s Boot CD and rename the “Copy of ntldr” file to ntldr. This way you can use the F8 key again and get back into Safe Mode.

On the next page, we’ll show you how to disable the F8 key to access Safe Mode in Windows Vista, 7 and 8.

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