How can I tell whether my process is running as SYSTEM?

Raymond Chen

A customer wanted to know how to check whether the current process is running as the SYSTEM account. They proposed this algorithm:

// Code in italics is wrong
bool IsCurrentProcessRunningAsSystem()
 DWORD session_id;
 return ProcessIdToSessionId(GetCurrentProcessId(), &session_id) &&
        session_id == 0;

This algorithm is flawed both for the possibility of false positives as well as false negatives.

You can see this for yourself by opening Task Manager:

Name User name Session ID
LogonUI.exe SYSTEM 3
winlogon.exe SYSTEM 3
fontdrvhost.exe UMFD-0 0

We have some processes running as SYSTEM which aren’t in session zero. And we have a process in session zero that is not running as SYSTEM.

If you want to know whether you are running as SYSTEM, check your token to see whether it represents the SYSTEM user.

I’m going to use wil as my RAII library.

#include <wil/token_helpers.h>

bool DoesTokenRepresentSid(HANDLE token, WELL_KNOWN_SID_TYPE type)
 // maps to GetTokenInformation(token, TokenUser, ...);
 auto user = wil::get_token_information<TOKEN_USER>(token);
 return !!IsWellKnownSid(user->User.Sid, type);

bool IsCurrentProcessRunningAsSystem()
 return DoesTokenRepresentSid(GetCurrentProcessToken(),

bool IsCurrentThreadRunningAsSystem()
 return DoesTokenRepresentSid(GetCurrentThreadEffectiveToken(),


Discussion is closed. Login to edit/delete existing comments.

  • Piotr Siódmak 0

    why the “not not” in

    !!IsWellKnownSid(user->User.Sid, type)


    • Marek Knápek 0

      I guess to convert from BOOL to bool (or from BOOLEAN or from DWORD or from int).

      • Kasper Brandt 0

        IsWellKnownSid is documented as returning either TRUE or FALSE, so seems pretty pointless to me.

        • skSdnW 0

          The WinAPI BOOL is 4 bytes, the C++ bool is 1 byte (and strictly 0 or 1 these days, the WinAPI is often just 0 or != 0). Without !! (or != 0) the compiler is going to give you a warning.

  • Neil Rashbrook 0

    That begs the question, why does the customer think that he needs to tell whether the current process is running as the SYSTEM account…

    • Raymond ChenMicrosoft employee 0

      Because their code doesn’t work when running as SYSTEM.

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