October 11, 2008

Retrieval of Deleted E-Mail Depends on Time, Luck

By Heather Hamilton

Dear Heather: We use Outlook Express for our e-mail. I have read that it is possible to retrieve deleted e-mails. Particularly, I have read about this in recovering government or investment firm's e-mails that have been deleted in the past. Do you know how we can retrieve e-mails that have been deleted from Outlook Express? - Mary H.

A: This is a really interesting question because it covers a range of possible answers.

After the scandals this decade, it's a fairly common question. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, required that all publicly traded companies, institute some pretty strict controls over their e-mail (among other records). This prompted many companies to take a tough look at their corporate systems. As a result, IT managers monitor system backups daily.

I verify that the backups have run every day, and if (when) they fail, I need to figure out the cause. These system backups allow me to pull any employee's deleted mail, but there's some very large and expensive equipment sitting in my closet.

Mary, you're using Outlook Express, which is typical for a home environment. Therefore I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you do not have, sitting in your closet, backup software or a medium (tape, drive, CD, DVD) to back up to.

So, there is no comparing your home e-mail to that of a government or large corporation.

The easiest solution: Look in your "Deleted Items" mail folder. Outlook and Outlook Express both keep copies of deleted mail in these folders.

The only time mail is expunged from this folder is if you choose to manually delete the mail or if the deleted mail folders are set to automatically empty every time the program is closed.

If the latter is true, I would turn off this setting. Go to "Tools - Options." On the "maintenance" tab, un-select "Empty Messages from the Deleted Items folder on exit."

If the deleted mail folder has been emptied, chances are you're out of luck.

But there are some third-party solutions you can turn to.

Programs such as Advanced Outlook Express Recovery and Kernel Outlook Express Recovery claim they can do the job. I haven't tested any of them, so I can't speak to their effectiveness. Both of these are less than $50 and, depending on the importance of the lost e-mail, they might be worth a try.

I have one tip when it comes to recovering lost files of any kind: The longer it has been, the less likely the information is still there.

Of course, there are backups that make everyone feel better. But if a file was created and deleted two hours later, the backups haven't run yet.

For these immediate files there's a program called "Undelete," which does a good job of finding recently deleted files.

But if "Undelete" wasn't previously installed, the file might not be in a recoverable state. The longer the operating system has had to write over those blocks of information, the less likely it is that the recovery program will be able to reconstruct the file.

If another bit of information overwrote the place where the file was, well, you're flat out of luck.

Mary, hopefully you're asking as a preventative measure and can double check the "Deleted Items" folder in Outlook Express. When it gets too large, sort by sender and delete the real junk mail.

Good luck!

Reach Heather Hamilton at [email protected]

Originally published by Heather Hamilton Morris News Service.

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