In the world of eDiscovery, email is king. We all know it. Email outnumbers other native file types at least two to one in most general collections. It’s the way we work. It’s the way we talk to each other and our clients and so naturally becomes the wade-in approach we often take to our discovery issues. As an analyst, I don’t recommend that you work with native email or .PST files at all. It is much safer to ingest the .pst file into a database solution of some sort work with the database frame to annotate the record and track your review in other ways. However, as a paralegal and practical person, I realize and have to allow that it is sometimes necessary to access and assess the contents of a .pst file.
What is a .pst file?
Even if you’ve worked with these little wonders it’s possible that you’re still scratching your head over what they are. Simply put, a .pst file is an Outlook-proprietary archive file containing a collection of emails chosen by the person who made it. (there are automatically created .psts, and there are also .ost’s….so, if you have questions about these, leave me a comment) The .pst holds, in its native format, all of the information (metadata) related to your email messages and attachments, and of course the messages themselves. It holds the key to the parent/child and discussion thread relationships. And, like other types of archive files, .zip, .rar, .7z, the .pst requires special software to reveal its contents. Lucky for you, that software is Outlook. It’s very easy to “mount” a .pst file and look at it through your open Outlook email software. HOWEVER…..
Rule #1 in Working with .pst Files:
Make a backup of the .pst file you receive BEFORE you do anything with it.
Regardless of how you receive it, you should always make a second copy of the .pst file you receive. This is standard Windows copying, so I’m not going over methodologies. Only to say that this is a standard practice and one that is absolutely necessary if you received the .pst file on DVD or CD. The only way to look at it is to have it in a location either on your hard drive or a network drive where the user (that’s you) has read/write access.
Rule #2 in Working with .pst Files:
NEVER mount a .pst file to your own active email.
I see people do this all the time and ask me to actually make it happen FOR them. My answer is always the same, “No. No we are not doing that.” Think about it. Someone sent you a .pst file filled with emails they consider relevant to an action or a pending action. These are emails. And if you mount them into an active account that can reach the Internet, you are going to be able to use all the nifty routing features available in any email system. How horrifying it would be to inadvertently Reply, or Reply to All or Forward a message out of these email repositories sent by clients and sometimes even opposing parties? So, that’s the “why?” of Rule #1 answered. So now how do you get around it?
Making a Review (or Neutral) Profile:
That’s how you get around it. You must make a specific profile separate from the one attached to your Exchange server or Internet email account, which amounts to having a “dummy” version of Outlook without any connection to an active email account. You can keep this profile in its inactive status, and activate it whenever you need to review a .pst. Creating one of these profiles will also allow you to print (though I loathe to do it!) emails either to .PDF or to paper if you have reason do to so, and in a format that will not require that you redact your username from it. Now see? Even if you are not as paranoid as I am about an errant reply, I’ve given you a great “value added” incentive to do this just with the printing thing. You ready? Here’s how:
1. Click the Windows Icon and choose Control Panel:
2. Click into the Search field in the upper right corner of the Control Panel pane and type mail. You will see an active link appear in the upper left corner of the Control Panel pane. Click it.
3. Click Show Profiles from this pane.
4. From the next window, click “Add…” and in the Profile Name box, type an asterisk. Yes. You heard me. An asterisk. Here’s the “why” – whatever you type in the Profile name box is what appears on the page when you print an email out of the .pst file. You can alternatively use a period here if you want. It’s maybe a little less visible than an asterisk, but neither will necessitate redaction of the printed version of any of the emails or other contents.
Configuring Your Outlook .PST Review Profile
1. To begin the process of configuring your new PST Review Profile, click OK at the “New Profile” screen (pictured above) after putting an asterisk in the Profile Name blank. At the “Add Account” screen, click Cancel.
2. You will receive a prompt message as pictured below. Since what you want to do is set up an email account with no actual email support, click OK here.
3. You will be returned to the Mail window where you will need to select the radio button Prompt for a profile to be used. Then click OK.
4. At this point, if you have Outlook open, you must close and reopen it to get the prompt for using your new profile and to make the final configuration choices.
Open (or Reopen) Outlook
If you are simply taken back to your normal Outlook account when you reopen, it simply means that you still have Outlook running as a service in your system tray. This is because of the notifications you receive when you get emails. So, to end this, either choose Ctrl + ALT + Delete or right click the task bar and choose “Start Task Manager” . When Task Manager opens, look for an outlook task and end it, then Re-Open Outlook.
When you re-open Outlook, you should see the following prompt window:
5. Click the drop-down arrow on the Profile Name field and select the one you named with an asterisk earlier. Then click OK.
6. You will then see the following configuration window.
7. One more time, Microsoft wants to know if you are SURE you don’t want to add an email account to this profile and will ask you in a different way at the next window. Be sure to check the box that indicates, once again, you’d like your profile to be independent of an email account and says “Use Outlook without an email account”. Then click Finish.
Outlook will reward you by opening up a lovely Outlook program frame free of email, appointments or anything else and ready for you to mount your .pst file so you can begin to review the contents without concern about accidentally forwarding or replying to mail, and you can print without the need for redactions of the name of the person whose profile was used to view the email.
See Part 2 – How to Access and Review a .PST file