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Permanently erase emails if you own the server?

Old 12-05-17, 03:03 PM
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Permanently erase emails if you own the server?

It's an ongoing federal investigation and I've been told not to discuss certain aspects. Since it's not a computer crime, the assigned investigator is even less tech-savvy than I am. It's just that details of some unlawful acts were put in emails and mistakenly sent to someone who didn't know the significance of what was discussed until months later when a new employee said, "Hey, that's illegal and needs to be reported." The investigator didn't serve the university with notice to preserve certain email accounts until months after she started asking questions. In the meantime, those incriminating emails have suddenly vanished from the email accounts of the witnesses. They're not in the deleted folders, junk mail, forwarding or incoming. They're just gone. We know the date and time that one was sent but not the others, other than to say it was between Feb to April.

Let's say you're a university. The damning emails were sent to your edu email accounts, thru your servers and weren't read anywhere but on campus and using university equipment, etc. People just clicked the Outlook icon on their desktop and accessed email that way. Since we don't have the specific times of the vanished emails, has the university succeeded in erasing them for good?
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Old 12-06-17, 09:53 AM
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Re: Permanently erase emails if you own the server?

Doesn't the University have an IT department? They'd be the ones to ask if the emails are recoverable in any way.

Most major organizations are going to have an email retention policy. This may mean that backups are retained of everyone's account, in case of accidental deletions. Even without an explicit retention policy, backups may be getting made for operational reasons (i.e. to get everyone's email restored after a disaster of some sort).

Since the users were logging in via Outlook, it seems likely that they're running a Microsoft Exchange server. There's lots of tools for backing up an Exchange server, and for extracting/recovering data from a backup.
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Old 12-09-17, 01:06 PM
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Re: Permanently erase emails if you own the server?

Originally Posted by Jay G. View Post
Doesn't the University have an IT department? They'd be the ones to ask if the emails are recoverable in any way.

The university's IT dept erased the emails so I doubt they'd be very cooperative in recovering or even admitting erasing them in anticipation of an investigation. I'm sure it's far from the first time they've done that. There's even a section in the employee handbook that says the university email accounts and their contents are the property of the university, to do with whatever they please UNLESS they receive a lawfully binding directive stating otherwise.
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Old 12-09-17, 08:44 PM
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Re: Permanently erase emails if you own the server?

Originally Posted by Mr.Man View Post
The university's IT dept erased the emails so I doubt they'd be very cooperative in recovering or even admitting erasing them in anticipation of an investigation...
I wouldn't accuse them of erasing them, but ask about their backup and disaster recovery standards and practices.

The assigned investigator should get more help/info from their work.

But yes, if the emails were deleted off the server and there are no backups, those emails are effectively gone.
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