Can Ms Flow Integrate With Outlook On An In-House Server Why Email Matters – The Science Behind the US Attorney Scandal

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Why Email Matters – The Science Behind the US Attorney Scandal

Email is increasingly in the news these days, near the center of the current US Attorney firing scandal, and for good reason. Much of the communication flows through email, which can be an effective form of messaging and other relationships. Email is almost instant, costs next to nothing, and has largely replaced the paper memo. Email provides an avenue of inquiry not previously available to investigators, as a paper document can be shredded or burned, while email leaves a trail even if deleted. Also, unlike a piece of paper, an email only reveals who sent it and who received it, when and where. As Senator Patrick Leahy says (quoted by Michael Abramowitz Apr 14, 2007 v GOP Admits 4 Years of Rove Emails Missing) “You can’t delete email, not today… They went through too many servers. This email is there -” There are mainly three types of email in common use. One is an email client program, a genre that includes Microsoft Outlook Express, Mozilla Thunderbird, Macintosh Mail, and Netscape Mail. Another type is the dominant Microsoft Outlook, a very different program from the same company’s Outlook Express. The third is commonly known as webmail or internet mail.

Email client programs store data mostly in text form – words that people understand, as opposed to cryptic computer language. Generally, all individual email messages in a single mailbox (such as the “In” or “Sent” mailboxes) are stored together as a single file.

When mail is deleted, it is truncated from the mailbox file, but its data is not actually removed from the computer at that point. Each file has an entry in an index, which is something like a table of contents. When an entire mailbox is deleted, part of its entry, the file index, is removed, but the actual file body does not disappear from the computer. The area on the computer’s hard drive that contains the file is marked as available for reuse, but the contents of the file may not be overwritten and may therefore be recoverable for some time, if at all.

A computer forensics expert can then search a seemingly unused part of the computer for text that may be part of an email. An expert can search for names, phrases, places, or actions that may have been mentioned in an email. The email contains internal information that tells where it was and to whom it was.

For example, I just sent my wife a 17-word message titled “Where is this email from?” She replied: “Honey, you must be thinking, ‘Where is this email from?’ Love, your grammatically correct wife.” – 15 word answer. But when I look below what is displayed on the screen, I see that the email was actually 246 words long. Where did it all come from?

Additional information included a return path with my beloved America Online (AOL) email address, the IP address of her computer (“IP” stands for Internet Protocol – every computer connected to a network has an IP address), the IP addresses of three others computers, both email addresses repeated three more times, the names of three or four mail servers, and four date/time stamps Oh, and lest I forget, there’s an ad for AOL at the end.

If I forwarded or copied the email, it would contain more information, especially the email addresses of other people to whom I copied or forwarded the message.

By looking at the IP addresses and doing a little more investigation, I was able to determine the approximate physical location of the computer with the given IP addresses. I could see who else was involved in the comms and roughly where they were.

If the judge were to see multiple email addresses in the investigation that indicate these other people may be involved, and the original customer did not provide all the requested information, the judge could allow access to all the other computers to all the other email addresses that he need to be reviewed. Then the great fishing expedition could officially begin in earnest.

So we read headlines like this one we saw on the ThinkProgress website on April 12, 2007: White House initially claimed RNC emails were archived, only ‘handful’ of staffers had accounts. At the press conference, White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino said that only a handful of White House staffers have RNC (Republican National Committee) email addresses. Perhaps the White House was forced by the inevitable discovery to admit that more than 50 top officials (from Officials’ emails may be missing, White House says – Los Angeles Times April 12, 2007) had such RNC e-mail addresses – that’s the 10 most likely.

In his article Follow up on email at Salon.com, Sidney Blumenthal says, “The transmission of White House documents via RNC e-mail became apparent when the RNC’s domain, gwb43.com (referring to George W. Bush, the 43rd president), appeared in a series of e — messages released by the White House to House and Senate committees earlier this month.Rove’s deputy Scott Jennings, former Bush legal adviser Harriet Miers and her deputies unusually used gwb43.com as an email domain. The production of these emails message to Congress was kind of a slip-up.” Definitely. This is exactly the type of information that computer forensics professionals like to help with their electronic discovery process. In my own e-discovery work, I found over half a million unexpected references on a single computer.

Investigators may now be able to search computers at the RNC, the White House and locations that house computers for both, as well as those laptops and Blackberries used by staffers at those organizations. A search will be turned on for every occurrence of “gwb43” – a search that will likely turn up multiple email addresses and multiple emails, whether deleted or not.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned three types of email, but I only talked about the one that has the most promise of showing deleted data. It’s another type

represented by Microsoft Outlook. Outlook stores all data in a single encrypted file on the user’s computer, on the mail server, or on both, depending on the configuration of the mail server. All mailboxes are in the same encrypted file. Computer forensics experts have tools to decode this file in a way that can often recover many or all of the deleted emails. The email server may also have backup copies of the user’s mail.

Webmail, where mail is stored on a remote server (such as AOL’s large mail server farm), may leave little or nothing stored on the user’s computer. Here, the user is basically looking at a web page that displays mail. Such mail servers are so dynamic that any deleted email is likely to be overwritten within minutes. Blumenthal refers to the advantages such systems can have for those who want to hide information Follow up on email like this: “As a result, many aides switched to Internet e-mail instead of the White House system. ‘It’s Yahoo!, baby,’ says Bushie.”

On the other hand, such email content may be difficult to find after deletion, but access logs of email accounts are likely to be kept for quite a long time and may be useful in an investigation.

As a result, unlike paper documents, electronic mail can be widely distributed, even by accident. Unlike paper, once cut there are likely to be copies elsewhere; to paraphrase Senator Leahy, electronic data can be almost immortal. A further difference is that an email contains information that tells who composed it, when and where it went. The current US Attorney General scandal has shown us once again that email is not only a valuable communication tool, but has the benefit (or detriment, depending on your perspective) of providing additional transparency into the otherwise closed quarters of our leaders.

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