Microsoft Outlook 97 through Outlook 2003 support password-protected personal stores (.PST files). Like all passwords, .PST passwords can be forgotten or misplaced.
When that happens, there are usually only a few options:
- Call a data recovery service
- Restore the file from a recent backup (provided it, too, isn't protected)
- Start guessing
The password protection on Microsoft Outlook .PST files is actually not very strong to begin with -- it's akin to the old-school password protection on Microsoft Word documents, which can also be cracked without too much difficulty. This is reason alone not to depend on .PST passwords to protect and secure your email data.
However, if you're in a situation where you need to recover a password-locked .PST file and don't have the budget for data recovery, there is a freeware third-party tool that can reverse-engineer the password(s) for a given .PST file and let you open it: Nir Sofer's
The program is simple. Open it and it'll scan the locally logged on user's Microsoft Outlook profile directory -- Documents and Settings\<user_name> \Local Settings\ Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook -- for .PST files. Each file found will be listed in PstPassword's main window, along with up to three possible passwords to open it if it's password-protected.
More than one password may work on a given .PST file, according to Sofer, because of a problem with the way .PST password protection is implemented. The .PST password is not stored in the .PST file. Instead, a 32-bit CRC hash is created from the password, from which it's possible to reverse-engineer a number of different passwords that have the exact same 32-bit CRC hash.
Worse, there's a .PST password bug that makes it possible to create a password that produces a CRC hash of zero. Sofer provides a list of the .PST passwords that generate a zero CRC value in Outlook on his Web site.
Note: I cannot and do not endorse the use of this tool for anything other than legitimate use. If you use .PST files in your organization on local machines, make sure you have other security measures in place, such as an appropriate Group Policy, to prevent users from installing applications or copying files to another system.
About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter.
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This was first published in July 2006