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On converting .pst, government style

Written By: - Date published: 1:52 pm, August 4th, 2013 - 49 comments
Categories: john key, Parliament, peter dunne, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags:

Were David Henry and his staff the right people to pursue an inquiry? After all it appears that they were incapable of opening a Outlook .pst (personal storage table) file because it wasn’t in a format that another email system – groupwise.

And this appears to have held them up for days. That is interesting because they had the files before they requested permission from Peter Dunne

I’m incredulous that this can be the case. Because it literally takes minutes to use google to find the answer to do conversions from pst to groupwise or anything else. .pst is such an ancient format that has had export/import systems to every other format created.

convert pstTry “convert pst to groupwise” which amongst other things presents information about how to use import functions in groupwise.  You can find similar topics for converting on mac and even linux.

convert pst“, amongst other things, brings up an advertisement for Transcend’s group of mail convertors. Despite it sounding like an ad, I’d have to say these are still amongst my favourite no-nonsense convertors for shifting email systems from proprietary formats to something useable. I’ve used then converting many systems as it also preserves almost all of the detail. It even has a free version that will convert the few emails that they requested and that says

To receive a free working trial version of a Transend software product please fill in and submit the requested information below. Once the registration is accepted by our system you will automatically be presented with software download options. This may take up to 15 seconds. If the page does not display or you get an error, please contact us as noted below.

Of course that 15 seconds and the few more second to download the file is dwarfed by the 2 days that the Henry enquiry were (apparently) unable to open those emails. Reading the emails, the only reason that they didn’t open and read the emails was because of an inability to use google!

Sure I know it takes time to get any software on a government computer because of the security considerations. But it seems to me that one of the most crucial things that a group of people in government running an enquiry would need would be conversion software. In legal circles this process is known as eDiscovery and is done precisely because it carries critical metadata that is beyond what could be put in a paper document, or even the eventual HTML format that was being promised 6 days later.

It isn’t rocket science and the tools are available in a simple google query. I’d have expected that any enquiry would be equipped with them. Unless of course it was more expedient that they were not…


It is also pleasant to observe that Pete George has now found a useful and productive egress for his obsessional behaviour.  Good posts.


49 comments on “On converting .pst, government style”

  1. Sanctuary 1

    “.pst??? What sort of fiendish encryption is this? I’ve never seen anything like it! Only Al Qaeda has THIS sort of security, get the NSA on the line!”

    • lprent 1.1

      I haven’t looked at the binary of the .pst for a while. But I seem to remember that you could just read them… They use a UTF16 format from what I have seen… Ummm


      Password protection can be used to protect the content of the .pst files.[4] However, Microsoft admits that the password adds very little protection, due to the existence of commonly available tools which can remove or simply bypass the password protection.[5] The password to access the table is stored without the first and last XOR CRC-32 integer representation of itself in the .pst file. Outlook checks to make sure that it matches the user-specified password and refuses to operate if there is no match. The data is readable by the libpst project code.

      In other words – effectively no encryption and there is a public library to read it.

      From Outlook 2003 and onward, the standard format for .pst and .ost files is Unicode (UTF-16 little-endian). The use of 64-bit pointers instead of the 32-bit pointers of the earlier version allowed to overcome the 2 GB limit. Now, there is a user-definable maximum-file size up to 20 GB. This format is supported by Microsoft Outlook 2003 and later (2007) [9][10]

  2. Malcolm 2

    Obviously you have not done much IT support. Simple problem solving steps as doing a Google search is actually beyond most people. That is before you get to such technical hurdles as installing a piece of software and learning how to use it. The fact is most people have no computer skills beyond “Push button, computer work”. As soon as something a bit different happens they are lost and common sense does not come in to it. The computer is a mysterious box filled with black magic and wonder to them.

    • RJL 2.1

      Simple problem solving steps as doing a Google search is actually beyond most people.

      You are perhaps right.

      However, most people shouldn’t be conducting a parliamentary inquiry. The people conducting this inquiry are paid big $. Surely, they should have the minimal IT skills required for this, or at least have a staffer with the capability.

      As it stands, their claim is that they are too stupid to have broken the law.

    • BM 2.2

      Ha ha, it’s funny because it’s true.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.3

      Obviously you have not done much IT support. Simple problem solving steps as doing a Google search is actually beyond most people.

      You know, I figure that as soon as they got them and found that they couldn’t open them they asked someone in IT department about opening them. This would have resulted in the correct plugin being installed pretty much immediately if it wasn’t already and I’m guessing the latter. It’s almost incomprehensible in this day and age of programs not being able to open other formats.

    • BLiP 2.4

      Bullshit. Anyone educated in the last 30 years knows full well how to work a computer and make use of the internet. They are the generation which have never known a world without the internet. The only difficulty this cohort have is with in-house bullshit programmes installed by some corporate which happens to run a call-centre filled with morons who refer to themselves as “IT support”.

      • BM 2.4.1

        I disagree.

        Maybe the last 10-15 but even then most most people are farkin lazy and only know what they need to know.

        Lost count of the amount of times I heard, thank fuck that’s school over, no more learning for me.

        • BLiP

          We are talking about people working at the top echelons of government power and you are trying to support an assertion that they can’t work their way through a minute, day-to-day computer file format hassle? Even John Key could get that sorted.

          • felix

            “Even John Key could get that sorted”

            You’d think so, wouldn’t you? As it turns out though…. 😉

          • McFlock

            Even John Key could get that sorted.

            But he’d then forget how he did it, and then correct himself and say that he couldn’t remember whether he did it or it was someone else.

            edit: snap felix 🙂

        • felix

          BM that last sentence is nothing but an indication of the company you keep.

          However I don’t disagree with the core of what you’re saying. The vast majority – in my humble experience – of the so-called digital native generation are actually fucking useless with software beyond gaming and facebook.

          • BLiP

            What’s being discussed is that a staff member claimed to be unable to open a file because it was in the wrong format. Now, given the level of inter-department emailing and filesharing that goes on and has been going on for years and years, is it reasonable to assume that this sort of hassle is beyond the ability of someone working in that environment? BM’s dribble seems more of an attack on public servants having no skills than an accurate observation of this situation.

            • felix

              Oh they could definitely have found someone to open it. No question. My comment was about software literacy in general.

              • BLiP

                Ahhh . . . gotchya. As it happens, even with my relative competence, I still don’t know how to make Excel do what I want it to. Every time I do my budget it comes up short

                ; )

    • Mike S 2.5

      Yes most people are hopeless when it comes to their computers. However, in this instance, they are full of shit. Of course they fuckin’ opened them!

      In my groupwise email I click on the file menu at the top left of the screen, scroll down to the ‘import .pst file’ which I click on and there you have it. Even my Dad could probably figure that out if he had to.

  3. One Anonymous Knucklehead 3

    Come on Lprent: these are the people who can’t tell the difference between a court issued warrant and the whims of a lying Prime Minister.

    • lprent 3.1

      There is that… But rather than being the police or our security forces (who have a problem with breaking the law) and their oversight mentor (the IG), these are the people running the enquiry who are meant whitewash examine the leak of a top-secret document.

      They don’t know how to convert a .pst file? Don’t have access to their own people to do it?

      So what use are they?

  4. Brooklyn Bridge 4

    pst. I’ve a bridge I’d like to sell you.

  5. infused 5

    Where have they said the emails were delivered in PST?

  6. aj 6

    The fact they said they couldn’t open them doesn’t mean they didn’t. Who can trust anything now.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      Actually, I’d say that they did and that they’re just using the “incompatibility” as “proof” that they didn’t when pretty much any email program out there would probably be able to read it by default or have a conversion plugin available.

      • infused 6.1.1

        not many can read pst files, as there is no need to. Outlook Express, or Windows Mail now, uses a different format, which most mail clients can convert easily without plugs.

        Outlook is a different beast.

  7. RedLogix 7

    Or that they simply didn’t copy them off to someone else who could open them. I mean for goodness sake, the idea that they had this file for several days and somehow never managed to figure out something to do with it is just plain risible.

  8. BLiP 8

    I know computer companies see the New Zealand Government as a sitting duck, but I cannot accept that the conversion facility had not already been installed as a function. I won’t use Outlook, but isn;t there a conversion function already built in for previous file formats . . . even Notepad does that sort of thing.

    On the other hand, I can well understand why a public servant caught in the middle of a John Key shitstorm would want to avoid even the slightest indication of improbity. Downloading anything from the Internet is pretty much frowned upon in any computer network, let alone actually installing it. My work computer sets off all sorts of alarm bells when I visit any kind of download link and won’t actually allow me to install anyting. If I was the public servant who received that file, any excuse, even admitting computer illiteracy, would suit me rather than risking more John Key via Eagleson spittle.

    I know Winston doubts that certain files were never examined. He puts his assumption down to “human curiosity” or some such foible. I’m not so sure. Given the conflicting statements and outright lies that have been told about this situation, however, I think it would be fair to assume that all files were examined and work back from that position. Ideally, all this could be cleared up with an analysis of the released emails with a forensic check for parity with the server logs.

    • infused 8.1

      ost files and pst files are a storage format. They are there for cached mode of exchange unless you are using Outlook as a general email program… which the govt won’t be doing.

      they can also be encrypted.

      • BLiP 8.1.1

        Why wouldn’t the government use Outlook as a general email programme? Its a hugely clumsy insecure Micro$oft monstrosity but just about every public servant I know uses it. I also know it comes bundled with the PC operating system on new and replacement machines. Outlook is pretty much the default option for the entire public service. Probably part of some deal John Key did with his US corporate mates to facilitate spying on the public service.

        • infused

          No it doesn’t. Thats Microsoft Mail or Outlook Express.

          Outlook is specifically for use with Exchange. Hence why everyone in govt uses it, cause they have an Exchange server….

          Your average joe wouldn’t use it.

          • BM


            You’re ruining the plot, the official line from HQ is that there’s something shifty going on here and Key is the ring leader.
            Do every one a favor and stick to the script.

          • Daveosaurus

            You’re way out of date. Outlook Express has been dead for years. Outlook is what comes with Windows 7 (I know because I have it) and I think it came with Vista as well.

            In any case it’s easy as to save a file without opening it; and any big corporation will have their email systems tracked and backed-up so that nothing can ever be lost, so the .pst file in question is most likely going to sit around Parliament forever.

            • infused

              Outlook does not come with Windows 7. It may have Office preinstalled if you ask. Windows7 comes with Windows Mail.

              Outlook is a Microsoft Office application.

              There is confusion because of the different names it has.

          • lprent

            Outlook is standard in most Microsoft Office packages. The government runs on office and mass purchases it – usually in the full suite.

      • lprent 8.1.2

        they can also be encrypted.

        Unlikely since it sounds like they exported them from an exchange server for the enquiry.

        • infused

          It is unlikely, but you can export with encryption. It’s a main option.

          • Draco T Bastard

            Oh yes, I can see how the conversation went:

            Govt nerd 1: We should encrypt this
            Govt nerd 2: Whatever for, they’re just going to open it.
            Govt nerd 1: Because it’s private information, nerd.
            Govt nerd 2: Oh yeah, right.
            [ticks the encryption box and puts the password in the email]

            I’d say that you’re an idiot but the way that you’re spinning this BS it’s obvious that you’re trying very hard to defend the government.

  9. Murray Olsen 9

    I bet if I got handed a pst file I could be reading it well within 2 days, and I have no special abilities with a computer. I don’t believe they didn’t read them. I don’t believe that parliamentary services doesn’t have anyone working there with even my level of IT knowledge.

  10. Jenny 10

    Just as well, not all the information needed for this inquiry was not sent to them in this format. Otherwise they might have been left sitting around for two weeks drinking coffee twiddling their thumbs while drawing down their huge salaries.

    To awed by their own magnificence to ask for tech support.

  11. tracey 12

    Outlook does not require exchange if you use older versions which many do and I do not use express.

    I worked for a law firm recently which was using xp and office 2003.

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