What Are PST Viewers? And Are They Safe for eDiscovery?

01 March 2021 by UV ediscovery PST

What Are PST Viewers? And Are They Safe for eDiscovery?

Takeaway: PST viewers are applications that let you open PST (email) files without their parent software – Microsoft Outlook. They’re convenient and safe if: (1) Originate from a trusted source (like GoldFynch), (2) They don’t take files off your computer, (3) They don’t change file metadata.

Emails are the backbone of most businesses, and PSTs are a convenient way to store them.

A PST (Personal Storage Table) is a special file type created by Microsoft for their Outlook email application. When you use Outlook, it stores all your emails, attachments, calendar events, etc. in a .pst file. So, think of it as more as a folder. (In fact, Microsoft calls them ‘personal folders’). [Note: Don’t confuse Microsoft Outlook with Microsoft Outlook Express. Outlook Express is a simpler version of Outlook and uses DBX files instead of PSTs. These DBXs aren’t encrypted and store messages as plain text. With PSTs, messages are compressed and stored in a database.]

PSTs have problems, though. And the biggest one is that they’re designed to work only with Microsoft Outlook.

There’s more than one issue with PSTs. For example, they weren’t designed to be accessed by more than one person at a time. So although you can theoretically use PSTs over a network, doing so will likely corrupt them. And this design quirk also means that you’re stuck using one device to access your PST. So, if you’ve loaded it on your office computer’s Outlook, you won’t be able to open it on your cellphone as you head back home. This is a significant drawback in a world of applications that you can use from anywhere, at any time. But the biggest problem with PSTs is that Microsoft designed them to work only within their suite of applications. So they’re effectively locked into the Microsoft universe.

This is where PST viewers become useful. They let you look at the contents of a PST even if you don’t have Outlook.

There are many free PST file viewers out there. And they all can help you open, view or read PST files without Outlook. This means you’ll have access to calendars, contacts, notes, journal entries, etc. – all for free.

But are these free PST viewers safe? Well, here are the 3 issues you’ll need to consider.

It is possible to find a safe PST viewer, but first, let’s see why some of them are unsafe.

1. A downloaded PST viewer might come bundled with malware.

The solution: Find one that runs in your browser, even when not connected to the internet Malware is an umbrella term for viruses, adware, spyware, and more. And lots of free applications come bundled with malware that can steal your personal information or damage your computer. Usually, your software’s End User License Agreements (EULA) will tell you about everything you’re signing up to install. But not always. So, when you’re choosing a PST viewer, find one that doesn’t install anything on your computer. This way, you’re cutting out a key access point for malware. The better PST viewers instead download software libraries (i.e., programming code) from the Cloud onto your web browser, but don’t install any software. [Note: The Cloud is a global network of high-performance servers that belong to software giants like Amazon and Google. Nowadays, almost everything is in the Cloud. Think Dropbox, Google Drive, and Netflix, for example.]

2. Your PST viewer might leak confidential information.

Solution: Find a viewer that leaves your PSTs on your computer.
Some clients are reluctant to trust a free application to protect their data. And if you don’t know much about a new vendor, this is a valid concern. Thankfully, the type of PST viewer we discussed above can solve the problem. Since it runs in your browser and reads your files locally on your computer, your data never leaves your hard drive. GoldFynch’s free PST viewer, for example, does not send your file to a server. So, once you’re on its webpage, you can disconnect from the internet and still use the software. Just drag-and-drop PSTs into your browser to view their contents.

3. Your PST viewer might change crucial file ‘metadata’?

Solution: Find an eDiscovery-friendly PST viewer. When you create a document on your computer, the software you’re using (e.g., Microsoft Word) records lots of information about it. Things like who created it, when they created it, when it was last opened, etc. This ‘data about data’ (i.e., metadata) is a digital footprint that tracks the document’s history. But metadata is fragile and easy to alter. For example, you’ll change the ‘last accessed’ metadata date of a PST simply by opening it in Outlook. So, if you’re using your viewer for eDiscovery, it’s worth finding an eDiscovery-friendly PST viewer that protects metadata. These won’t ‘open’ PSTs (which changes their metadata), but ‘reads’ them instead. (Note: ‘Reading’ and ‘opening’ files are completely different operations in the software development world.)

We designed GoldFynch’s PST viewer to help solve all these problems.

Here’s how:

  1. It’s browser-based, so you don’t have to install anything. You’ll simply navigate to its webpage.
  2. It leaves your PSTs on your hard drive. So you don’t have to worry about your data getting lost or being leaked.
  3. It ‘freezes’ PST metadata so that it stays intact for eDiscovery.

Want to use GoldFynch’s free PST Viewer tool? It’s easy-to-use, even for people who aren’t tech-savvy.

  • Just go to our webpage and upload your PSTs to start viewing them.
  • Our blazingly fast load times let you quickly view thousands of emails and email properties without having to run any processing.

Interested in using GoldFynch for eDiscovery? Here are some reasons why clients love our software.

Our eDiscovery service is perfect for small- and midsize law firms and companies.

  • It costs just $27 a month for a 3 GB case: That’s significantly less than most comparable software. With GoldFynch, you know what you’re paying for exactly – its pricing is simple and readily available on the website.
  • It’s easy to budget for. GoldFynch charges only for storage (processing is free). So, choose from a range of plans (3 GB to 150+ GB) and know up front how much you’ll be paying. It takes just a few clicks to move from one plan to another, and billing is prorated – so you’ll pay only for the time you spend on any given plan. With legacy software, pricing is much less predictable.
  • It’s simple to use. Many eDiscovery applications take hours to master. GoldFynch takes minutes. It handles a lot of complex processing in the background, but what you see is minimal and intuitive. Just drag-and-drop your files into GoldFynch and you’re good to go. Plus, it’s designed, developed, and run by the same team. So you get prompt and reliable tech support.
  • It keeps you flexible. To build a defensible case, you need to be able to add and delete files freely. Many applications charge to process each file you upload, so you’ll be reluctant to let your case organically shrink and grow. And this stifles you. With GoldFynch, you get unlimited processing for free. So, on a 3 GB plan, you could add and delete 5 GB of data at no extra cost – as long as there’s only 3 GB in your case at any point. And if you do cross 3 GB, your plan upgrades automatically and you’ll be charged for only the time spent on each plan. That’s the beauty of prorated pricing.
  • Access it from anywhere. And 24/7. All your files are backed up and secure in the Cloud.

Want to learn more about GoldFynch?