Recover emails no longer on the server

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Joined: October 17th, 2019, 3:04 am

Post Posted October 17th, 2019, 3:20 am

I use TB at home to access a work email address via an IMAP account.

Due to an 'error', my employer 'unintentionally' deleted my entire account and wiped their copy, as if I had left the organisation. They then created a new account with the same credentials, without warning me in advance. As soon as my home computer reconnected with the server, the local copy of all my emails, spanning a year and a half, were wiped to mirror the new blank account. My inbox and other folders now contain only emails that have arrived since the 'mistake' happened.

I can locate the inbox at %appdata%\Thunderbird\Profiles\xxxxxxxx.default\ImapMail\accountname and open it with Notepad. It doesn't show any of the deleted emails. In other words, this is not like a situation of simply deleting via the TB trash -- it's a new instance of the account, but using the same profile. I've tried looking for deleted emails with Recuva (and could also use other software if recommended) but am not sure what to look for or how to identify it if I find it.

Can anyone suggest a way of finding any local traces that might exist of all my wiped emails?

Thank you in advance.


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Joined: July 30th, 2003, 5:06 pm

Post Posted October 17th, 2019, 9:23 am

Your mail is normally stored in mbox files. They're plain text files (any 8-bit data is base64 encoded so that it can be stored as ASCII) named after the folder, with no file extension. So your inbox folder has a "inbox." file with the mail messages and a "inbox.msf" file that is basically just a cache of the folder listing plus a few attributes. Don't bother trying to recover the *.msf files, Thunderbird will automatically generate new ones from the mbox files.

If Thunderbird wiped your inbox." file due to syncing its contents I suspect you won't be able to recover that with Recuva. However, if it deleted some mbox files due to the remote folders being deleted, that's something you might be able to recover using Recuva if you haven't had much writing/deleting to the hard disk recently. I suggest you temporarily disable automatic compacting until you're done trying to recover lost files.

A few users have had great success recovering mail with Recova but most seem to have no luck. Do you have any backups of your profile? Can you get your email provider to restore your mailbox from a backup?

You can use the ImportExportTools (or ImportExportToolsNG if you're using version 68) add-on to import mbox files into "Local Folders". Its also possible to just copy them to the Local Folders "local directory", though you then have to deal with naming conflicts.

Posts: 2
Joined: October 17th, 2019, 3:04 am

Post Posted October 18th, 2019, 2:24 am

Thank you very much for your advice.

I suspect TB wiped the inbox file by syncing its contents, because my provider created a new blank account with exactly the same login credentials as my old account. I don't think there was a time at which my computer contacted the server and found the inbox deleted -- instead, I think an inbox full of messages was exchanged for an empty one with the same name. However, I did create a number of folders with saved messages, and these have disappeared (rather than syncing with blank copies), so it's possible they may still exist on my local drive.

I do have backups of other email accounts, and I do use ImportExportTools. However this was a work email run by a very large international organisation with full-scale in-house IT infrastructure, so a) I didn't see any possibility of needing a backup, and b) storing a remote backup may well have violated my employer's infosec policy. In my case all the employer's backups were wiped: they put the account into a status reserved for terminated accounts, which means that it was archived after a while and then fully deleted. The only problem is that I was not told!

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