Whenever you use or create an email address in Microsoft Outlook, all the data within that email account is contained within a .pst (Personal Folders file). This is a database-type file that Outlook uses to keep everything organized. An .ost, Outlook Data File is essentially a mirror of your Exchange mailbox held locally on your computer.
As email is quite important to all of us as a communications medium, I thought I would share everything I know about these files. I refer to Outlook here as this is the default email client for these files. Other email clients do work with .ost and .pst files so if you use something else, just refer to that instead of Outlook.
There are two types of Outlook Data File. The .pst, Personal Folders file and .ost, Outlook Data File. A .pst file is primarily for home users and anyone who uses Outlook Web Access through Outlook.com or Hotmail.com. An .ost file is for small to medium-sized businesses that use Microsoft Exchange.
Personal Folders file
The Personal Folders file (.pst) is like a database of all your emails, attachments, replies, calendar entries, contacts and all the contents of your email inbox. If you use Office 2013/16 without Exchange, you will have one or more .pst files on your computer. One .pst file is created for every POP3 mailbox you have in Outlook.
The .pst file will be stored in C:\Users\USERNAME\Documents\Outlook Files.
The .pst file is a copy of your email data that is permanently stored and updated on your computer. Should you need to, you can copy the .pst file onto another computer to set up email and everything would work if you import it into a different copy of Outlook or other email client.
Outlook Data File
The Outlook Data File (.ost) is for users of Microsoft Exchange IMAP email accounts. This is usually businesses that utilize either Office 365 or Office 2013/16. The Outlook Data File is also often referred to as the ‘Offline Data File’ as that is its purpose. To allow users to manage emails even if they don’t have a live link to Exchange. You will still need Exchange to send and receive emails but read and replying can all be done offline and are then sent by Outlook once connected.
The .ost file is stored in C:\Users\user\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook
An Outlook Data File is a mirrored copy of your Exchange email data. So rather than being the main copy of your inboxes like the .pst, an .ost is only a copy. If it gets lost or damaged, Outlook will automatically download a fresh copy from Exchange and continue working.
Unlike the .pst file, you ideally should not move or import an .ost file. You have to create a new one within the instance of Outlook you are using at the time. If you needed to migrate email to a new computer, you would need to set up the email account from scratch and let Exchange download a new file to that computer.
Copying, storing and deleting
There are some computer repair companies that don’t back up .ost files because they can be quickly downloaded from an Exchange server. What’s the point in adding another location to a backup routine when you don’t need to right? Wrong. At least in my opinion.
What happens if something goes wrong with the local computer and the internet connection? What would happen if the Exchange server got hacked or went down? What id Exchange caching hasn’t been set up? Having a copy of the .ost file and recovering it means the user could still be productive while connectivity is restored. Otherwise, the user cannot do anything with email until that time.
I would always suggest backing up .ost files as part of your standard backup routine. While the files themselves can grow up to a few hundred megabytes, if you depend on email to get work done, it makes sense to back it up. Plus, if the person who set up your email didn’t enable Cached Exchange Mode, which is a synchronized copy of your email on your computer, you could lose a lot of work if you lost the file.
Exporting .ost files
As mentioned above, you can copy and move a .pst file as you see fit. Any copy of Outlook and most other email clients will pick it up and run with it without issue? So what about an .ost file?
Microsoft suggests you create a new .ost file rather than importing an existing one but it is possible to do. There is a procedure whereby you disable Cached Exchange Mode and create a standalone .pst which you can import into another instance of Outlook should you need to. This page on the Microsoft Office site shows you how. If the new computer has a live connection to Exchange, there should be no need to import a .pst file but the option is there should you need it.
What happens if you delete a .pst or .ost file?
I, and the team here at Dave’s Computers have dealt with many dozens of users who accidentally deleted their .pst or .ost files when housekeeping or trying to free up disk space. While an inconvenience, it isn’t terminal.
If you accidentally delete a .pst file, you can potentially restore it from the folder itself. Navigate to C:\Users\USERNAME\Documents\Outlook Files, right click on the folder and select ‘Restore previous versions’.
If you accidentally delete an .ost file, you should be able to get Exchange to download a fresh copy.
- Open Outlook and select File.
- Select Account Settings and the email address in question.
- Select the Data Files tab and the email address in question.
- Select Settings and the Advanced tab in the new window.
- Uncheck Use Cached Exchange Mode and hit Apply.
- Close all the windows and shut down Outlook.
- Restart Outlook.
When Outlook restarts, it should automatically connect to Exchange and download a new copy of your .ost file. Repeat the above process to enable Cached Exchange Mode once more to complete.
So that’s my guide to Microsoft PST and OST files. There is a lot more to running Outlook and Exchange but that is an overview of what the tow files are, what they do and how they enable you to use your email. Hope the information helps!
Last week around a million Google Docs users were hit with a very clever phishing scam. While Google has taken down the offending app and closed the loophole that allowed it to happen, there are still risks with the platform. So what was the attack all about and what do you look for to avoid phishing scams?
The Google Docs phishing scam was enabled by OAuth, an online security protocol that allows third party tools to access applications. In this case, a Google Docs application used OAuth to request permission to access Gmail and Google. Once users agreed, no further permissions or interactions were necessary in order to allow the application to work.
Usually, OAuth makes it simple to enable third-party extensions or addons to interact with applications. In this case, a fake app was allowed to be created that fooled users into thinking it was a legitimate Google app. The app looked and felt legitimate and because it requested permission from inside Google Docs using OAuth, people naturally thought it was legitimate.
How did the Google Docs phishing scam happen?
A loophole in Google’s systems allowed someone to create a third-party app and call it Google Docs. Users who received a notification in Gmail to enabled the app automatically allowed full access to the extension as it looked to be from Google themselves, only it wasn’t.
This potentially opened up those users to identity theft or worse as the app granted full access to users’ email accounts and Google Docs.
Regular users of Google Docs will know that third-party apps and extensions offer lots of extra features to the various apps within the suite. I myself use a few Google Docs addons for the extra productivity and time-saving features they can offer. What usually happens is that you open a Doc, Sheet or whatever, look for an addon from within the app, allow it access to that Doc or Sheet and then begin using it.
When used for good, this process is fast and very straightforward. Some enterprising hacker obviously thought so too.
Google said they closed the loophole within an hour of being notified but up to a million accounts had already been compromised. If you recently allowed Google Docs access to your Gmail account or other Google accounts, now might be a good time to change your passwords.
According to Google:
‘While contact information was accessed and used by the campaign, our investigations show that no other data was exposed,’ Google said in a statement. ‘There’s no further action users need to take regarding this event; users who want to review third party apps connected to their account can visit Google Security Checkup.’
How to avoid phishing scams
There is no way to avoid all phishing scams as some of them are very sophisticated indeed, as this Google Docs phishing scam has shown. However, by following a few simple rules, you can lower the risk of falling prey to such a scam by a significant amount.
Never click an email link
If you’re not sure who sent an email, never click within it. Links can be hidden in images, signatures or hide as a completely different link so it is best to avoid them altogether. If you are a hundred percent sure of who sent the email, the risk is lower but you should still be aware.
If the email looks genuine, say from your bank or credit card company, visit the website separately from your browser. Do not click a link in an email as these can lead to perfect copies of your bank’s website.
If you’re not expecting an email, don’t open it
If you receive an email from an address you don’t recognize, don’t open it. This is especially true if you receive one out of the blue. Always be suspicious of random emails even if they look legitimate. If you use Outlook, use preview mode to look at the email without activating anything within it.
If you’re unsure, delete it. If it was legit or important, the sender will send another or contact you a different way.
If it looks or feels wrong, delete it
Some phishing emails are blatantly wrong, contain very poor English or just look suspicious. Delete them.
Don’t depend on bad English or spelling mistakes to decide whether an email is a scam or not. Some of the more sophisticated emails have perfect English and replicate the company they are purporting to be very well. Some businesses cannot write very well and come across as foreign, so don’t rely on language use alone.
If it looks or feels phony, just delete the email. Better safe than sorry.
If online accounts allow two-factor authentication, use it. This can prevent the vast majority of hacking attempts. If you do fall prey to a phishing scam and accidentally give out your password, you have a second line of defense to protect yourself.
Also, periodically check our online accounts for any changes. Enable notifications of changes for a little extra protection. Many larger organizations will automatically email you if anything changes on your accounts but don’t depend on it. Check your email, regularly used store accounts and any account that could impact you financially. If they have an option to notify you of any changes, make sure to use it.
Protect your computer
Antivirus and malware scanners cannot protect you from phishing but they can protect your computer from the results of phishing. If you are tricked into landing on an infected web page that tries to download malicious code onto your computer your antivirus can stop it. If you click on a popup ad that includes malware, you need to be able to stop that too.
That’s where a good antivirus and malware scanner comes in. You should also run a software firewall on every connected computer to prevent malicious programs ‘phoning home’ with your personal data.
There are currently no programs or technological means to protect you from all forms of phishing. It is mainly down to you and your awareness of the threat. Hopefully now you know what to look for, you can avoid the majority of these scams.
If you do have issues with malware or viruses, the computer repair specialists here at Dave’s Computers are here to help. Contact us to learn more!
We had a drop in at our Hillsborough computer store the other day. Not to drop of a computer for us to repair or data for us to recover but to ask us about what skills are required to become a computer repair technician. It always excites me when I see the next generation of our industry so I spent some time with the guy.
Aside from the usual technical skills and curiosity about how things work and are put together, there are some soft skills every computer repair technician needs to be successful. They are harder to quantify but as just as, even not more necessary than the ability to strip down a laptop and troubleshoot Windows issues.
It isn’t enough to be good with computers, you have to be good with people too. Here are what I regard as core skills necessary to become a great computer repair technician.
Patience is a virtue
Our industry does demand a lot of patience. Any customer facing industry needs its fair share of it. Computers even more so because not only do customers occasionally try our patience, computers and operating systems regularly do it!
Scouring through the Windows registry looking for an error is something we rarely do but is something that demands patience by the bucket load. The same for customers who (rightly) think their computer problem is the most serious in the world and demands your immediate and undying attention.
Flexibility is key
Much of a computer repair technician’s job is either ticket based or reactive. The first is quite regimented, a certain computer needs looking at in a certain way and the troubleshooting steps need to be performed in a certain way to achieve the desired result. Quite a static and predictable way to work.
On the other hand, we have emergencies, drop ins and clients we offer remote computer support to. They often require immediate attention as time may be a factor or the issue serious enough to stop them working or doing what they need to do. We need to be flexible enough to drop something we may have been in the middle of, pick up the new issue, fix that and then go back to our initial repair.
Communication is essential
Being able to communicate is something everyone in every industry needs, but anyone who deals with customers needs it more. Not only do you often have to tell customers that they need to buy a component or that their beloved MacBook Pro is dead, sometimes you have to tell them that their issue cannot be fixed by a given time or that we couldn’t recover their data.
There is another element to technical professions, that of being able to make complicated issues understandable to people without our background. This is a specific challenge and one any computer repair technician needs to get to grips with.
A customer doesn’t care what voltage their RAM needs or what DRAM timings were set on their motherboard. They just care whether we can or have fixed it and how much it will cost. Other customers will want to know exactly what went wrong but won’t have the technical background to necessarily understand. That’s when being a good communicator really comes into its own!
No is not a swearword
I don’t like saying no to customers but there are times when you will need to. Some things are just not possible. Other things really shouldn’t be. With the best will in the world, there are those who will always try their luck. ‘Oh while you have the case open, could you just check x or tweak y a little?’. Usually, if it’s a mere couple of seconds work, I say yes. If it requires more work or the customer is obviously trying to take advantage, no is a safe word.
As long as you say no politely and professionally, no should be a word in every computer repair technician’s handbook. Just pick and choose when you use it!
Go the extra mile
Helping a customer out with something that takes only a couple of minutes is a great way to gain a reputation as genuinely helpful. It is also a way to get them on side, build a rapport and get repeat business. I like to make sure we all add value where we can within reason and going that extra mile when practical is a good way to do it.
No place for ego
Being a computer repair technician means working in a competitive environment where you are measured by clients, colleagues and me. That breeds a competitive spirit but one that needs to be tempered so ego doesn’t dominate. Ego is useful in driving you to excel but has no place in business decisions or when dealing with customers.
Sometimes the customer is right even when they are wrong. Sometimes I am right even when I’m wrong. Sometimes you will be asked to perform tasks you don’t want to perform or stay late to fix an urgent issue. Ego has no place in your decision making if you want to become a computer repair technician.
Attitude is more important than technical skills
Continuing on that theme, I regard a good attitude as much more important as the ability to write code or build databases. Skills can all be learned but being agreeable, professional, hardworking, great with customers and nice to be around goes a whole lot further.
I would rather have a team of lower skilled people with good attitudes than highly skilled engineers with various forms of social issues. Fortunately, I have a great team with a great attitude, with skills to match. If you want to become a computer repair technician, you need to foster positive people skills and a good attitude long before you learn how to strip down a water cooled PC!
I consider being a computer repair technician as a fantastic career. I have enjoyed my time in the industry so far and plan to carry on enjoying it for many years to come. If you would like to experience a local computer repair service with a difference, visit Dave’s Computers in Hillsborough New Jersey!
This week’s computer repair post was prompted by a guy who came into our Hillsborough computer store earlier this week. He had spilled his coffee over his older Dell laptop and wanted to know if we could save it. This seems to happen a lot, especially if you work or study at home. So how can you save a laptop from water damage?
The first thing to realize is that if you spill liquid onto any electronic device and is goes fizzle and pop, it is likely too late. While we can sometimes resurrect devices that have shorted out due to liquid ingress, it is far from guaranteed. However, we will always try our best.
If you accidentally spill liquid over anything electronic or electrical, you need to move quickly. Turn it off as quickly as you can and remove all power to it. Remove the battery or the mains plug quickly. If you can remove voltage from the device, chances are that we can prevent a short and thereby save the device. You have to be fast though as the minute liquid hit electronics it is usually game over.
If you don’t move quickly enough, the liquid can cause the device to short out. Depending on where this short circuit occurs, we can sometimes save it and sometimes not. For example, if the liquid gets underneath a laptop into the battery contacts, we can often change the battery and clean the contacts. If that liquid goes further, we can often do nothing about it.
How to save a laptop from water damage:
- Power it fully off, fast.
- Remove the battery if you can.
- Remove the mains lead if in use.
- Remove any peripherals, SD cards or USB drives.
Dealing with water damage
If you managed to turn the device off before it shorts out, there is hope but it takes patience. Your first task is to remove as much of the liquid as possible. If liquid entered a laptop through the keyboard, turn it upside down and leave for a couple hours to drain and dry. If water got in through the bottom, remove the liquid and allow it to drain right way up.
Essentially, what you want to do is align the device so the liquid flows out without hitting any more of the electronic parts.
You now have two options. You can strip the laptop down to speed up the drying process or you can leave it alone for 72 hours or more to dry by itself.
If you choose to strip the laptop down, you will need a Philips screwdriver, a dry work surface and some patience. It will also help to have a receptacle ready for you to store the screws from the laptop as they are tiny.
- Remove the battery if it unclips from the external chassis.
- Remove the bottom cover of the laptop. This is usually secured by 6-8 tiny Philips screws.
- Remove the battery if it is an internal one. Clean the contacts of both the battery and the laptop. Look for black marks that could indicate a short circuit.
- Follow your laptop’s user manual to remove the hard drive or SSD.
- Remove the RAM.
- Remove the keyboard if that is where the liquid entered. The exact method of doing this differs by manufacturer but is often possible through more Philips screws inside the chassis and prizing gently apart.
When you remove each component it is important to visually inspect it for damage including burn marks. Then place it on a dry surface somewhere safe to dry. Depending on where you live and how warm or cold it is, give each component a few hours to dry completely.
Do not be tempted to place components next to a heater or fire. Electronics do not like heat either and you could easily do more harm than good.
Once all components have had a chance to dry fully, you can begin rebuilding the laptop. Just reverse the process above but don’t apply power to the laptop or clip the battery in until you are ready.
Inspect all components for black scorch marks before replacing them. If any components show signs of damage, don’t use them. That may be the part that shorted out. Replace them if you can or use an alternative if you have a spare laptop or can borrow one from a buddy.
If you don’t want to strip your laptop down, that’s fine. You can either bring it over to Dave’s Computers and we can do it for you or you can leave it for 72 hours or so to dry naturally. As above, don’t be tempted to put the laptop next to a heat source to speed up drying.
If you’re in a hurry, you can put the laptop on a baking tray filled with dry rice or you can use those little packets of silica gel that are often included with shoes or PC components. Both attract and absorb moisture so would work well here. Just make sure no rice finds its way into the vents!
However you decide to proceed, the longer you leave the laptop to dry naturally, the better.
Once you are satisfied that all components are completely dry you can think about powering up. Attach the battery and press that power button. If you’re lucky and got to the device before it shorted out, it should boot as normal.
If it doesn’t boot at all, try plugging in the mains adapter and powering on. If that doesn’t work, remove the battery altogether, reattach mains power and try again. If there is no life, there is no hope. It means something vital was shorted out and you will unfortunately need to replace the laptop.
If there are signs of life but the laptop won’t boot, it could be faulty RAM or hard drive. Much depends on the message you see on screen. Try different memory or alternative hard drive/SSD if you can and retest.
If you can power off fast enough, you can save a laptop from water damage. If you get stuck, or would prefer us to do the work for you, we would be happy to. Just bring it along to our Hillsborough computer store and we will try our best!