Monday, 17 May 2021

Getting a password out of Outlook

I recently helped someone get their password out of Outlook on their PC. They had just upgraded to a smartphone, and wanted to be able to answer their email on their phone, and via webmail. They had been trying to find out how to do this for ages, and kept putting off solving the problem, because it seemed - to them - insurmountable. I though that this didn't sound like it should be too much of a problem, and popped around to give them a hand. But this short trip turned into a series of issues just to try and do one simple job. 

I really thought it would be as easy as finding their Outlook executable file. Hah: I wasn't even able to find where it stored on their PC. It was not in any location I was familiar with. No problem: all I needed to do was to search for a file called "*.pst". Except I did that, and Windows Explorer wouldn't cough up anything like it. OK, so let's search for an "*.ost". Nope.

And no to "*Outlook*.*" 

OK, so I figured that the problem was Window's useless search. Simple, I would download a great piece of third party kit for searching the PC. This comes from GOFF Concepts, and is called FileSearchEX (which I have written about before here). However, this perfectly harmless piece of software was identified by the person's antivirus software as malware. I was unable to change the antivirus software's mind. I could not add it as an exception. I reported it as an exception to the antivirus company anyway, so hopefully other people may not run into the same problem in the future. Much swearing. 

Sigh. I turned to Google to find out how to temporarily suspend the antivirus. Wrestle with a range of hopeless instructions until it actually finally does turn off, which takes three goes. Now download the FileSearchEX software. Install the software. Turn the antivirus back on.

At last: one hour in, and the FileSearchEX search runs perfectly, first time. I have the Outlook exe location. I find the user mail account. I can see the asterisks where the password should be. Splendid.

Except there appears to be no way to show what lies beneath the asterisks. Argh!

Now, by this stage, I could have got the person to call the telecommunications company to try and find the password while I rode shotgun. And I was tempted. But this particular Telco takes a very, very, very long time to answer their calls, and then requires many hoops for the caller to jump through in order to make any changes. Once they finally deign to recognise that that the person on the other end of the phone - where the company has had a landline installed for the past twenty years with the same person paying the bill - is actually who the customer that say they are, the company stills treats the account holder like a child. The customer gets told why the company cannot possibly make the change that they want to make - like having the password reset to an old one. I think that this could be safely called customer dis-service. 

I wanted to try and avoid that if possible. Hmm: could there be a back door that would allow me to get the password out of Outlook? Google rocked in with a few options for a password unmaskers: now there was a new piece of kit for me! I figured - after a bit of research, and being choosy about the one I selected - that one of these was worth a try. The one I went for was SterJoSoft (here). Downloaded with no complaints from the antivirus at all.

Ran the software. It identified two hidden passwords. One was the long-lost Outlook password. At last, this problem was solved: the user had their password, they were now able to view their email on the web, and their phone was set up for email (I did that while I was there too).

However, this experience made me think about the long chain of events which had to be worked through to solve one small problem. I am no PC guru, but no wonder so many of us just give up, and live with things that don't work. Instead we develop workarounds or avoid using things altogether because it just becomes too hard for the average user.

Good technology should work for us. More development is needed before we can really say that technology sits seamlessly within our lives.


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