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I need to delete a mail item, and once deleted it needs to be unrecoverable by any means. Is this possible? As far as I am aware, you will never be able to get rid of it out of the transaction logs. Are there and apps available that will do this?

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3 Answers

I question your motives, but the answer is "it's not that simple™".

You are correct that the message won't come out of the transaction logs, but when Exchange is backed up the transaction logs are flushed so it won't hang around in there for too long.

Once it's committed to the Exchange database and you delete the item, it will go to the dumpster. In Exchange 2010 the dumpster was modified so an administrator with appropriate permission can (for a configurable amount of time) view all messages which have been purged (i.e deleted from the Recover Deleted Items dialog).

The "not that simple" part of it comes now. Once it has totally gone from the Exchange database, the message will still be hanging around in backups.

  • The fact you have to back up Exchange to flush the transaction logs means it will be backed up at least once.
  • Exchange keeps items in the dumpster for a reasonable amout of time by default (don't quote me, but I think it's 30 days on Exchange 2010). In that amount of time, I would expect at least 4 full Exchange backups (which do include the dumpster) and a multitude of transaction log backups to accompany.
  • Since Exchange requires you to back up frequently (or the transaction log disk gets full and dismounts the database) I would also expect more than a few backups.
  • If this item has been in a folder for some time and you have only just deleted it, it could be in any number of historical backups.
  • If you have some sort of system which takes a copy of all messages as they are sent through the Exchange 2010 Hub Transport server (archiving, legal compliance etc) then the message will be in that system which you may or may not have control over (and in some cases it must be kept by law or industry regulations anyway).
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Ben is absolutely right, of course. Jason, the decision as to whether or not your messages can be retrieved isn't necessarily up to you (as an end user, at least) but rather the people who design and manage your messaging infrastructure. We use journalling where I work and this ensures that messages are copied pretty much no matter what. –  RobM Jan 11 '11 at 21:06
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and this doesn't even take into consideration if the email came through an email gateway... which may have a copy of all incoming/outgoing email with it's own backup schedule. –  cwheeler33 Jan 11 '11 at 21:19
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But the questioner asked:

it needs to be unrecoverable by any means

...and the answer to that is if the drive/s intact then you must assume that the message will always be recoverable by forensic analysis.

Confidential (or potentially embarrassing) emails should always be encrypted.

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The most reliable method to delete a message is to do a Shift-Del on the message in question. This bypasses the trash and dumpster. But is still subject to the caveats Ben pointed to regarding Transaction-logs and email-archiving systems.

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in Exchange 2010 they re-architected the dumpster so even Shift+Deleted items end up in there for a period of time. –  Ben Pilbrow Jan 11 '11 at 21:00
    
Shakes fist Ok. –  sysadmin1138 Jan 11 '11 at 22:01
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