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Accountants unlikely to escape Enron fallout

Monster bankruptcy case shows email's lasting trail

Emails are messy things, leaving traces of themselves all over your company's network. That's why the attempts of employees in the Houston office of accountants Arthur Andersen to delete emails relating to failed commodities exchange Enron were futile.

According to published reports, Andersen acknowledges that in October and November, its employees deleted emails related to their work as accountants and auditors for Enron.

Enron was an energy company and one of the largest commodity trading firms in the world. It went bankrupt at the end of 2001. Billions of dollars were lost from company pension schemes as Enron's stock price collapsed. Andersen has been under scrutiny ever since and has fielded pointed questions as to why it disposed of large quantities of Enron-related documents before the bankruptcy.

"It is impossible that [government investigators] cannot find data on those hard drives. There are too many computers involved," said Michael Sanders, a computer forensics expert who specialises in email recovery. "[They] will find enough information to make a story."

Though email servers and applications vary in how they move and store electronic messages, all of them hoard information on hard drives in the same way as if they were running on Windows-based PCs, according to Sanders. He added that Lotus Notes is a particularly easy program from which to recover deleted messages.

Arthur Andersen uses email software and servers from IBM-owned Lotus Software, according to Lotus chief Al Zollar.

Lotus declined an offer to comment for this story. Representatives for the other companies could not be reached at the time this story was filed.

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