How to Search PDF Attachments in Outlook in Cybercrime Investigations

Search PDF Attachments in Outlook During Email Forensics
Published By Mohit
Anuraag Singh
Approved By Anuraag Singh
Published On November 24th, 2023
Reading Time 5 Minutes Reading
Category Forensics

Email forensic analysts often find themselves in situations where they need to search PDF attachments in Outlook email service. PDFs are a universal file format and can store a lot of data. Moreover, the data is stored in a way that is easy to view and share, so even nefarious entities look to take advantage of it.

That’s why many cybercrime investigations involve searching not only the PDF attachments themselves but also the content present within the PDF itself. This problem multiplies manifold if investigators are dealing with smart criminals who use complex file hierarchy and encryption methodology to hide their data.
Therefore, via this write-up, we aim to guide detectives in their task of viewing PDFs in Outlook emails. To assist in such a situation, we also have a tutorial on professional email forensic software. Before we can guide you to the software, let’s start by discussing why PDF items are not displaying in Outlook.

Why Manual Methods Fail to Show PDF Attachments in Outlook

PDFs are invisible to the investigators because:

  • File Corruption: The PDF file itself is corrupt or damaged.
  • Attachment Size Limitations: The PDF attachment exceeds the size limit set in Outlook.
  • Issues with the PDF Reader: Problems with the external PDF reader 
  • Network or Server Issues: Network or server problems affect the download and display of attachments.
  • Outdated Software: Outdated versions of Outlook or PDF reader software.
  • Permission Issues: Insufficient permissions to open or view attachments.
  • Incorrect File Extension: The file extension is incorrect or has been changed, causing compatibility issues.
  • Missing Fonts: Fonts used in the PDF are not available on the system, leading to display problems.
  • Firewall Blocking: Firewall settings are preventing the proper retrieval of attachments.
  • Mailbox Full: The mailbox is full, preventing the download of new attachments.
  • Inactive Add-ins: Inactive or disabled Outlook add-ins affecting attachment handling.
  • Limited Disk Space: Insufficient disk space on the device may hinder proper attachment handling.
  • Incomplete Downloads: Incomplete download of the PDF attachment due to network interruptions.
  • PDF Version Compatibility: Compatibility issues with the PDF version and the PDF reader.
  • MIME Type Issues: Problems with the MIME type associated with PDF files in Outlook.
  • Outlook Profile Corruption: Corruption in the Outlook profile causes attachment display issues.
  • Operating System Updates: Recent updates to the operating system affecting attachment rendering.
  • Security Zones: Incorrect security zone settings affecting attachment handling.
  • Third-Party Software Conflicts: Conflicts with third-party software installed on the system.
  • Attachment Blocking Policies: Group policies or organizational settings blocking specific types of attachments.
  • Outlook Add-ins Interference: Interference from third-party Outlook add-ins affecting attachment preview.
  • Email Format Issues: Issues with the formatting of the email itself impacting attachment rendering.
  • Incompatible Operating System: Incompatibility between the operating system and Outlook version.
  • Password-Protected PDFs: Password-protected PDFs without proper credentials for access.

Best Solution to Search PDF Attachments in Outlook for Professionals

No matter the data investigation scenario, there is one tool that has left its mark, and that is none other than MailXaminer. By combining robustness with ease of use, the email forensic utility has become the partner on which countless law enforcement agencies have placed their trust. Follow your peers and try out the best-in-class cybercrime investigation tool.

Why Search PDF Attachments in Outlook Using an Automated Utility 

Add Data from Multiple Sources Simultaneously: As Outlook is both a desktop-based and cloud-based application, the tool allows users to choose the exact one they want. Moreover, during a single-case investigation, detectives can add other sources as and when they want.
 choose evidence

Get In-House OCR & Image Analysis Capabilities: Not all PDF documents are readily searchable, that’s why the tool contains an optical character recognition feature. With this, it can automatically identify the text and numerical data present inside a PDF file. Once identified investigators can directly look into the data present in the PDF and build their case accordingly.
apply evidence settings

Variety of Search Options to Locate Information: For a more fine-tuned analysis, the tool contains 6 different search options. These include General Search, Fuzzy Search, Wildcard Search, Regex Search, Proximity Search, and Stem Search. Each of these comes in handy during different scenarios like Regex in searching for credit card numbers located in files.
 search options

Separate Section to Preview PDF Attachments: The preview tab of the tool contains different screens one of which is for Attachments. Here detectives can view monitor, and identify the required documents.
 attachment preview

Scenarios Specific Filter Mechanism: Inside the tool, investigators will find a complete set of filtering options. These help in bringing out the precise data required during complex case analysis. As in many investigations, the amount of data is often quite large. So with this tool, the detectives can end up saving a lot of time by automating the filtering operations.
 filters tab

Analysis and Visualization Dashboard: Apart from the Searching capability there is one more way in which the tool helps the investigators. It is by providing link analysis and graphical representation of data. Law enforcement agents can identify the amount of communication that took place between suspects.
widgets preview


Throughout this write-up, our entire discussion revolved around how to search PDF attachments in Outlook during email forensic analysis. In the early part of the blog, we mentioned how important PDFs are during cybercrime investigations. Moreover, we also informed the investigators why they should not waste their time on manual searching techniques. In the second half of the article, we explained how the different features present in the blog help with the various challenges that arise during cybercrime analysis. So in the end, we are hopeful that all queries are sorted and investigators have a clear choice in mind.


By Mohit

He has over 4 years of experience as a professional content writer. He is a tech enthusiast who specializes in explaining complicated technical concepts.