I would like to search a damaged pst file for a certain string in order to recover log-in credentials to a website.
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I'm afraid the answer is 'it depends'. The PST format is such a all-encompassing format that the implementers didn't prescribe the format for the type of data stored. Only that a piece of data has a type associated with it.
The PST format itself is defined as either ANSI or Unicode. The ANSI version uses 32-bits to represent IDs and the Unicode version uses 64-bits (from Outlook 2003 the default was Unicode). But even that doesn't necessarily help because the strings could be stored as UTF-8, UT-16, or current code page, depending on the data stored. Try both a ASCII search AND a Unicode search using something like HxD. If it's not found using that then it's probably corrupted, encrypted, compressed, or a scary combination of all three. Not sure which external tools you've tried but one of these may work for you: