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Avoiding Spams with SPF and greylisting within Exim

December 9, 2011

A year ago, I posted an article describing a way to slay Spams with both Bogofilter and SpamAssassin embedded in exim. This method was proven effective for my mailboxes:  since then, during a timespan of one year, Bogofilter caught ~ 85 % of actual spams, SpamAssassin (called only if mail not already flagged defavorably by Bogofilter) caught ~ 15 %. Do the math, I had almost none to flag by hand.

Why would I change such setup? For fun, obviously :-)

Actually, I made no change, I just implemented SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and greylisting.

I noticed that plenty of spams were sent to my server @thisdomain claiming to be sent by whoever@thisdomain. These dirty spams were easily caught by the duo Bogofilter / SpamAssassin, but still, it annoyed me that @thisdomain was misused. SPF allows, using DNS records, to list which servers/computers are allowed to send mails from addresses @thisdomain.   SPF checks are predefined in Exim out of the box, so I’ll skip its configuration. The relevant DNS record (with bind9), allowing only two boxes (primary and secondary mail servers) designated by their IP to send mails @thisdomain, looks like:

thisdomain. IN  TXT  "v=spf1 ip4:78.249.xxx.xxx ip4:86.65.xxx.xxx -all"

Result: Since I implemented SPF on my domains, there was no change in the number of spam caughts. However, during this period, my primary server list of temporary bans dropped from 200/100 IPs to 40/20 IPs. I cannot pinpoint with certainty the cause of this evolution because the temporary bans list depends on plenty of things. But, surely, pretending to send mails @thesedomainsgrilledbySPF surely lost some interest for spambots. Implementing SPF is actually not about helping ourselves directly but indirectly: reducing effectiveness of spambots helps everybody.

I use greylisting on my secondary mail server since a while and I noticed over years that this one almost never had to ban IPs. Not that he never received spam, but that he almost never received mails from very obvious spam sources identified at STMP time.  Seems that most very obvious spam sources never insist enough to pass through greylisting. I guess that most spambots are coded to skip any mail server that does not immediatly accept a proper SMTP transaction, because it has no time to waste, considering how little is the percentage of spams sent actually reaching someone real.

This greylisting use the following files (an assumes memcached and libcache-memcached-perl are properly installed):

So I gave a try using greylist my primary mail server, but with a very short waiting time, because 5 minutes, for example, to receive mail from a not-yet-known  source is not acceptable. So I edited the relevant conf.d/main/ file to GREY_MINUTES = 0.5 and GREY_TTL_DAYS = 25.

Result: no changes regarding the number of caught spams. However, like on the secondary mail server, the number of banned IPs is near to none. Looks like most obvious spam sources don’t wait even only 30 seconds – actually, it’s a very acute choice as they would be anyway banned if they did.

From → Networking, Sysadmin

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