Saturday, April 28, 2007

The joys of e-mail administration

I've dabbled in e-mail services for sometime now. It's one of those things that would normally be within the sysadmin's domain but usually falls on the netadmins task list. I think it's something to do with the diagnostic/trouble shooting process - it's pretty much the same as most network issues.

This week was 'fix the mail server' week. Resurrect it and get the mail flowing as it should.

The mail server is a moderately new 'oem' box with average kit and runs CentOS 4. For some reason sendmail is what they have used, personally I have always liked postfix - especially when its combined with policyd.

Sendmail was having a lot of trouble sending e-mail to a few domains that were also fairly popular among the users. I quickly narrowed the problem down to a flaky link causing connections to time out - likely a issue with using PPPoE over wireless and then going though some magical shaping gateway to the 'net. So I set up forwarding to the service providers IronPort mail server - once I had figured out the particulars of getting sendmail to forward via an authenticating mta, the outgoing mail queue was kept nice and empty.

Once that was done, I then focused on the viral aspect of email. It appears the anti-virus in use on the mail server was way out of date and while its defs were up to date, the engine simply couldn't detect many of the popular worms. So I left it as it was and installed ClamAV - it's doing the job fine.

Next was figuring out how they were using procmail to process messages. This is where I discovered, to my displeasure, that they were using procmail to run spamassassin and the anti-virus, along with some basic procmail type spam filtering. What a waste of resources processing mail at the mailbox stage is. So I've shifted those tasks to the MTA where they belong. Procmail is for users to distribute mail among folders and vacation messaging when .forward isn't enough.

So now the server has basic virus and spam filtering abilities once again. Next step is to look at shifting over to postfix and implementing various policy daemons with their grey/white/black listing, SPF, spamtraps, HELO checking and weighted scoring goodness. I will also use amavis-new or xamime to run stuff through a few anti-virus scanners and deal with mail accordingly.

With all these changes I was forced to implement a rather draconian policy of limiting message sizes to 10MB. This was all that the ISPs mail server would accept, not that I disagree - it's e-mail, not FTP... So being the friendly BOFH I had to offer my flock an alternative to send those large files to outside recipients. In comes PaknPost, a http upload/emailer webapp. It's written in perl and free - what more could I ask for? This allows users to send up to ten files to anyone they like, with virus scanning, file encryption and HTTPS transfer. I'm quite happy with the initial results, user abuse will be the ultimate test.


steve02476 said...

How did PakNPost work out? I'm looking at using it or something similar for my users (who otherwise abuse their email accounts).

Ben said...

It's okay. Fairly simple to setup and it hasn't caused me any issues. No complaints from the users so far.