TweetFollow Us on Twitter

A platform for protecting mail servers.

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 6
Column Tag: Programming

RAE Internet's MPP

by Lon Baker

A platform for protecting mail servers.

Now I can sleep at night.

The joy of infected and unwanted e-mail

On May 3, 1978, the first spam message was received. In 1981 the Apple Viruses 1, 2, and 3 are seen "in the wild" on the Apple II operating system, spread through pirated computer games, and Texas A&M University. The first threat of email delivering a virus arrived in the form of the "Good Times" email hoax in 1994 with the "Melissa" virus, W97M/Melissa, delivering on the threat in 1999, executing a macro which forwarded itself to 50 people from a users address book. The genie was out of the bottle, and managing e-mail servers has never been the same.

With the growing sophistication of attacks today being the single largest headache for anyone running a mail server endures. The growing drain on time, and resources to battle this scourge has forced every administrator to develop an arsenal of tools and techniques. But how does an administrator manage the array of anti-virus and anti-spam scanners?

Building a e-mail filtering solution

Here at Speedymac, our clients, including technical support services, real estate appraisers, and business owners of all types, demand dependable e-mail with minimal impact from spam and viruses in order to conduct their business. Over time, we explored numerous scanning solution to meet our clients needs. Each solution called for a significant level of work to integrate with our mail server. We encountered daily challenges in managing virus definition updates, installing new filters, and numerous other administrative tasks.

The most time consuming aspect of deploying these solutions has always been determining the most dependable and efficient method for integrating each scanner with the mail server. In some cases a simple perl script was all that was required, while others called for homegrown code pieced together in spite of companies refusing to officially support Mac OS X.

We found this process took far too much development time in light of the evolving sophistication, and volume of the message payloads targeting our clients. We wanted to spend more time improving accuracy, and dependability of our service and less time gluing the pieces together.

RAE Internet has developed a product that fit the bill for what we needed. MPP (Message Processing Platform), a Unix daemon deployed on a mail server, or as a SMTP proxy that provides a platform for integrating a wide range of scanning solutions. Built around the concept of consolidating configuration and management tasks, MPP's architecture supports a wide range of mail servers with scanning tasks handled via dynamic scanning modules.

The mail servers supported by MPP include Communigate Pro, Postfix, Sendmail, SergeMail, and Qmail, and the dynamic scanning modules currently available for Mac OS X include Sophos Anti-Virus, Cybersoft's Pattern Authority, ClamAV open source anti-virus scanner, and the ubiquitous SpamAssassin.

A key point for us was that MPP offered a consistent, and stable platform to implement a wide array of scanning solutions on Mac OS X. We were able to quickly integrate a uniquely powerful solution for our clients through the blending of numerous scanning modules.

We have found that the use of multiple modules significantly enhanced the protection provided to our clients. Using several anti-virus modules, for example, helped catch new virus outbreaks faster than a single scanner, since each anti-virus vendor may have significantly different lag time between the initial outbreak of a virus, the necessary definition being published, and the updated definition reaching our servers.

When it comes to spam filtering, MPP offered us the opportunity to deploy Pattern Authority in addition to SpamAssassin. Obviously, any additional resource for preventing spam is a welcome addition to most server administrators.

What does MPP actually do?

MPP acts as the intermediary in the scanning process, taking messages from the MTA, preparing the message for scanning, then handing the message off to each active Dynamic Scanning Module for processing. When scanning is complete, MPP compares the results against the configuration before signaling the MTA with the correct action to take.

The architecture of MPP is based on a single Unix daemon managing numerous worker processes. The number of worker processes can be configured to handle different message volumes, with each additional worker process spawning any necessary processes needed for each active dynamic scanning module.


Figure 1.

The configuration of MPP is handled via a single text file. A Webmin module, to handle the majority of configuration tasks through a Web Browser, is included, though more advanced configuration options require manual editing via the command line.

A wide range of processing options can be configured based on the results from the scanners. A message may have headers added, be quarantined, rejected, deleted, or passed through based on these settings, as well as actions to take should a scanning error occur.

Messages flagged by the MPP configuration and scanning results can be quarantined, which is common for messages infected with a virus, and MPP provides for a disk-based quarantine for spam messages, in addition to infected messages.

Management of quarantined messages is also handled through the Webmin module. Allowing you to review, delete, forward, and resubmit quarantined messages. The latter is helpful in the event a message is falsely flagged for quarantine.

One of the most important aspects of any scanning solution is maintaining current virus definitions. In this area, MPP offers update scripts for the commercial scanning modules that can be manually controlled through the Webmin interface.

The choice RAE made to support multiple solutions through the use of dynamic scanning modules allows greater flexibility in bringing new engines to Mac OS X server administrators. This helps protect our investment, and encourage additional companies to support Mac OS X through a relationship with RAE potentially.

Deploying MPP

MPP can be deployed on your mail server, or as an SMTP proxy server. If MPP is deployed as an SMTP Proxy, a minimally configured mail server is required to handle the SMTP services, since MPP does not contain its own SMTP server. Some may view this as a drawback, but we believe that it is an advantage, since it allows MPP to focus on what does best.

RAE offers package installers for installing MPP on Mac OS X. Though the installers are quite handy, they are not without their occasional flaws, and it is highly recommended you do test installs on a machine not in production to insure that the installer does not overwrite the existing configuration or license files.

Installation of MPP can vary widely based on which dynamic scanning modules you intend to use. In the case of the commercial scanners, RAE provides native Mac OS X installer packages for both Sophos, and Pattern Authority, while the open source scanners, such as SpamAssassin, and ClamAV, require you to install these solutions separately on the server from their respective sources.

There are a few loose ends when deploying MPP. Automating virus definition updates requires manually creating crontab entries to call the provided update scripts. In the case of ClamAV, you will have to create or use an update script that is provided with the ClamAV source distribution.

Updating an existing MPP installation is fairly straightforward using a simple TAR archive. The one catch being that you must completely stop MPP, and kill any existing processes. This can leave you vulnerable to un-scanned messages passing through to end users while the update is in progress.

The support for a wide range of MTA's and platforms allows an administrator to mix and match as they see fit. In our case, we have our central mail servers running Communigate Pro using Mac OS X Server on collocated Xserves. Our backup mail servers run Postfix, and handle backup MX for our clients using less expensive equipment, and facilities.

Configuring and Managing MPP

Configuration and management of MPP is accomplished through the Webmin module included with the product. Through this tool, most configuration tasks are performed, though a few of the more advanced configuration options require manual editing of the configuration file. The Webmin module also provides a fully functional interface for managing quarantined spam, and infected messages.

MPP configuration options are broken into several distinct sections: anti-virus, anti-spam, and vendor specific options. The configuration of MPP is quite flexible, having both "Scan" and "Do No Scan" options, allowing you to customize which messages are scanned. The drawback is that these options are global, and apply to both anti-virus and anti-spam.

The anti-spam configuration options include basic whitelist and blacklist settings that allow you to designate e-mail addresses, and domains for each list. The main drawback of these configuration options is that they only apply to the "From:" and "To:" headers.

MPP does not manage the configuration of SpamAssassin, so you still have to manage your it's configuration separately. Since SpamAssassin configuration is a world in and of itself, this is not surprising or unwelcome.

When deploying MPP as an SMTP Proxy, the current version does not support managing the configurations of each proxy remotely. You are, therefore, in the position of syncing the configuration files either manually, or via a homegrown solution such as rsync.

MPP is a rapidly maturing product that offers a fundamental choice one has to make. Do you commit to utilizing the product to completely manage the email filtering? Or, do you simply allow it to "tag" messages for processing down stream? This decision is quickly being shaped by the legislative actions revolving around spam and privacy. But it is nice to have the option to determine the method of management depending on your environment.

Performance

As mentioned earlier, MPP is implemented as a native Unix daemon following a daemon/worker process model, which allows MPP to grow as your mail volume increases simply by adding more processes. If mail volume grows beyond the capabilities of a single server with MPP, multiple scanning servers can be deployed in the form of proxy servers. This scaling has the potential to significantly improve performance by distributing the load across numerous servers and networks.

Each active dynamic scanning module contributes to the overall performance, memory requirements, and scanning speed of MPP. As is to be expected, performance impact can vary significantly from module to module. We found that basic scanning functions performed by MPP are highly efficient, with overall performance significantly impacted by certain modules.

The anti-virus modules tend to consume more resources, with Pattern Authority being the most resource intensive. This is to be expected, since Pattern Authority straddles the roles of anti-virus, and anti-spam, unlike other modules.

The performance of SpamAssassin varies greatly, along with accuracy, based on the configuration of SpamAssassin. In our highly customized SpamAssassin installation, we have in excess of 20,000 custom rules, 6 individual RBL checks, and customized SpamCop URI checks on the body of each message. Even with all these checks, we see processing time of just a few seconds in the most drastic situations.

MPP also helped solved a problem we often encountered prior to deploying MPP regarding improperly formed e-mail messages. MPP parses each message while gathering the relevant information to apply the configuration to the scanning modules results. This allows MPP to prevent improperly formed messages from being handed off to the scanning modules. Which before MPP could cause enormous problems, resulting in a simple delay in processing, or in a worst case, crashing a scanner.

Managing Results

With MPP configured, deployed, and scanning messages, there are a number of choices for managing results. As mentioned earlier, the flagged messages can be quarantined on the mail server, rejected, deleted, or flagged for routing further down stream.

For messages infected with a virus, you will most likely want them quarantined on the server, or deleted completely. But for messages flagged as spam, we chose to flag them for processing down stream, either by the client, or the receiving mail server. Managing the spam quarantine in the current version of MPP is highly useful and effective, but in our environment, did not fit the needs of our clients.

The first issue we encountered with the current version of MPP is that SpamAssassin results are not injected into messages. This can make reviewing, and improving SpamAssassin rules more difficult in that you must review mail logs for the results. RAE has promised this issue will be resolved in an update in the near future.

Another minor issue results from the lack of a centralized configuration option, or management of quarantined messages across multiple servers. With two main production servers, and two backup servers, while still more efficient than our previous homegrown system, it still leaves us with four server configurations, and quarantine areas to manage.

RAE is working on a solution to part of this issue that we have tested. This summer, version 2.0 will introduce a quarantine area stored in a MySQL database. We hope that RAE considers storing configuration information in a MySQL database as well, which would help in managing multiple MPP installations across an enterprise.

Support

RAE Internet is a growing company, and in our experience has exhibited both enthusiastic support, as well as their fair share of growing pains. Overall, RAE's support for Mac OS X has been very good, unlike a fair number of far larger companies. RAE's primary support method is e-mail, though it is not difficult to get the refreshingly helpful, and honest staff on the phone if an issue calls for it.

One area that is sorely lacking, and an obvious result of their rapid growth, is the minimal documentation included with MPP, which is currently limited to the Read Me file, comments in the configuration file, and an online FAQ. RAE needs to focus on detailed technical documentation for MPP. As it stands now, learning the more advanced configuration options requires an exchange on the mailing list, or with technical support.

As an early adopter of MPP, in addition to receiving great support, it's been a pleasant surprise to see how responsive RAE has been to feature requests, and how rapidly those requests were made available to customers.

Is MPP worth it?

MPP is a rapidly maturing product that offers a good answer to a fundamental question an administrator has to ask. Do you commit to utilizing a single product to manage the majority of your email filtering, or do you spend the time, and effort piecing together a solution on your own?

The cost of MPP is determined based on which commercial scanning modules you choose, as well as the number of users. Since MPP is the management platform for the scanning solutions, the majority of licensing fees go towards the various commercial scanning modules they offer. However, MPP can be purchased to integrate with existing licenses for supported scanning products, like Sophos or Pattern Authority.

While Mac OS X is our platform of choice, MPP's license is not restricted by platform. If a company "outgrows" an existing platform, or requires larger servers, the investment in MPP is protected. The only restriction is that MPP is only supported on Unix operating systems.

With Mac OS X gaining traction in the enterprise market, MPP offers a significant value for those looking for an easily installed and managed solution for deploying anti-virus and anti-spam filtering.


Lon Baker is the founder of Speedymac LLC, a developer of e-mail services, and web applications. Speedymac has been providing e-mail centric solutions to businesses of all sizes for over 5 years. Lon has been succumbing to his Mac addiction for over 15 years.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

GarageSale 6.9.2 - Create outstanding eB...
GarageSale is a slick, full-featured client application for the eBay online auction system. Create and manage your auctions with ease. With GarageSale, you can create, edit, track, and manage... Read more
calibre 2.17 - Complete e-library manage...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
OmniGraffle Pro 6.1.2 - Create diagrams,...
OmniGraffle Pro helps you draw beautiful diagrams, family trees, flow charts, org charts, layouts, and (mathematically speaking) any other directed or non-directed graphs. We've had people use... Read more
OmniGraffle 6.1.2 - Create diagrams, flo...
OmniGraffle helps you draw beautiful diagrams, family trees, flow charts, org charts, layouts, and (mathematically speaking) any other directed or non-directed graphs. We've had people use Graffle to... Read more
RoboForm 2.0.2 - Password manager; syncs...
RoboForm is a password manager that offers one-click login, mobile syncing, easy form filling, and reliable security. Password Manager. RoboForm remembers your passwords so you don't have to! Just... Read more
Apple MainStage 3.1 - Live performance t...
Love the sound you got on your recording? MainStage 3 makes it easy to bring all the same instruments and effects to the stage. Everything from the Sound Library and Smart Controls you're familiar... Read more
Freeway Pro 7.0.2 - Drag-and-drop Web de...
Freeway Pro lets you build websites with speed and precision... without writing a line of code! With its user-oriented drag-and-drop interface, Freeway Pro helps you piece together the website of... Read more
A Better Finder Rename 9.44 - File, phot...
A Better Finder Rename is the most complete renaming solution available on the market today. That's why, since 1996, tens of thousands of hobbyists, professionals and businesses depend on A Better... Read more
Stacks 2.6.9 - New way to create pages i...
Stacks is a new way to create pages in RapidWeaver. It's a plugin designed to combine drag-and-drop simplicity with the power of fluid layout. Features: Fluid Layout: Stacks lets you build pages... Read more
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Ea...
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth is a new science-fiction-themed entry into the award-winning Civilization series. Set in the future, global events have destabilized the world leading to a... Read more

Choice Provisions is Set to Launch Destr...
Choice Provisions is Set to Launch Destructamundo on iOS This Month Posted by Tre Lawrence on January 23rd, 2015 [ permalink ] Choice Provisions – home stable to | Read more »
King of Thieves – An Interview With Zept...
Ahead of the release of ZeptoLab’s King of Thieves, we were able to ask ZeptoLab’s co-founder, Semyon Voinov, a few questions about the inspiration behind the game and what that means for the Cut the Rope franchise. | Read more »
Handle Review
Handle Review By Jennifer Allen on January 23rd, 2015 Our Rating: :: SPEEDY ORGANIZINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Handle is a very convenient way of juggling your emails, To Do list, and Calendar all through one... | Read more »
The New Disney Inquizitive App Offers a...
The New Disney Inquizitive App Offers a Place for Fans to Take Disney Quizzes Posted by Tre Lawrence on January 23rd, 2015 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Hands-On With Cut the Rope Developer Zep...
Marking quite a departure from ZeptoLab’s past successes, namely the Cut The Rope series, King of Thieves is shaping up to be quite promising. Due for release in February, we were lucky enough to have some time with a preview build to see exactly... | Read more »
Fast Fishing Review
Fast Fishing Review By Jennifer Allen on January 23rd, 2015 Our Rating: :: LIVES UP TO ITS NAMEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Fishing is far from relaxing in Fast Fishing, but it is fun.   | Read more »
Head Back to Dark World of Arnashia in B...
Head Back to Dark World of Arnashia in Blood Brothers 2 Posted by Jessica Fisher on January 23rd, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Saved Review
Saved Review By Jennifer Allen on January 23rd, 2015 Our Rating: :: SIMPLE BUDGETINGiPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad Saved is a convenient and speedy way of adding expenses and keeping track of your... | Read more »
Wooga Announces Agent Alice, a New Hidde...
Wooga Announces Agent Alice, a New Hidden Object Game Posted by Jessica Fisher on January 23rd, 2015 [ permalink ] Wooga, makers of | Read more »
One Tap Desert Hero Review
One Tap Desert Hero Review By Campbell Bird on January 23rd, 2015 Our Rating: :: DRY GAMEPLAYiPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad This one-touch arcade game uses random elements and unlocks to try to keep... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

College Student Deals are back, additional $5...
Take an additional $50 off all MacBooks and iMacs at Best Buy Online with their College Students Deals Savings, valid through April 11, 2015. Anyone with a valid .EDU email address can take advantage... Read more
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus GIve Apple Half Of US Mob...
Chicago-based Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, LLC (CIRP) have released analysis of the results of its research on mobile phone manufacturers for the calendar quarter that ended December 31,... Read more
Save $100 on MacBook Airs with 256GB of stora...
B&H Photo has 256GB MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 11″ 1.4GHz/256GB MacBook Air: $999 $100 off MSRP - 13″ 1.4GHz/256GB MacBook... Read more
21-inch 2.7GHz iMac on sale for $1179, save $...
B&H Photo has the 21″ 2.7GHz iMac on sale for $1179 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $120 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model from any... Read more
iPhone Usage Rates by State Correlate With Ed...
Chitika Insights notes that despite iPhones being the largest source of smartphone Internet traffic in North America, their latest study finds a relatively high degree of variation of iPhone usage... Read more
ProGearX Extendable Pole “Pov/Selfie Stick” M...
There’s something inescapably narcissistic about the concept of selfies as they’ve developed as a smartphone-driven social (particularly social media) phenomenon that rubs me the wrong way. However,... Read more
iPad Air 2 on sale for up to $100 off MSRP, 2...
 Best Buy has iPad Air 2s on sale for up to $100 off MSRP on their online store for the next two days. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale prices available for online... Read more
Roundup of Apple refurbished MacBook Pros and...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs available for up to $400 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and... Read more
Sale! 13-inch 2.8GHz Retina MacBook Pro for $...
 B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.8GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1599 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model... Read more
Next OS X/iOS Version Upgrades Should Concent...
On stage at Apple’s World Wide Developers’ Conference in June 2009, Bertrand Serlet, the company’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering at the time, announced that the forthcoming OS X... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Acura/Subaru Service Technicians - A...
Apple Automotive is one of the fastest growing dealer…and it shows. Consider making the switch to the Apple Automotive Group today! At Apple Automotive , Read more
Business Development Manager - *Apple* Pay...
**Job Summary** Apple Pay is seeking an experienced business development manager to support the identification, recruitment, negotiation and ongoing management of Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC)- Retail S...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Consultant (ASC) you are the link between our customers and our products. Your role is to drive the Apple business in a retail Read more
*Apple* Lead Operator, GSOC - Apple (United...
**Job Summary** Apple is seeking an exceptional, customer service oriented and experienced persons to fulfill the role of Apple Lead Operator (ALO) as part of the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.