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.

 
AAPL
$113.11
Apple Inc.
+1.33
MSFT
$47.89
Microsoft Corpora
+0.23
GOOG
$520.04
Google Inc.
+3.69

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

NeoOffice 2014.6 - Mac-tailored, OpenOff...
NeoOffice is a complete office suite for OS X. With NeoOffice, users can view, edit, and save OpenOffice documents, PDF files, and most Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. NeoOffice 3.x... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.5.2 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
CleanApp 5.0.0 Beta 5 - Application dein...
CleanApp is an application deinstaller and archiver.... Your hard drive gets fuller day by day, but do you know why? CleanApp 5 provides you with insights how to reclaim disk space. There are... Read more
Monolingual 1.6.2 - Remove unwanted OS X...
Monolingual is a program for removing unnecesary language resources from OS X, in order to reclaim several hundred megabytes of disk space. It requires a 64-bit capable Intel-based Mac and at least... Read more
NetShade 6.1 - Browse privately using an...
NetShade is an Internet security tool that conceals your IP address on the web. NetShade routes your Web connection through either a public anonymous proxy server, or one of NetShade's own dedicated... Read more
calibre 2.13 - 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
Mellel 3.3.7 - Powerful word processor w...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
ScreenFlow 5.0.1 - Create screen recordi...
Save 10% with the exclusive MacUpdate coupon code: AFMacUpdate10 Buy now! ScreenFlow is powerful, easy-to-use screencasting software for the Mac. With ScreenFlow you can record the contents of your... Read more
Simon 4.0 - Monitor changes and crashes...
Simon monitors websites and alerts you of crashes and changes. Select pages to monitor, choose your alert options, and customize your settings. Simon does the rest. Keep a watchful eye on your... Read more
BBEdit 11.0.2 - Powerful text and HTML e...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Crossbow Warrior – The Legend of William...
Crossbow Warrior – The Legend of William Tell Review By Lee Hamlet on December 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: MISSES THE MARKUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Crossbow Warrior details the entertaining adventures of legendary... | Read more »
Workflow: Powerful Automation Made Simpl...
Workflow: Powerful Automation Made Simple Review By Campbell Bird on December 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: GO WITH THE FLOWUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad This powerful app lets users accomplish multiple tasks at touch of... | Read more »
My Little Monster Review
My Little Monster Review By Jordan Minor on December 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: IT'S ALIVE!Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad What’s it worth to make your own monster?   | Read more »
Galaxy Trucker Pocket (Games)
Galaxy Trucker Pocket 1.0.8 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.8 (iTunes) Description: Galaxy Truckers Wanted!================================================================= (5/5) "Galaxy Trucker isn’t... | Read more »
Make your own Tribez Figures (and More)...
Make your own Tribez Figures (and More) with Toyze Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
So Many Holiday iOS Sales Oh My Goodness...
The holiday season is in full-swing, which means a whole lot of iOS apps and games are going on sale. A bunch already have, in fact. Naturally this means we’re putting together a hand-picked list of the best discounts and sales we can find in order... | Read more »
It’s Bird vs. Bird in the New PvP Mode f...
It’s Bird vs. Bird in the New PvP Mode for Angry Birds Epic Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Telltale Games and Mojang Announce Minec...
Telltale Games and Mojang Announce Minecraft: Story Mode – A Telltale Games Series Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
WarChest and Splash Damage Annouce Their...
WarChest and Splash Damage Annouce Their New Game: Tempo Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] WarChest Ltd and Splash Damage Ltd are teaming up again to work | Read more »
BulkyPix Celebrates its 6th Anniversary...
BulkyPix Celebrates its 6th Anniversary with a Bunch of Free Games Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] BulkyPix has | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple resellers offer free overnight shipping
The Apple Store is now offering free next-day shipping on all in stock items if ordered before 12/23/14 at 10:00am PT. Local store pickup is also available within an hour of ordering for any in stock... Read more
Holiday sale continues: 15-inch Retina MacBoo...
 B&H Photo has the new 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $... Read more
Holiday sale: 13-inch 128GB MacBook Air for $...
 Best Buy has the 2014 13-inch 1.4GHz 128GB MacBook Air on sale for $849.99, or $150 off MSRP, on their online store. Choose free home shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Price valid... Read more
13-inch 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
Best Buy has lowered their price on the 2014 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro to $1149.99 on their online store for a limited time. That’s $150 off MSRP and the lowest price available for this... Read more
Kodak Returns to CES With New Consumer Produ...
Former photography colossus Kodak is returning to CES for the first time in three years where the Kodak booth (#21818 South Hall 1) will showcase a wide range of innovative, imaging-related products... Read more
Invaluable Launches New Eponymously -Named A...
Invaluable, the world’s largest online live auction marketplace, hhas announced the official launch of the Invaluable app for iPad, now available for download in the iTunes App Store. Invaluable... Read more
IDC Reveals Worldwide Mobile Enterprise Appli...
International Data Corporation (IDC) last week hosted the IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Mobile Enterprise Applications and Solutions 2015 Predictions Web conference. The session provided organizations... Read more
Hello Vino Wine App Launches “Safe Ride Home”...
Hello Vino has announced addition of a new “Get a Safe Ride Home” feature in its Food & Drink app with a direct connection to Uber, the technology platform that connects users with rides. The... Read more
DEVON-technologies Releases DEVONthink To Go...
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho based DEVON-technologies, LLC has updated DEVONthink To Go, its mobile companion to DEVONthink, to version 1.5. The update includes an iOS 8 extension, compatibility with the... Read more
The Apple Store offering free next-day shippi...
The Apple Store is now offering free next-day shipping on all in stock items if ordered before 12/23/14 at 10:00am PT. Local store pickup is also available within an hour of ordering for any in stock... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Store Leader Program (US) - Apple, I...
…Summary Learn and grow as you explore the art of leadership at the Apple Store. You'll master our retail business inside and out through training, hands-on experience, Read more
Project Manager, *Apple* Financial Services...
**Job Summary** Apple Financial Services (AFS) offers consumers, businesses and educational institutions ways to finance Apple purchases. We work with national and Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.