[Mailman-Users] Fake Email

Stephen J. Turnbull stephen at xemacs.org
Mon Nov 2 03:06:44 CET 2009

Hien HUYNH HUU writes:
 > Hi Stephen, 
 >    I can't do that because may be the sender is on another MTA and mailman server can't force they do an authentication.
 >    Is this a weak point of Mailman ?

No, this is a weak point of your MTA.  The MTA has all the information
needed, and in principle can force an authentication.  Mailman only
knows what the MTA tells it.

Specifically, the SMTP protocol goes:

HELO                # the sender MTA identifies itself
MAIL FROM           # the sender MTA identifies the sender mailbox
RCPT TO             # the sender MTA identifies the recipients
DATA                # the sender MTA sends the message text including
                    # header fields
QUIT                # the sender MTA hangs up, session over

Now, the receiver MTA prepends some so-called "trace header" fields,
which usually contain the HELO, MAIL FROM, and RCPT TO information in
some form, as well as timestamps and queue IDs.  It may also transform
the Content-Transfer-Encoding of the body (eg, from BASE64 to 8bit or
vice versa).  *Otherwise it hands Mailman exactly the same DATA that
it got.*  That DATA could be the truth, it could be a lie, it could be
complete garbage.  The MTA doesn't care, and Mailman has no way to

It's true, as Barry says, that you could use signed messages to
authenticate, but this is not as good, for three reasons:

(1) Mailman as distributed doesn't implement this yet.
(2) 3rd party patches are available but they have not been extensively
    tested.  TLS facilities of MTAs are in widespread use and have
    been thoroughly tested.
(3) Having Mailman do the authentication means accepting the mail at
    the MTA.  This opens you up to the annoyance of spam and the
    danger of a denial-of-service attack (either on your bandwidth or
    on your disk space).

If you really want Mailman to do the authentication, you can either
use the Approved header field, which is not very secure, or you can
use the 3rd-party patch to use public-key signatures which somebody
else mentioned.  I'm pretty sure that should work OK because the
theory is straightforward, but haven't reviewed it or used it myself,

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