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Fighting spam with pf 9 July 2007
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This article was originally published at ONLamp as Greylisting with PF.

This article will show you how I am using PF (the the Packet Filter from the OpenBSD project) and spamd (also from OpenBSD) to implement greylisting and greatly reduce incoming spam. This solution is completely MTA agnostic. You do not have to make any changes to your existing mail server configuration to use spamd/pf. In fact, you can easily use pf and spamd to guard any SMTP mail server. Yes, even MS Exchange.

I first read about PF when reading Micheal Lucas's Absolute OpenBSD. If you have never read one of his books, I urge you to do so. His writing style is very clear and easy to follow. In the book, there are about thirty pages on PF, yet there is so much packed into that short chapter that I knew then and there that one day I'd start using PF. That day came a few weeks ago. My gateway at home has been happily running PF since early October. More important is my happiness. One of the best features of any software product is simplicity of use. PF is simple to get started with. And easy to extend once you need the more advanced features.

A few weeks after implementing PF on my home gateway, I attended NYCBSDCon 2006 and listened to Bob Beck's talk on spamd. It was so easy that I just had to try it. So I did.

On a related note, I'll also give you a short introduction to OS fingerprinting and how you can use pf to block/pass packets based up on the sending OS.

TLS - be aware

If you are planning to use TLS (transport layer security) on your mail server, be aware that spamd has no TLS. If your MTA requires TLS, or communicates with other MTAs that require TLS, then you will probably have to whitelist those MTAs and perhaps make TLS optional on your MTA.

A bit how greylisting works

spamd and PF work together. PF will direct any known good clients directly to the mail server. Similarly, known bad clients will be sent to the tarpit, a slow responding mail server, which does not add much load to your system. Finally, new clients, not known to be either good or bad, are asked to try again later.

With the above, you have three lists of clients:

  • whitelist - known good clients
  • blacklist - known bad clients
  • greylist - we don't know if they are good or bad yet, but we will soon decide.

The key to greylisting is knowing that good and kind mail servers do not mind being politely asked to come back later. This is part of the STMP protocol. Spammers, however, are cheap and nasty. They don't like this. They probably won't come back later. Why? Queue management is tricky. If you're sending to millions of email addresses, why worry about a few messages that you cannot deliver? Just skip along to the next one. Spammers work on volume. We exploit that characteristic with greylisting.

Implementing PF

My gateway was running FreeBSD 6.2 PRELREASE. PF is also available on DragonflyBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD (of course!). The FreeBSD Handbook has a good Introduction to PF.

There are several ways to enable PF, including compiling it into the kernel, or loading the module. I added the following options to my /etc/rc.conf file to ensure PF starts up at boot time. It also starts the logging daemon.


NOTE that I have chosen a non-default value for my PF rules. The default value, as found in /etc/default/rc.conf is /etc/pf.conf. To avoid any merge conflicts with mergemaster(8), I chose to use a different file name. The default install comes with many fine examples in /etc/pf.conf and I urge you to read them.

Designing your PF rule set is beyond the scope of this article. The OpenBSD project has a good example.

Enabling PF

The primary interface between PF and the outside world is pfctl. To load PF on a running system, issue this command:

# kldload pf
# kldstat
Id Refs Address    Size     Name
 1    8 0xc0400000 6721fc   kernel
 2    1 0xc0a73000 58554    acpi.ko
 3    1 0xc4eb5000 16000    linux.ko
 4    1 0xc5e20000 2d000    pf.ko

Now that you have PF loaded, let's look at what this gives you. The following command shows you all the filter parameters:

# pfctl -s all
No ALTQ support in kernel
ALTQ related functions disabled

Status: Disabled                                Debug: None

Hostid: 0x595cedd1

State Table                          Total             Rate
  current entries                        0
  searches                               0            0.0/s
  inserts                                0            0.0/s
  removals                               0            0.0/s
  match                                  0            0.0/s
  bad-offset                             0            0.0/s
  fragment                               0            0.0/s
  short                                  0            0.0/s
  normalize                              0            0.0/s
  memory                                 0            0.0/s
  bad-timestamp                          0            0.0/s
  congestion                             0            0.0/s
  ip-option                              0            0.0/s
  proto-cksum                            0            0.0/s
  state-mismatch                         0            0.0/s
  state-insert                           0            0.0/s
  state-limit                            0            0.0/s
  src-limit                              0            0.0/s
  synproxy                               0            0.0/s

tcp.first                   120s
tcp.opening                  30s
tcp.established           86400s
tcp.closing                 900s
tcp.finwait                  45s
tcp.closed                   90s
tcp.tsdiff                   30s
udp.first                    60s
udp.single                   30s
udp.multiple                 60s
icmp.first                   20s
icmp.error                   10s
other.first                  60s
other.single                 30s
other.multiple               60s
frag                         30s
interval                     10s
adaptive.start                0 states
adaptive.end                  0 states
src.track                     0s

states     hard limit  10000
src-nodes  hard limit  10000
frags      hard limit   5000

Notice that the status indicates PF is disabled. To enable PF, issue this command:

# pfctl -e
No ALTQ support in kernel
ALTQ related functions disabled
pf enabled

There are no filter rules loaded. To test your rules, without loading them, try this command:

pfctl -n -f /etc/pf.rules

Any syntax errors will be brought to your attention.

The following loads the rules:

pfctl -f /etc/pf.rules

Read the man page for more -s options. You can pull out NAT, RDR, filtering, etc.

Very simple rules

This section shows very simple rules. It is a cut down version of what I use at home. fxp0 faces my ISP. fxp1 talks to my home network. This setting in /etc/rc.conf allows the gateway to forward packets between the two NICs:


And the rule set is:

  1. ext_if="fxp0"
  2. int_if="fxp1"
  3. internal_net=""
  4. external_addr="m.n.o.p"
  5. icmp_types="echoreq"
  6. NoRouteIPs = "{,,, }"
  7. # machines inside
  8. webserver=""
  9. # machines outside
  10. FISH="a.b.c.d"
  11. STIN="e.f.g.h"
  12. THEF="i.j.k.l"
  13. table <AllowedToSSH> { $FISH, $STIN, $THEF }
  14. set skip on lo0
  15. set skip on gif0
  16. scrub in all
  17. nat on $ext_if from $internal_net to any -> ($ext_if)
  18. rdr on $ext_if proto tcp from any to $external_addr port 80 -> $webserver
  19. # block all by default
  20. block all
  21. block in quick on $ext_if from $NoRouteIPs to any
  22. block out quick on $ext_if from any to $NoRouteIPs
  23. antispoof quick for $int_if inet
  24. # pass all traffic to and from the local network
  25. pass in on $int_if from $internal_net to any
  26. pass out on $int_if from any to $internal_net
  27. pass out on $ext_if proto tcp all modulate state flags S/SA
  28. pass out on $ext_if proto { udp, icmp } all keep state
  29. pass in on $ext_if inet proto tcp from any to $webserver port 80 flags S/SA synproxy state
  30. pass in quick on $ext_if inet proto tcp from <AllowedToSSH> to $external_addr \ port 22 flags S/SA keep state
A few notes on specific lines above:
  • 1-2 - macros that define my external and internal NICs
  • 4-5 - macros that define my internal network and my public IP address.
  • 13 - my development web server
  • 15-18 - machines that are allowed to SSH to my gateway
  • 20 - a table of those machines
  • 27 - my nat rules
  • 30 - redirection of port 80 on my gateway to my webserver
  • 49 - allowing those machines to SSH in

I hope that's enough to get you started with your own ruleset.

Treating different OSes differently

Equality is a nice concept. The theory is great. The practice is not universal. Especially when it comes to operating systems. Why discriminate? I will answer that question in the form of a story related to me by someone who uses OS fingerprinting at home to lessen his domestic workload. To protect the guilty, this person will be know as Phil.

Phil uses BSD in his everyday work. At home, his kids use BSD. Their machines also dual-boot with Windows in case they need to do specific things for homework etc. In general, they are to use BSD. When using Windows, they are only allowed to use the web, nothing else. Why do these rules exist? To lessen Phil's workload. He doesn't want to be removing viruses and spamware all the time. How do you keep them off the Windows computers? You keep the Windows computers off the Internet.

Sure, rules are nice, but some kids, and some adults, are known not to follow the rules. It would be nice if there was some way to enforce this at the firewall. Enter OS fingerprinting.

OS fingerprinting is not new. nmap, for example, uses it. From man pf.conf:

Passive OS Fingerprinting is a mechanism to inspect nuances of a TCP connection's initial SYN packet and guess at the host's operating system.

It is pf's ability to detect the Operating System at the other end of the TCP/IP connection that allows Phil to prevent his kids from breaking the rules. To illustrate this, I'll try blocking incoming queries based upon the OS you are using. On my webserver at home, I will create a website: To demonstrate that the website is actually running, you will be able to browse freely to the above URL. But if you try you will be blocked if you are using Windows.

NOTE: I have since taken down these example webpages. Sorry. :)

How do I do this? I'll show you the pf rules, but the Apache setup is outside the scope of this article.

Redirect incoming traffic to the webserver

These rules redirect incoming traffic to from the gateway to the webserver:

rdr on $ext_if proto tcp from any to $external_addr port http    -> $webserver
rdr on $ext_if proto tcp from any to $external_addr port 8080    -> $webserver

As you can see port 80 (http) and port 8080 are both redirected to my webserver.

Block/pass traffic on those ports

These rules will pass or block the traffic based on port and OS:

pass  in quick on $ext_if inet proto tcp from any to $webserver port http flags S/SA synproxy state
block in quick on $ext_if inet proto tcp from any os windows to $webserver port 8080
pass  in quick on $ext_if inet proto tcp from any to $webserver port 8080 flags S/SA synproxy state

The first line allows traffic to flow freely from my internal nic to the webserver, on port 80.

The second line blocks all traffic from any Windows machine headed towards port 8080 on my webserver.

The last line passes all traffic on port 8080. The above line contains a quick directive so if the client OS is Windows, subsequent filter rules have no effect on the packet.

I originally wanted to redirect different OS connections to different webservers, but the OS directive is not available on the rdr statement.

Getting spamd enabled

For FreeBSD, spamd comes as a port. The easiest way to install it is to have a fresh copy of the FreeBSD ports tree and issue these commands:

cd /usr/ports/mail/spamd
make install clean

To enable spamd, get greylisting going, and get verbose logging, add these entries to /etc/rc.conf:

pfspamd_flags="-g -v"

See man spamd for more details on the various options you can specify.

If you are using greylisting, you also need to issue this command:

mount -t fdescfs fdescfs /dev/fd

This mount allows spamlogd to update the spamd table. To ensure this is mounted at boot time, add the following to /etc/fstab:

fdescfs /dev/fd fdescfs rw 0 0

To ensure you have the latest versions of the spam blacklists, you can refresh them once per hour with this line in /etc/crontab:

48      *       *       *       *       /usr/local/sbin/spamd-setup

The spamd-setup utility adds blacklists by adding addresses to the pf table <spamd> according to the instructions in /usr/local/etc/spamd.conf. To distribute the load a bit, and not have everyone hitting the servers at the same time (e.g. 48 minutes past the hour, or at the top of the hour), change 48 to whatever minute is is when you enter the crontab entry.

You'll need a copy of spamd.conf:

cp /usr/local/etc/spamd.conf.sample  /usr/local/etc/spamd.conf

You may wish to amend spamd.conf according to your needs. Personally, I changed the following:


I also added this to /etc/syslog.conf so I could see the log from spamd:

daemon.err;daemon.warn;      /var/log/spamd

I also issued this command to create the file:

touch /var/log/spamd

Remember to HUP syslogd so it reads your changes and takes appropriate action:

kill -HUP `cat /var/run/`

Although your log file will be empty at this point, here are a few entries that appeared after it had been running for a while.

$ tail /var/log/spamd
Nov  8 00:30:15 nyi spamd[27528]: connected (1/0)
Nov  8 00:30:15 nyi spamd[27528]: disconnected after 0 seconds.
Nov  8 00:37:31 nyi spamd[27528]: connected (1/0)
Nov  8 00:37:34 nyi spamd[27528]: (GREY) <>
                        -> >>
Nov  8 00:37:34 nyi spamd[27528]: disconnected after 3 seconds.
Nov  8 00:37:38 nyi spamd[27528]: connected (1/0)
Nov  8 00:37:40 nyi spamd[27528]: (GREY) >>
                        -> <>
Nov  8 00:37:40 nyi spamd[27528]: disconnected after 2 seconds.
Nov  8 00:45:16 nyi spamd[27528]: connected (1/0)
Nov  8 00:45:16 nyi spamd[27528]: disconnected after 0 seconds.

No, those aren't the real email addresses from my logs, but they are close.

Known good mailers that have trouble with greylisting

There are some problems with greylisting. Have a read of the whitelisting section at I have taken their whitelist and added it to my whitelist (/usr/local/etc/spamd-mywhite). Also in that file are my own mailservers and any special places which are immune from any spamd intervention.

Directing things around the tarpit

Here are the rules I added to /etc/pf.rules:

  1. table <spamd> persist
  2. table <spamd-white> persist
  3. table <spamd-mywhite> persist file "/usr/local/etc/spamd-mywhite"
  4. scrub in all
  5. # redirect to spamd
  6. rdr pass inet proto tcp from <spamd-white> to $external_addr port \ smtp -> port smtp
  7. rdr pass inet proto tcp from <spamd> to $external_addr port \ smtp -> port spamd
  8. rdr pass inet proto tcp from !<spamd-mywhite> to $external_addr port \ smtp -> port spamd
  9. # mail!
  10. pass in log inet proto tcp from any to $external_addr port smtp flags S/SA \ synproxy state
  11. pass out log inet proto tcp from $external_addr to any port smtp flags S/SA \ synproxy state

Notes for the above:

  • 1 - declare the spamd table. Everyone in this table is redirected to spamd. The contents of this table is maintained by spamd-setup, which is run from a cronjob.
  • 2 - declare the whitelist table of locations that have successfully negotiated spamd's greylisting efforts. This table is maintained by spamlogd.
  • 3 - declare a table of locations that should not be subjected to greylisting. I maintain this table manually.
  • 8 - Everyone in the whitelist goes straight to the mail server
  • 9 - Everyone on the greylist goes straight to spamd
  • 10 - Everyone not on my whitelist gets to talk to spamd
  • 13-14 - These lines will feed data to pflog, which spamlogd will monitor and use to update the spamd table.

NOTE: The use of pass on the RDR rules is significant. The following is borrowed from the OpenBSD PF FAQ

NAT and Packet Filtering

NOTE: Translated packets must still pass through the filter engine and will be blocked or passed based on the filter rules that have been defined. The only exception to this rule is when the pass keyword is used within the nat rule. This will cause the NATed packets to pass right through the filtering engine.

Also be aware that since translation occurs before filtering, the filter engine will see the translated packet with the translated IP address and port as outlined in How NAT Works.

In short, if you're on a whitelist (either spamd's whitelist or my whitelist), you go straight to the mail server. Everyone else, goes to spamd.

On your first visit to spamd, you are asked to come back later. If you do, then you're asked to try again, and you are added to the whitelist.

By the way, after making changes to /usr/local/etc/spamd-mywhite, to tell PF to take notice of those changes, I issue this command:

$ pfctl -t spamd-mywhite -T replace -f /usr/local/etc/spamd-mywhite
No ALTQ support in kernel
ALTQ related functions disabled
24 addresses added.
39 addresses deleted.
Starting spamd

To start spamd manually, issue this command:

/usr/local/etc/rc.d/pfspamd start

The first time you run spamd, it may take 10 or 20 seconds for it to come back to the command line. Be patient.

If you get the following error message:

 # /usr/local/etc/rc.d/pfspamd start
Starting pfspamd.
spamd-setup: Can't find "all" in spamd config: No such file or directory
then you probably forget to create /usr/local/etc/spamd.conf (see above) or you removed the all section from it.

You will also want to start pflogd, so that the logging works:

/etc/rc.d/pflog start

After successfully starting spamd, you should see stuff like this:

# ps auwx | grep pf
nobody  94067 ?? Ss 11:20AM 0:00.03 spamd: (pf <spamd-white> update) (spamd)
root    94282 ?? Is 11:31AM 0:00.00 pflogd: [priv] (pflogd)
_pflogd 94286 ?? S  11:31AM 0:00.00 pflogd: [running] -s 116 -f /var/log/pflog (pflogd)

I have removed some of the columns from the above display to make it fit better on the page.

On a side note, I'd like to see spamd running as something other than nobody. Perhaps I'll work on that later.

spamd-setup maintains the <spamd> table shown on line 1 of the PF ruleset found in a later section of this article. To view the contents of this table, issue this command:

pfctl -t spamd -T show
Getting things from the greylist into the whitelist

You don't have to worry about moving items from the greylist to the whitelist. spamlogd will take care of that for you. If you're setting this up for the first, time, you can get spamlogd running with this command:


To ensure spamlogd starts at boot time, include this in /etc/rc.conf:


spamlogd updates the spamd database (/var/db/spamd). When it sees a successful connection spamd, in turn, uses this database to decide whether someone is on the whitelist or greylist. In order to provide spamlogd with the information it needs, you must log your mail server activity. See lines 13 & 14 above. Read all the details in man spamlogd.

If spamlogd does not start, it is probably because pflogd is not running. See above for starting pflogd. This is what spamlogd looks like when it is running:

# ps auwx | grep spamlogd
root    94345  ??  Ss   11:36AM   0:00.00 /usr/local/libexec/spamlogd
root    94349  p2  S+   11:36AM   0:00.00 grep spamlogd
A sample greylisting

In this section, I will send a message from a non-whitelisted server and demonstrate how the server moves from the greylist to the whitelist. I will be sending from to For your information, zip is running sendmail, and nyi is running postfix. In both cases, that is completely irrelevant to greylisting.

Here is an extract from the sending mailserver. I guess I should point out that this server is in New Zealand and the one I'm sending to is in New York.

Nov 9 06:30:06 zip sm-mta[59825]: kA8HThYO059822: to=<>, ctladdr=<> (1001/1001), delay=00:00:20, xdelay=00:00:20, mailer=esmtp, pri=30391, [], dsn=4.3.0, stat=Deferred: 451 Temporary failure, please try again later.

A new host,, previously unknown to, attempted to send email. spamd on nyi correctly asked zip to try again. Checking the mail queue on zip, you should see something like this:

$ mailq
                /var/spool/mqueue (1 request)
-----Q-ID----- --Size-- -----Q-Time----- ------------Sender/Recipient-----------
kA8HThYO059822       34 Thu Nov  9 06:29 <>
                 (Deferred: 451 Temporary failure, please try again later.)
                Total requests: 1

Looking at the logs on nyi, I see this in /var/log/spamd:

Nov  8 12:29:58 nyi spamd[27528]: connected (1/0)
Nov  8 12:29:59 nyi spamd[27528]: (GREY) <> -> <>
Nov  8 12:29:59 nyi spamd[27528]: disconnected after 1 seconds.

Furthermore, you can see that zip is greylisted by issuing this command:

$ spamdb | grep nz

I waited. Shortly thereafter, zip tries again, and again spamd asks it to try again. Here is the log entry from zip, the sending mailserver:

Nov  9 06:43:02 zip sm-mta[59893]: kA8HThYO059822: to=<>, ctladdr=<> (1001/1001), delay=00:13:16, xdelay=00:00:05, mailer=esmtp, pri=120391, [], dsn=4.3.0, stat=Deferred: 451 Temporary failure, please try again later.

Checking on nyi, I looked in the spamd database again:

$ spamdb | grep

There it is, clear as day. The entry has been greylisted. The three numeric fields indicate timestamps related to this host. The 2 means the host has attempted delivery twice. The zero means the host has not yet delivered any mail.

Why was the second attempt not allowed? spamd has three time parameters related to greylisting. See the man page for better definitions. The values shown are the defaults.

  1. passtime - If after this time period, spamlogd sees a retried delivery, the server will be moved to the whitelist. (25 minutes)
  2. greyexp - entries on the greylist will be removed if there have been no retries within this period. (4 hours)
  3. whiteexp - Entries on the whitelist are removed if there has been no mail activity in this time period (36 days).
The default passtime value (see man spamd) is 25 minutes. A host will remain greylisted for at least 25 minutes before it can be moved to the whitelist. What will move it to the whitelist? A retry after passtime minutes. This means that delivery must be attempted three times, and it will succeed on the third try, if it it after the passtime period and before the greyexp period terminates. By default, the sending mail server will be greylisted for 25 minutes, and then has until 4 hours after the first delivery attempt to try again. After the greylisting period expires, the sending host must go through the greylisting process again.

So now I waited, for another attempt. And there it was:

Nov  9 07:12:59 zip sm-mta[60044]: kA8HThYO059822: to=<>, ctladdr=<> (1001/1001), delay=00:43:13, xdelay=00:00:02, mailer=esmtp, pri=210391, [], dsn=4.3.0, stat=Deferred: 451 Temporary failure, please try again later.

Remember how I said spamlogd will monitor the mail logs and move entries to the white list? Look here on nyi:

$ spamdb | grep

There you go, the entry has been whitelisted. Three delivery attempts have been made, and none have succeeded. Actually, as I type this, the mail is still sitting on zip waiting to attempt another delivery. This time, PF will redirect the incoming connection directly to my mail server, and not to spamd.

Coincident with the above was this log entry:

*** /var/log/debug.log ***
Nov  8 13:13:19 nyi spamd[27526]: whitelisting in /var/db/spamd

That is spamlogd reporting that it has whitelisted the client. On the next delivery attempt, the message should go straight through. And here it is:

Nov  9 07:43:06 zip sm-mta[60179]: kA8HThYO059822: to=<>, ctladdr=<> (1001/1001), delay=01:13:20, xdelay=00:00:09, mailer=esmtp, pri=300391, [], dsn=2.0.0, stat=Sent (Ok: queued as 661DC50849)
And here it is being received on nyi:
Nov  8 13:42:56 nyi postfix/smtpd[2847]: connect from[]
Nov  8 13:42:58 nyi postfix/smtpd[2847]: 661DC50849:[]
Nov  8 13:42:59 nyi postfix/cleanup[2873]: 661DC50849: message-id=<>
Nov  8 13:42:59 nyi postfix/qmgr[47862]: 661DC50849: from=<>, size=852, nrcpt=1 (queue active)
Nov  8 13:42:59 nyi postfix/local[2874]: 661DC50849: to=<>, relay=local, delay=2.3, delays=2.3/0.01/0/0.01, dsn=2.0.0, status=sent (delivered to command: exec /usr/local/bin/procmail -t -a ${EXTENSION})
Nov  8 13:42:59 nyi postfix/qmgr[47862]: 661DC50849: removed

The host is now in the spamd database as this:

$ spamdb | grep
WHITE||||1163006999|1163009572|1166121773|3|1 will remain on the whitelist until 36 days of no sent email. While on the whitelist, it will not be subject to greylisting. If if falls off the whitelist, it will go through the above greylisting process again.

Problems I encountered

Yes, I had a problem. The <spamd-white> table was always empty. Even after spamlogd moved something from the greylist to the whitelist. This thread in the FreeBSD PF mailing list found me the missing piece:

mount -t fdescfs fdescfs /dev/fd

Now the whitelist table has some entries!

# pfctl -t spamd-white -T show
No ALTQ support in kernel
ALTQ related functions disabled

My thanks to LI Xin.

Now, an even bigger problem. Despite having the whitelist updated, my email still isn't getting through. Whitelisted clients were still being subjected to greylisting. delo found the answer. My rules were wrong. I had this:

  1. rdr pass inet proto tcp from <spamd-mywhite> to $external_addr port \ smtp -> port smtp
  2. rdr pass inet proto tcp from <spamd> to $external_addr port \ smtp -> port spamd
  3. rdr pass inet proto tcp from !<spamd-mywhite> to $external_addr port \ smtp -> port spamd

See the problem? Line 1. That table name is wrong. It should be <spamd-white>, the table maintained by spamlogd. DOH! When I found this problem, I corrected /etc/pf.rules and updated PF by issuing this command:

pfctl -f /etc/pf.rules

Later on, I found out about this option:

-N   Load only the NAT rules present in the rule file.  Other rules
     and options are ignored.

Once I fixed the NAT rules, I went to m21 and tried to connect. I got straight through to the real smtp server:

dan@m21:~$ telnet nyi 25
Connected to
Escape character is '^]'.
220 ESMTP Postfix
221 2.0.0 Bye
Connection closed by foreign host.

Good, that proves the whitelisting is working. Then I flushed the Postfix mail queue, and the mail message went straight through.

Yes, I missed this entirely during the port install:

$ cd /usr/ports/mail/spamd
$ less pkg-message
In order to use spamd greylisting feature you have to have a mounted fdescfs(5)
at /dev/fd.  This is done by adding:

        fdescfs /dev/fd fdescfs rw 0 0

to /etc/fstab.  You may need either a customized kernel, or kldload the fdescfs
kernel module.

What is in my spambd right now?

$ spamdb | grep GREY

Yes, the domain names have been slightly obscured, but you should be able to see who is sending to what. For the record, the MX server in question is not an MX for or but that's not stopping the spammers from trying. At present, only uses this greylisting server as an MX. I'm about to add more domains to it and implement greylisting on my other servers.

As I type this additional note on 24 November, about 3 weeks after the above, here are the stats of each of my three mail servers:

  • nyi
    $ spamdb | grep -c GREY
    $ spamdb | grep -c WHITE
  • havoc
    $ spamdb | grep -c GREY
    $ spamdb | grep -c WHITE
  • supernews
    $ spamdb | grep -c GREY
    $ spamdb | grep -c WHITE

It is interesting to see that one machine has whitelisted nearly 4500 servers in about 9 days...


I'm sure all of this sounds great. It can be better. Greytrapping is one step further than greylisting. No doubt, you have an email address that is no longer used, but you still get email sent to it. It's probably been on spamming lists for years. If someone is sending email to that address, it's bound to be spam. What you can do is add that address to spamdb as a spamtrap address. See man spamdb for details. For example, if you want to designate anyone sending to, then you can issue this command:

spamdb -T -a "<>"

I have a list of 24592 such email addresses. Why? Well, they aren't really addresses. They are Message-ID: values from FreshPorts. Background: FreshPorts didn't always store Message-ID:. When that attribute was added, I need to come up with a value for the existing commits stored in the database. Unfortunately, I select something like (s/example/FreshPorts). Spammers grabbed all those addresses, and I started to see huge spam attempts. All bounced of course, because they were not valid addresses. I have since changed those Message-ID:s to (s/example/FreshPorts). But the spammers continue.

So how do I get the email addresses into spamdb? They are all in a file named greytrap. This command loads them. It takes a few minutes to complete.

cat greytrap | xargs -n1 spamdb -T -a

That's all there is to it...


With newer versions of spamd (not available in the FreeBSD Ports tree at the time of writing), you can take advantage of the greylisting period to scan your logs and take appropriate action. The greyscanner script will scan the spamdb output and look for patterns and blacklist that IP address for 24 hours. If it's not spam, it will come through later. If it is spam, well, you've delayed it. This script can validate address, check for an MX or A record for the source address, etc.

Look here for details:

Things to think about

Greylisting can delay mail. Greylisting can block mail, but only if you continuously redirect the connection to the tarpit. However, it does greatly reduce the amount of incoming spam. I have no comparative statistics to show you. All I know is I like it and it reduces the amount of crap in my mail box. :)

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