Forwarding external mail to external addresses – SPF, SRS, DKIM and Courier-MTA

Anyone who knows me knows how utterly frustrating I find the state of email today.

It’s inherently insecure, absolutely relied upon, and there’s always someone who “didn’t get your email”.

For larger businesses the offerings by Microsoft and the alike (Office365 for example) make sense.  For me however – it’s Courier-MTA on a Debian box.  So when things go wrong, the buck stops with me.

The “Sender Policy Framework” was an attempt to make email more secure and less abusable.  I assume you’re already familiar with it – and that you’re reading this because you, like me, are having issues forwarding 3rd party emails to 3rd party aliases.

Because the way Courier (and indeed most MTAs) handle aliases, an email address originating from external address [email protected] is received and then literally resent (fairly verbatim) to the external alias [email protected]  When this happens, Yahoo observes the state of the email’s SPF and correctly identifies that your forwarding mail server (plfc.org.uk in my case) is not an authorised sender for gmail.com.

SPF breaks the forwarding.

Aliases continue to work if the aliased address or the source sender are local.  It’s specifically external to external that causes the issue.

Sender Rewriting Scheme is an (in my opinion) “attempt” to resolve this issue.  By clearly recognising that you are intentionally forwarding an email from another domain by kludging the originating address, SPF can pass while the forwarding can still continue.

Sadly it seems pretty well nothing natively supports SRS except Postfix (which even then requires manual compilation on several major Linux distributions today).  Courier-MTA is one of the least supported.

We’ve successfully patched around this by artificially gluing Debian’s srs utility with Courier:

$ sudo dd if=/dev/urandom bs=1 count=32 2>/dev/null | base64 -w 0 > /etc/courier/srssecret
$ sudo chown root:mail /etc/courier/srssecret
$ sudo chmod 640 /etc/courier/srssecret

$ sudo apt-get install srs

$ cat /usr/local/bin/srs-forwarder 
#!/bin/bash
SRS_RETURN="$(/usr/bin/srs "$SENDER" --secretfile /etc/courier/srssecret --alias "$HOST")"
EMAIL="$(</dev/stdin)"
echo "$EMAIL" | /usr/sbin/sendmail -f "$SRS_RETURN" "$1"

$ sudo cat /etc/courier/aliases/system
srs-test: | /usr/local/bin/srs-forwarder [email protected]

Note that sos-forwarder is executable by Courier, and that $SENDER and $HOST are environment variables set by Courier when performing pipe-to-command aliases.  We’re relying on Courier’s implementation of sendmail for this, which is being used to rewrite the necessary SRS related headers (Return Path I believe).

Modified Courier alias entries can now re-queue and forward externally bound aliases successfully!

For a very lightly used mail server, the above is sufficient.  For anyone running a mail server with higher throughput, various improvements can be made which I’ll describe over at Github.

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