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Exiscan Examples & Configurations FAQ

Author: Tom Kistner <[tom@duncanthrax.net](mailto:tom@duncanthrax.net)>

This is a conversion of Tom's documentation to wiki format - nothing other than reformatting has been done to Tom's documentation for Exiscan 4.42-27 -- NigelMetheringham

I have adapted the document a little bit to reflect the new possibilities, most notably the acl_m variables -- ZugSchlus

The exiscan website is at http://duncanthrax.net/exiscan-acl/. You will find the latest patch versions, as well as links to the mailing list and its archives there. Please notice that since Exim 4.50, exiscan is part of the Exim distribution, so additional patches are not required.

This document shows some example configuration snippets:- .. contents:


These examples serve as a guideline and should give you some pointers that can help you to create your own configuration. Please do not copy these examples verbatim. You really need to know what you are doing. The content scanning topic is really complex and you can screw up your mail server easily if you do not get it "right".

I recommend to read the exiscan documentation on the above mentioned website before trying to make sense of the following examples.

Each example shows part of a DATA ACL definition, unless otherwise noted.

Basic setup for simple site-wide filtering

The following example only shows the most basic use of the exiscan content filtering features. You should see it as a base that you can build on. However, it may be all you need for smaller systems with only a few users.

Main configuration:

spamd_address = 783

This is the spamassassin default, so you don't have to change anything there.

An alternative is using a unix socket:

spamd_address = /var/run/spamd/socket

You have to run spamassassin with --socketpath /var/run/spamd/socket then.

This points exim towards a spamd running on localhost and Port 783/TCP.


# Do not scan messages submitted from our own hosts
# and locally submitted messages. Since the DATA ACL
# is not called for messages not submitted via SMTP
# protocols, we do not need to check for an empty
# host field.
accept  hosts =

# Unpack MIME containers and reject file extensions
# used by worms. Note that the extension list may be
# incomplete.
deny  message = $found_extension files are not accepted here
      demime = com:vbs:bat:pif:scr

# Reject messages that have serious MIME errors.
# This calls the demime condition again, but it
# will return cached results.
deny  message = Serious MIME defect detected ($demime_reason)
      demime = *
      condition = ${if >{$demime_errorlevel}{2}{1}{0}}

# Reject messages containing malware.
deny message = This message contains malware ($malware_name)
     malware = *

# Reject spam messages. Remember to tweak your
# site-wide SA profile. Do not spam-scan messages
# larger than eighty kilobytes.
deny message = Classified as spam (score $spam_score)
     condition = ${if <{$message_size}{80k}{1}{0}}
     spam = nobody

# Finally accept all other messages that have
# made it to this point

Adding a cryptographic "scanning done" header

If you have a mail setup where the same message may pass your server twice (redirects from other servers), or you have multiple mail servers, you may want to make sure that each message is only checked once, to save processing time. Here is how to do it:

At the very beginning of your DATA ACL, put this:

# Check our crytographic header. If it matches, accept
# the message.
accept condition = ${if eq {${hmac{md5}\
                           {$h_X-Scan-Signature:} {1}{0}}

At the end, just before the final "accept" verb, put this:

# Add the cryptographic header.
warn message = X-Scan-Signature: ${hmac{md5}{mysecret}\

Notice the two "mysecret" strings? Replace them with your own secret, and don't tell anyone |:)| The hash also includes the number of lines in the message body, to protect against message "modifications".

Marking Spam messages with extra headers and subject tag

Since the false positive rate with spam scanning is high compared to virus scanning, it is wise to implement a scheme with two thresholds, where you reject messages with high scores and just mark messages with lower scores. End users can then set up filters in their Mail User Agents (MUAs). Since many MUAs can not filter on custom headers, it can be necessary to put a "spam tag" in the subject line. Since it is not (yet) possible to remove headers in Exims DATA ACL, we must do this in a system filter. Please see the Exim docs on how to set up a system filter.

The following example will unconditionally put two spam information headers in each message, if it is smaller than eighty kilobytes:

# Always put X-Spam-Score header in the message.
# It looks like this:
# X-Spam-Score: 6.6 (++++++)
# When a MUA cannot match numbers, it can match for an
# equivalent number of '+' signs.
# The 'true' makes sure that the header is always put
# in, no matter what the score.
warn message = X-Spam-Score: $spam_score ($spam_bar)
     condition = ${if <{$message_size}{80k}{1}{0}}
     spam = nobody:true

# Always put X-Spam-Report header in the message.
# This is a multiline header that informs the user
# which tests a message has "hit", and how much a
# test has contributed to the score.
warn message = X-Spam-Report: $spam_report
     condition = ${if <{$message_size}{80k}{1}{0}}
     spam = nobody:true

For the subject tag, we prepare a new subject header in the ACL, then swap it with the original Subject in the system filter.

In the DATA ACL, put this:

warn message = X-New-Subject: *SPAM* $rh_subject:
     spam = nobody

In the system filter, put this:

if first_delivery then
  if $h_X-New-Subject: is not ""
     headers remove Subject
     headers add "Subject: $rh_X-New-Subject:"
     headers remove X-New-Subject

  # ...

In newer exim versions, the acl_m variables can be used to transport the new subject from the ACL to the sytem filter.

For a different way of tagging the Subject header which allows per-user configuration, see SpamTagSubjectHeaderPerUser.

Replacing foreign Spamassassin headers with local ones

In some cases, incoming messages might already have Spamassassin headers which have been put in by some other server the message has passed through. As to not confuse user filters, it is recommended to remove these headers before adding the local Spamassassin headers. This is unfortunately not easy to do.

  spam = exiscan:true
  set acl_m0 = ($spam_bar) $spam_score
  set acl_m1 = $spam_report

This will set ACL variables appropriately for the following processing in the system filter:

if first_delivery then
  # ...

  headers remove X-Spam-Score:X-Spam-Report:X-Spam-Checker-Version:X-Spam-Status:X-Spam-Level
  if $acl_m2 is not "" then
    headers add "X-Spam-Score: $acl_m0"
    headers add "X-Spam-Report: $acl_m1"

This system filter removes a list of known Spamassassin headers and adds in the local headers from the ACL variables, should they be defined.

Defining multiple spam thresholds with different actions

If you want to mark messages if they exceed your threshold, but also have a higher "cutoff" threshold where you reject messages, use the example above, plus this part:

deny message = Spam score too high ($spam_score)
     condition = ${if <{$message_size}{80k}{1}{0}}
     spam = nobody:true
     condition = ${if >{$spam_score_int}{100}{1}{0}}

The last condition is only true if the spam score exceeds 10.0 points (Keep in mind that $spam_score_int is the messages score multiplied by ten).

Redirect infected or spam messages to special accounts

Sometimes it is desirable not to reject messages, but to stop them for inspection, and then decide wether to delete, bounce or pass them.

There are multiple ways to achieve this. The simplest way is to freeze suspicious messages, and then thaw or bounce them after a review. Here is a simple example that will freeze spam suspicious messages when they exceed the SA threshold:

warn log_message = frozen by spam scanner, score $spam_score
     spam = nobody
     control = freeze

Another way is to redirect suspicious messages to special postmaster accounts, where they can be reviewed. This involves setting up a router for these special accounts that acts on a header set in the DATA ACL.

This is the DATA ACL entry:

warn message = X-Redirect-To: spambox@mycompany.com
     spam = nobody

This puts the target address in a special header, which can in turn be read with this router:

     driver = redirect
     condition = ${if def:h_X-Redirect-To: {1}{0}}
     headers_add = X-Original-Recipient: $local_part@$domain
     data = $h_X-Redirect-To:
     headers_remove = X-Redirect-To
     redirect_router = my_second_router

This router should probably be your very first one, and you need to edit the last line (redirect_router = ) to replace "my_second_router" with the name of your original first router. Note that the original message recipient is saved in the "X-Original-Recipient" header, and the X-Redirect-To header line is removed.

Having multiple content scanning profiles for several users or domains

This is one of the most often asked questions, and it also has the most complicated answer. To understand the difficulties, you should first remember that the exiscan facilities are run in the DATA ACL. This ACL is called ONCE per message, after the sending server has transmitted the end-of-data marker. This gives us the very cool possibility to reject unwanted messages with a 5xx error code in response. The big drawback is that a message can have multiple recipients, and you can only reject or accept a message for ALL recipients, not individual ones.

I will first sum up the possible solutions to this dilemma:

a. Make sure that each incoming message can have only one envelope recipient. This is brutal, but effective and reliably solves the problem on your end. |:)| Drawback: Incoming mail to multiple recipients is slowed down. The exact time depends on the retry strategies of the sending hosts.

b. Offer a limited number of "profiles" that your customers can subscribe to. Then, similar to a.), only accept recipients with the same profile in a single "batch", and defer the others. This does improve on the drawback of a.) a bit.

c. Do scanning as usual, but never reject messages in the DATA ACL. Instead put appropriate information in extra headers and query those in routers or transports later. Drawback: You'll have to send bounces yourself, and your queue will fill up with frozen bounces. Advantage: clean solution, protocol-wise.

As you see, you can't have your cake and eat it too. Now lets get into the details of each possible solution.

Making sure each incoming message that will be scanned only has one recipient

To use this scheme, you must make sure that you do not use it on your +relay_from_hosts and authenticated senders. Both of these may be MUAs who cannot cope with such a thing.

Here is a RCPT ACL that implements the behaviour (shortened, do not copy 1:1!):


  # accept local, relay-allowed
  # and authenticated sources

  accept  hosts         = :
  deny    local_parts   = ^.*[@%!/|]
  accept  hosts         =
  accept  authenticated = *

  # the following treat non-local,
  # non-authenticated sources

  defer   message       = only one recipient at a time
          condition     = ${if def:acl_m0 {1}{0}}

  # [ .. ]
  # put RBLs etc. here
  # [ .. ]

  accept  domains       = +local_domains
          message       = unknown user
          verify        = recipient
          set acl_m0    = $local_part@$domain

  accept  domains       = +relay_to_domains
          message       = unrouteable address
          verify        = recipient
          set acl_m0    = $domain

  deny    message       = relay not permitted

The lines which contain acl_m0 are the important ones. The $acl_m0 variable gets set when a remote server successfully sends one RCPT. Subsequent RCPT commands are deferred if this variable is set. The $acl_m0 variable now contains the single recipient domain, which you can use in the DATA ACL to determine the scanning profile.

This scheme is only recommended for small servers with a low number of possible recipients, where recipients do not belong to the same organization. An example would be a multiuser shell server.

Having several scanning profiles that "customers" can choose from

Suppose you want to offer three profiles. Lets call them "reject-aggressive", "reject-conservative", and "warn-only". Customers can select one of the profiles for each of their domains. So you end up with a mapping like this:

domain-a.com:   reject-aggressive
domain-b.org:   warn-only
domain-c.net:   reject-aggressive
domain-d.com:   reject-conservative
[ .. ]

Suppose you put that in a file called /etc/exim/scanprefs

Now we make a scheme similar to a.), but we do allow more than one recipient if they have the same scanning profile than the first recipient.

Here is a RCPT ACL that implements the behaviour (shortened, do not copy 1:1!):


  # accept local, relay-allowed and authenticated sources

  accept  hosts         = :
  deny    local_parts   = ^.*[@%!/|]
  accept  hosts         =
  accept  authenticated = *

  # the following treat non-local, non-authenticated sources

  defer   message       = try this address in the next batch
          condition     = ${if eq {${acl_m0}}\
                          lsearch{/etc/exim/scanprefs} }}\

  # [ .. ]
  # put RBLs etc. here
  # [ .. ]

  accept  domains       = +local_domains
          message       = unknown user
          verify        = recipient
          set acl_m0    = $local_part@$domain

  accept  domains       = +relay_to_domains
          message       = unrouteable address
          verify        = recipient
          set acl_m0    = ${lookup{$domain}\

  deny    message       = relay not permitted

Now a recipient address get deferred if its scan profile does not match the current batch profile. The $acl_m0 variable contains the name of the profile, that can be used for processing in the DATA ACL.

This scheme works pretty well if you keep the number of possible profiles low, since that will prevent fragmentation of RCPT blocks.

Classic content scanning without the possibility of rejects after DATA

This emulates the "classic" content scanning in routers and transports. The difference is that we still do the scan in the DATA ACL, but put the outcome of each facility in message headers, that can the be evaluated in special routers, individually for each recipient.

A special approach can be taken for spam scanning, since the $spam_score_int variable is also available in routers and transports (it gets written to the spool files), so you do not need to put that information in a header, but rather act on $spam_score_int directly.