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Hashcash Milter

1. Introduction

This is a milter (mail filter) that can mint and verify Hashcash stamps for
email messages passing through compatible MTAs. A Hashcash stamp proves that a
certain difficult computation has been performed. Since putting such a stamp on
every spam message would increase the cost of sending them dramatically, they
may be used to indicate that a message is less likely to be spam. The stamps are
described in more detail at <>.

2. Version information

This is version 0.1.3 of Hashcash Milter.

3. License

Hashcash Milter is free software, available under a BSD-style license. There is
See the file LICENSE for more information.

4. Building and installing

To build the milter, run


The Sendmail Mail Filter API library (libmilter) is required.

Optimization is important for speed of minting. GCC 4.2 seems to produce faster
code here than later versions. Speed can be checked by running the test program

    make test
    ./test -p '' -f -a -i -c 20 -m 24

To install the software, either copy the program 'hashcash-milter' to an
appropriate directory, or run

    make install

Next, configure the program to run at startup with appropriate command-line
options. A Debian Linux init script is included with this distribution.

Finally, configure the MTA to use the milter and other programs to use its
output. Some details on this are provided below.

5. Minting mode

The milter has two basic modes of operation. The first is minting mode, in which
the milter adds Hashcash stamps to outgoing messages. Hashcash stamps are placed
into "X-Hashcash" email headers which generally look like this:

    X-Hashcash: 1:25:100124:fox@forest.example::10ULm0awZLlz9Vbr:=CkW

The embedded email is the recipient, a distinct stamp must be attached for each
one. The milter gets the list of recipients from "To" and "CC" headers. "BCC"
headers and envelope recipients are ignored, because a stamp would reveal their

There are two ways to specify which messages are considered outgoing:

  1. With the '-a' command-line flag, messages received after SMTP
     authentication are considered outgoing.

  2. With the '-i' command-line option, messages received from listed network
     addresses are considered outgoing. E.g.:


     Messages received over a local-domain socket are treated as if received

Additionally, minting may be limited to particular sender domains with the '-s'
command-line option. E.g.:

    -s forest.example,valley.example

The value of minted stamps is specified in bits of partial preimage with the
'-m' option. Without this option minting mode will be disabled. For each
additional bit the minting time increases roughly twofold. The '-r' option may
also be specified to reduce the number of bits for messages with multiple
recipients. In that case, the number of bits is reduced by one for each
doubling of the number of recipients until the given minimum is reached. E.g.:

    -m 24 -r 20

Minting time may be limited with the '-t' command-line option. Even if this
option is not given, milter timeouts in the MTA may eventually cause it to
accept or reject the message before minting is complete, so specifying the limit
explicitly is recommended. E.g.:

    -t 120  # two minutes

The SMTP client talking to the MTA will not receive any progress reports until
minting is complete and the message is accepted. RFC 5321 recommends a minimum
of 10 minutes for the SMTP timeout; the '-t' option should not exceed this.

If the message already contains any Hashcash stamps, the milter will not mint
new ones. To prevent minting stamps for specific messages the following header
can be used; a single instance of this header will be removed by the milter:

    X-Hashcash: skip

6. Verification mode

The second mode of operation is verification mode, in which the milter checks
Hashcash stamps on incoming messages. It will add a header indicating the
outcome of this check which will generally look like this:

    Authentication-Results: forest.example; x-hashcash=pass (25 bits)

The minimum value of stamps to accept is specified in bits of partial preimage
with the '-c' option. Without this option verification mode will be disabled.

    -c 20

In order to get a "pass" result, each of the envelope recipients that is also
listed in the "To" or "CC" headers must have a corresponding valid Hashcash
stamp with at least the value specified in the '-c' option. Recipients at other
domains will not be listed on the SMTP envelope, so any stamps for them will be
ignored. Any stamps for "BCC" recipients will also be ignored, as they will be
specified on the SMTP envelope, but not in the message headers.

Valid stamps which don't have sufficient value, have a date in the future or
more than 28 days in the past (allowing for some clock skew) will give a
"policy" result such as:

    Authentication-Results: forest.example; x-hashcash=policy (only 12 bits)
    Authentication-Results: forest.example; x-hashcash=policy (futuristic)
    Authentication-Results: forest.example; x-hashcash=policy (expired)

Stamps which don't have the bits of partial preimage that they claim are invalid
and will give a "fail" result:

    Authentication-Results: forest.example; x-hashcash=fail (invalid)

Valid stamps which have been used to verify a message are spent, and can be
stored in a file specified by the '-d' option to prevent their reuse. E.g.:

    -d /var/spool/postfix/hashcash-milter/spent.db

Spent stamps which are reused on another message are considered invalid and will
give a "fail" verification result:

    Authentication-Results: forest.example; x-hashcash=fail (already spent)

If multiple stamps are affixed for a single recipient, the best stamp is chosen.

When a message has multiple recipients and their relevant stamps give different
results individually, the combined result depends on all individual results.
Any invalid stamps give a combined "fail" result. If all recipients have valid
stamps of sufficient value, the "pass" result comment will show the number of
bits on the lowest-value stamp.

If only some recipients have stamps of sufficient value, while stamps for other
recipients are either missing or would give a "policy" result individually, the
result will be "partial", showing the value of the best stamp:

    Authentication-Results: forest.example; x-hashcash=partial (highest 20 bits)

Finally, if the message has "X-Hashcash" headers, but none of them contain
stamps, the result will be "neutral".

7. Using with Postfix

Postfix has support for Sendmail milters. In a simple configuration with no
other milters, the following options in 'postfix/' should be sufficient:

    smtpd_milters         = unix:/hashcash-milter/hashcash-milter.sock
    non_smtpd_milters     = unix:/hashcash-milter/hashcash-milter.sock
    milter_default_action = accept

The last line specifies that in case the milter fails messages will be accepted.
Since this milter is not critical, this is the preferred option. Otherwise, if
the milter failed, mail would be temporarily rejected until it was restarted.
The milter also adopts this approach internally, accepting a message without
modification in case of any errors.

The socket paths are relative to the Postfix chroot directory. The milter itself
will have a socket path specified relative to the root,

    -p local:/var/spool/postfix/hashcash-milter/hashcash-milter.sock

or relative to its own chroot directory,

    -p local:/hashcash-milter.sock

Note that there are some differences in the syntax for sockets between the
milter and Postfix. See the Postfix documentation on milters at
<> for details.

8. Using with Sendmail

[Contributed by Kyle Amon of BackWatcher, Inc. <>]

In a simple configuration with no other milters, adding the following option to
your 'domain/mydomain.m4' file and regenerating your '.cf' files should be

        `S=unix:/var/spool/hashcash-milter/sock, T=C:30s;S:2m;R:4m;E:6m')dnl

Having omitted the flags field (F=) means that messages will be accepted if the
milter fails. Since this milter is not critical, this is the preferred option.
Otherwise, if the milter failed, mail would be temporarily rejected until it was

The socket path is relative to the root directory. The milter itself will have a
socket path specified relative to the root as well,

    -p local:/var/spool/hashcash-milter/sock

or relative to its own chroot directory,

    -p local:/sock

The remaining options are various timeouts, all of which are thoroughly
documented in section 5.11 of the Sendmail Installation and Operation Guide,
which should be on your system under '/usr/local/share/doc/sendmail/op' or
someplace similar.

9. Using with SpamAssassin

SpamAssassin has its own plugin for verifying Hashcash stamps, but since it
doesn't have access to the envelope recipients, and the message recipient
headers ("To" and "CC") are easy to forge, it must be manually configured to
accept stamps for specific addresses. On the other hand, it can be configured
to accept stamps for arbitrary addresses, including, for example, mailing list

This milter does have access to the envelope recipients, which are validated by
the MTA, and can thus reliably determine which stamps are required. This means
that it can work for directly addressed mail without specific configuration.
However, since it works at the host level (rather than the user level) it must
verify all stamps for all recipients on the host together, and it can't be
configured to accept stamps for arbitrary addresses.

SpamAssassin can be configured to use the results of verification by this milter
to score messages similarly its own plugin by relying on the
"Authentication-Results" header. For example, the following ruleset accomplishes
this (after replacing "" with the MTA hostname):

    use_hashcash 0  # disable own plugin

    # each directive must be on a single line
    header HASHCASH_20     Authentication-Results =~ /^example\.com; x-hashcash=pass \(20 bits\)/
    header HASHCASH_21     Authentication-Results =~ /^example\.com; x-hashcash=pass \(21 bits\)/
    header HASHCASH_22     Authentication-Results =~ /^example\.com; x-hashcash=pass \(22 bits\)/
    header HASHCASH_23     Authentication-Results =~ /^example\.com; x-hashcash=pass \(23 bits\)/
    header HASHCASH_24     Authentication-Results =~ /^example\.com; x-hashcash=pass \(24 bits\)/
    header HASHCASH_25     Authentication-Results =~ /^example\.com; x-hashcash=pass \(25 bits\)/
    header HASHCASH_HIGH   Authentication-Results =~ /^example\.com; x-hashcash=pass \((2[6-9]|[3-9]\d|\d{3}) bits\)/
    header HASHCASH_2SPEND Authentication-Results =~ /^example\.com; x-hashcash=fail \(already spent\)/

If it finds Hashcash stamps, the milter inserts the "Authentication-Results"
header with a single method ("x-hashcash"), and it will always remove any other
headers which specify the same method on this host. However it is possible to
forge similar-looking headers which will not be removed. For example, in the
following syntactically-valid header the parenthesized part is a comment, so it
will be ignored and the header will be left in place:

    Authentication-Results:; x-hashcash=pass (160 bits)); none

Thus, the regular expressions matching the header should be fairly strict, like
the ones in the example. Note that the method identifier and result code are
case-sensitive, while the domain name is case-insensitive and will be listed as
reported by the MTA.

10. Updates and feedback

This program is hosted at <>.
The author is Andrey Zholos <>.


mail filter to mint and verify Hashcash stamps







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