Free Software Supporter

I was quite stunned when I noticed that the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has recently started a new monthly-published newsletter, called the Free Software Supporter.

The reason I was amazed is not the fact that the FSF is now publishing such a newsletter, but rather the fact that I did not hear about that yet. Basically, the Supporter is about informating the Free Software enthusiasts about recent happenings and the work of the FSF, the GNU project and the global Free Software community.

It seems as if I am not the only person that is excited about the supporter, as Joshua Gay, who apparently is writing the Supporter, also seems to like it, as he writes in a blog post:
I hope that you enjoy the Supporter. I am looking forward to reflecting each month upon the work of the FSF, the GNU project, and the global free software community. I only hope that the number of highlights I add each month will continue to grow as quickly as the community is growing. In either case, we hope to keep it short and we hope to keep you informed.

You can sign up to receive the Supporter via email on a monthly basis at http://lists.gnu.org/mailman/listinfo/info-fsf and you can read the first issue online at http://lists.gnu.org/archive/html/info-fsf/2008-03/msg00000.html.

Also, if the Supporter looks like an interesting read to you, you may as well enjoy the monthly newsletter the FSF Europe publishes. The FSFE Newsletter can either be read online or you can sign up for the FSF Europe press-release mailing list.

Personally I believe both newsletters are worth reading and give you a great overview of what has happened in the past month, what is going to happen and the work done by the FSF and FSF Europe.


Is trying to fix (E)SMTP really worth it? [part 1]

This one question has been in my mind for quite some time already. I mean, everyone uses SMTP (knowingly or not) when sending out emails and everyone sending emails also knows what SPAM is and receives SPAM messages.

However, few know how old SMTP actually is, and that, even though it serves everyone well, it has been designed in a time when everyone was thinking of Spam as canned meat. Back in 1982 SMTP was a great achievement and a lot of kudos should go to its creators, but now, in 2008, SMTP has become more of a liability than a great tool.

Originally, I wanted to write a single article covering all shortcomings of SMTP and possible solutions to these problems, but while writing the article a lot of text came up, so this is the first of two articles I am going to write on this topic. The first part is about the problems with SMTP and how fix-ups for SMTP are, even though they do work to some extent, a proper solutions to today's issues.

Due to the way SMTP was designed and the way the Internet was back then it is prone to various things, like SPAM messages, sender spoofing, data manipulation and so forth. A few attempts have been made at fixing some of the shortcomings of SMTP, like ESMTPA (SMTP-AUTH) or SPF, Callback Verification, and DKIM, but none of them has really fixed all problems that exist and all of these modifications are in my opinion mere workarounds. Let us have a look at why both SPF and DKIM fail to fix the all problems SMTP has right now.

How to reject mails containing OOXML attachments using Exim4

I finally did it. I modified my Exim's configuration to reject any mail with an OOXML attachment (ie. docx, pptx, xlsx).

There are two main reasons for this step. First of all I am not able to open these files and I believe I will not be able to do so and get them properly rendered anytime soon. Secondly, people using the new Microsoft Office suite seem to be ignorant enough to think everyone is able to view those files, which is not the case.

I am trying to make one point here:
People sending emails to other people should always send files in internationally standardized formats (open formats), such as ODF or PDF, so that everyone is able to open them and use the attachments. Also, I am trying to make people sending out emails in those formats aware of the fact that not everyone can open them, not everyone wants to invest a lot of money in new applications and that some people generally prefer Free Software and that there is no way of using those files using Free Software right now.

Enough for the introduction, I wanted to explain how to achieve this behavior using Exim4:
deny message = Message contains attachment of unwanted type ($found_extension)
demime = docx:pptx:xlsx

Putting this snippet in the acl_check_content section of your exim4.conf should do the trick.

Oh, and while I am at it, you can easily use this snippet to drop mails with other attachments, based on the file extension.
For example, in order to reject all mails containing WMV files just use demime = wmv.

Note that this snippets checks for a specified file extension instead of a MIME type. People still can get mails through in those formats if they modify the file extension, so do not use this method as a security measure.


SFLC now also providing services to for-profit clients

The Software Freedom Law Center, known for providing pro bono legal assistance to Free Software projects, announced the formation of Moglen Ravicher LLC, a law firm also providing services to for-profit clients.
"We are pleased to extend the services of the Software Freedom Law Center to companies that support software freedom," said Eben Moglen, founding director of SFLC.

Moglen Ravicher LLC is fully owned by the Software Freedom Law Center, and all profits will go to support SFLC's operations. Clients of Moglen Ravicher LLC will receive legal counsel from the same attorneys that staff the Software Freedom Law Center.

This not only means that companies are now able to get legal assistance on Free Software matters from the SFLC, but also that the center found a way of helping its own funding.

It also seems as if the first for-profit client is OpenNMS:
An initial client of Moglen Ravicher LLC is OpenNMS, an open source enterprise grade network management platform. OpenNMS has retained the firm for representation regarding violations of the GNU General Public License (GPL).

For more information see the homepage of the SFLC and the news entry announcing this step.

Happy Document Freedom Day!

Just in case you do not know yet: today is Document Freedom Day.
Today is Document Freedom Day: Roughly 200 teams from more than 60 countries worldwide are organising local activities to raise awareness for Document Freedom and Open Standards.

What does this mean for mean personally? Less than one would expect. I have been advocating the use of Open Document formats (such as ODF) for the past two years already, and try to do so whenever possible.

People react very differntly when I raise this issue. Some appreciate being informed that there are Open Document formats, which guarantee interoperability with everyone, but others tend to tell me "everyone uses [Microsoft] Office, isn't that format a standard?". The answer is always the same: NO.

Neither the old proprietary Microsoft Office format, nor the new format, OOXML are standards in my opinion and here is why:

The old format is not documented at all, and no international standards body, such as the ISO, have ever made this format a standard.

The new format, OOXML, which is in the news quite often lately, is being pushed to be made an ISO standard. People often think that, as documentation (which is said to be of poor quality) is available, making this format an international standard would be a good thing.
I am afraid I have to say NO once again here. There are too many references to the old proprietary format, which is a huge no-go for something that should become an international standard.

Also, there already is an international standard for office documents, ODF. In my opinion there is no point in having two separate standards for the same thing and the chance of such a situation causing a lot of havoc is quite good.

So, personally I have to say that I quite often suggested people to switch to OpenOffice.Org lately, instead of buying Microsoft's latest Office suite. Document Freedom and the use of Free Software are not my main arguments lately, but rather that people switching to OpenOffice.Org now do not have to learn how to use a new user-interface. People are lazy, and this argument works perfectly.

And there is yet another point for using Open Standards in IT:
Think of the Internet and where it would be without Open Standards (and also Free Software). Think of how everything on the Internet would work together. Think of one browser supporting only its own network protocol (which of course would be proprietary) and other browsers only supporting theirs. The Internet would not be what it is today without Open Standards and guaranteed interoperability.

More information about the Document Freedom day can be found in the last news entry over at documentfreedom.org.

Less spam again

I found a solution to the problem last described in this article.

To sum the problem I was experiencing up: My anti-spam system (namely Spamassassin) did not detect spam mails anymore.

Now here is the reason it did not: After some more investigation of the problem I noticed that spam emails were received via a local connection (forwarded from fetchmail). However, one of my Exim ACLs says not to scan emails from localhost for spam.

So, the solution might be a hack, but it worked out perfectly. Starting fetchmail with the -S <servername> argument causes it to send emails to the given SMTP server rather than localhost. Using the real hostname of my server caused the "do not scan local mails" not to kick in and all mails received via fetchmail to be scanned again.

Problem fixed.


Moving my blog

And yet another post today. As I am planning to take down my personal server in the next few weeks (maybe months) I have moved my blog to wordpress.com. A 301-redirect has been set up at http://sp.or.at/blog so people (and robots) are still able to find my blog.

Mails from Technorati not arriving: not obeying their own SPF rules

As I was looking into problems with my mail server I noticed one more thing: I was wondering why I did not receive password recovery emails from Technorati. It seems as if they are not obeying their own SPF rules:

2008-03-25 14:46:23 H=nat-365m.technorati.com (t120.technorati.com) [] F= rejected RCPT : Not authorized by SPF

Now I am wondering why someone sets up SPF for his mail domain when he is in fact sending emails from other IP addresses as well. Time to update your SPF rules Technorati...

Removing a lot of frozen mails from Exim’s mail queue

After writing my last article, I started digging into my mail configuration and after doing a quick "mailq" noticed a lot of frozen messages in Exim's queue. After inspecting the logs and the mails themselves I noticed the problem was caused by a broken POP server I retrieve mails from periodically. A few days ago something went wrong on that server and all messages were marked as unread causing my fetchmail to re-fetch all of them (about 2.5K).

Now that my mail server is configured to do sender verification and a few very old mails came from domains or systems which are non-existent today about 50 mails ended up being frozen.

But how to remove all frozen mails from Exim's queue? I ended up using mailq | grep frozen to get a list of all messages (and more importantly their message IDs) and saved that to a file. I then wrote a minimalistic Python script attached to this article to delete all those messages. Consider the script a quick and dirty hack, but it might come in handy for some of you. Get it here.

More spam again?

Right now I am asking myself if it just affects me or if more spam is sent out and less is detected by anti-spam software again.

I set up my mail server in February and noticed a decrease in spam mail delivered to my mailbox compared to my old system. However, in the past two weeks more and more spam mail has been delivered to my mailbox again. So is it just me, my system or the system's configuration or is everyone else receiving more spam again?

Anyways, it's about time to inspect the configuration of my mail system again...


Python IDEs tested

In the past two days I have been playing around with various Python IDEs. It is not like I need a fully-fledged IDE, I'm fine with GNU Emacs to be honest. However, everyone is talking about IDE X and IDE Y and how they save so much time using these programs and how these programs assist them with hacking.

Well, I decided it was time to give a few IDEs a try. There were only two requirements I had: the IDE has to be Free Software and it has to run on GNU/Linux.

If you are planning to read on please be aware that this was no real test, but rather contains my observations regarding the IDEs I have tested, what I liked and did not like and if one surprised me enough to actually use it instead of my good old plain GNU Emacs.