Chapter 8. Securing the Postfix service

Postfix is a mail transfer agent (MTA) that uses the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) to deliver electronic messages between other MTAs and to email clients or delivery agents. Although MTAs can encrypt traffic between one another, they might not do so by default. You can also mitigate risks to various attacks by changing setting to more secure values.

8.2. Postfix configuration options for limiting DoS attacks

An attacker can flood the server with traffic, or send information that triggers a crash, causing a denial of service (DoS) attack. You can configure your system to reduce the risk of such attacks by setting limits in the /etc/postfix/ file. You can change the value of the existing directives or you can add new directives with custom values in the <directive> = <value> format.

Use the following list of directives for limiting a DoS attack:

This directive limits the maximum number of connection attempts any client can make to this service per time unit. The default value is 0, which means a client can make as many connections per time unit as Postfix can accept. By default, the directive excludes clients in trusted networks.
This directive is a time unit to calculate the rate limit. The default value is 60 seconds.
This directive excludes clients from the connection and rate limit commands. By default, the directive excludes clients in trusted networks.
This directive defines the maximum number of message deliveries from client to request per time unit (regardless of whether or not Postfix actually accepts those messages).
This directive defines the default maximum number of Postfix child processes that provide a given service. You can ignore this rule for specific services in the file. By default, the value is 100.
This directive defines the minimum amount of free space required to receive mail in the queue file system. The directive is currently used by the Postfix SMTP server to decide if it accepts any mail at all. By default, the Postfix SMTP server rejects MAIL FROM commands when the amount of free space is less than 1.5 times the message_size_limit. To specify a higher minimum free space limit, specify a queue_minfree value that is at least 1.5 times the message_size_limit. By default, the queue_minfree value is 0.
This directive defines the maximum amount of memory in bytes for storing a message header. If a header is large, it discards the excess header. By default, the value is 102400 bytes.
This directive defines the maximum size of a message including the envelope information in bytes. By default, the value is 10240000 bytes.

8.3. Configuring Postfix to use SASL

Postfix supports Simple Authentication and Security Layer (SASL) based SMTP Authentication (AUTH). SMTP AUTH is an extension of the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. Currently, the Postfix SMTP server supports the SASL implementations in the following ways:

Dovecot SASL
The Postfix SMTP server can communicate with the Dovecot SASL implementation using either a UNIX-domain socket or a TCP socket. Use this method if Postfix and Dovecot applications are running on separate machines.
Cyrus SASL
When enabled, SMTP clients must authenticate with the SMTP server using an authentication method supported and accepted by both the server and the client.


  • The dovecot package is installed on the system


  1. Set up Dovecot:

    1. Include the following lines in the /etc/dovecot/conf.d/10-master.conf file:

      service auth {
        unix_listener /var/spool/postfix/private/auth {
          mode = 0660
          user = postfix
          group = postfix

      The previous example uses UNIX-domain sockets for communication between Postfix and Dovecot. The example also assumes default Postfix SMTP server settings, which include the mail queue located in the /var/spool/postfix/ directory, and the application running under the postfix user and group.

    2. Optional: Set up Dovecot to listen for Postfix authentication requests through TCP:

      service auth {
        inet_listener {
            port = port-number
    3. Specify the method that the email client uses to authenticate with Dovecot by editing the auth_mechanisms parameter in /etc/dovecot/conf.d/10-auth.conf file:

      auth_mechanisms = plain login

      The auth_mechanisms parameter supports different plaintext and non-plaintext authentication methods.

  2. Set up Postfix by modifying the /etc/postfix/ file:

    1. Enable SMTP Authentication on the Postfix SMTP server:

      smtpd_sasl_auth_enable = yes
    2. Enable the use of Dovecot SASL implementation for SMTP Authentication:

      smtpd_sasl_type = dovecot
    3. Provide the authentication path relative to the Postfix queue directory. Note that the use of a relative path ensures that the configuration works regardless of whether the Postfix server runs in chroot or not:

      smtpd_sasl_path = private/auth

      This step uses UNIX-domain sockets for communication between Postfix and Dovecot.

      To configure Postfix to look for Dovecot on a different machine in case you use TCP sockets for communication, use configuration values similar to the following:

      smtpd_sasl_path = inet: ip-address : port-number

      In the previous example, replace the ip-address with the IP address of the Dovecot machine and port-number with the port number specified in Dovecot’s /etc/dovecot/conf.d/10-master.conf file.

    4. Specify SASL mechanisms that the Postfix SMTP server makes available to clients. Note that you can specify different mechanisms for encrypted and unencrypted sessions.

      smtpd_sasl_security_options = noanonymous, noplaintext
      smtpd_sasl_tls_security_options = noanonymous

      The previous directives specify that during unencrypted sessions, no anonymous authentication is allowed and no mechanisms that transmit unencrypted user names or passwords are allowed. For encrypted sessions that use TLS, only non-anonymous authentication mechanisms are allowed.