Tuesday, October 23, 2007

NDRs - Cause for concern?

Among the more common questions I get from my users concerns Non-Delivery Reports (NDRs) they receive for messages they didn't send. Some users are understandably upset because many of the subject lines would lead you to question their character.

In addition, I see lots of questions from messaging administrators concerned that their environment is an open relay because either they are receiving a lot of NDRs from outside systems, or their own queues are clogged with NDRs to other SMTP domains.

Recently I posted this response at MSExchange.org to an Exchange administrator searching for a reasonable explanation for the flood of inbound NDRs his users were receiving.


Consider this scenario:
1. I am a "Secret Creator of Unwanted Messages" (a.k.a. SCUM)
2. There is an SMTP domain named company.com
3. The address no.one@company.com does not exist
4. Your SMTP domain is unsuspecting-user.com
5. You have a user with the address someone@unsuspecting-user.com
6. I send out a message addressed from someone@unsuspecting-user.com and to no.one@company.com

The message goes out from my secret lair in a nearby septic tank out to the Internet.

The message then gets delivered to the server at company.com. That server accepts the message, attempts to find a match for no.one@company.com and discovers there is no such address. Being the RFC-compliant system it is, it dutifully creates and sends out an NDR to the sender. The trouble is, it thinks the sender is someone@unsuspecting-user.com and so sends the NDR there.


This isn't to say that we shouldn't watch for signs that our system has been compromised, but more on that later...