Exchange & Outlook UPDATE, Exchange Edition, August 19, 2004


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1. Commentary
- The Regular Expression Filter

2. Resources
- Featured Thread: Defragging Exchange 2003 SP1
- Outlook Tip: Showing a Contact's DL Memberships

3. New and Improved
- Provide Automated Maintenance to Your Exchange Server
- Tell Us About a Hot Product and Get a T-Shirt!


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==== 1. Commentary: The Regular Expression Filter ==== by Paul Robichaux, News Editor, [email protected]

In last week's commentary about Spam URL Realtime Block Lists (SURBLs), which use messages' contents to block spam, I wrote that I didn't know of any third-party Exchange Server filters that support SURBLs. But Jeff Chen (inventor of SURBL) quickly wrote to point out that Doug Swallow's Mail Server Content Filter, aka the RegEx Filter ( ), does just that.

The basic idea behind the RegEx Filter, which uses regular expressions (hence the term "RegEx") to control SMTP email processing, is that you can filter email based on any arbitrary text pattern. If you've ever used the asterisk character (*)as a wildcard, you've used regular expressions; they're extremely useful for text and string processing. The RegEx Filter is an event sink that hooks into the Exchange SMTP engine (by default, the filter works only with the first virtual server instance, but you can easily change that) and applies regular expression tests against the message sender, recipient, or contents. You can specify any number of individual filters to run against incoming messages. The filter also includes

- a large filter file that tests for common patterns found in adult-oriented spam

- a whitelist of expressions that you want to allow; by customizing this list, you can easily whitelist addresses or senders

- a list of blocked recipients; the filter drops blocked recipients as soon as it sees the SMTP "RCPT TO" verb, instead of waiting until the mail has been accepted for delivery

- a list with expressions commonly found in "Nigerian scam" messages

You can use any or all of these capabilities or roll in your own filtered expressions. As long as you're comfortable editing XML files and can figure out a way to write a regular expression that will match the messages you want to accept or drop, you're in good shape. The XML schema for the filtering language is quite rich and includes the ability to specify IP address ranges, perform DNS lookups and filter according to the results, slow down the sending mail server by imposing a timeout (great for punishing repetitive spammers), and a host of other features.

In my (albeit limited) tests, the filter didn't add any significant performance overhead. However, my email servers are relatively low traffic, and another server conducts most of my spam filtering, so your performance may vary (in other words, test first). One nice touch is that the filter includes a set of Performance Monitor counters that you can register to correlate message filtering performance with the overall performance on your server.

The RegEx Filter isn't perfect: Its documentation is pretty opaque, and there's no real step-by-step guide to installing the filter on an Exchange server. One somewhat annoying quirk of the default filter configuration is that it logs all accepted messages to disk, exposing all valid, accepted mail in plaintext form. Apart from the obvious security implications, these logs also consume a ton of disk space. Fortunately, you can easily turn off the logging. Having said all that, the ability to tie SURBL filtering in with your existing filtering solution--and the fact that the RegEx Filter is free--make it an interesting possibility.


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==== 2. Resources ====

Featured Thread: Defragging Exchange 2003 SP1
A forum reader needs help with information about defragging the Store in Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1). To offer your help or read others' suggestions, go to the following URL:

Outlook Tip: Showing a Contact's DL Memberships by Sue Mosher, [email protected]

Q: What code or other method can I use to display for a contact record the names of personal distribution lists (DLs) that include that contact?

A: This problem doesn't have a simple solution. If your DLs are relatively small, though, and you don't mind some duplication of effort, you can use a customized DL form that includes the same Contacts box that other types of forms use to link their items with one or more Outlook Contact items.
To create a custom DL form, choose New, Distribution List to create a new empty DL, then choose Tools, Forms, Design This Form. Switch to the (P.2) page. The Field Chooser should appear automatically. Drag the Contacts field to the (P.2) page. Choose Form, Rename Page, and rename the page as Contacts. If you want, you can change the icon for the form on the (Properties) page. Finally, publish the form to your Contacts folder by choosing Tools, Forms, Publish Form. You can use DLContacts for the display name and form name, which will assign the form a message class of IPM.DistList.DLContacts.
To create a new DL with this form, switch to your Contacts folder and choose Actions, New DLContacts. Add members to the DL as usual on the Members tab, then switch to the Contacts tab and add the same people there. Yes, this technique is a duplication of effort, which is why I wouldn't recommend it for anything other than small and important DLs, but it will let you see the DLs on the Activities tab of the contacts that you list in the Contacts box of the DLContacts form's (P.2) tab.
See the Windows & .NET Magazine Exchange & Outlook Web page for more great tips.

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==== 3. New and Improved ==== by Angie Brew, [email protected]

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