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SpamBayes on mail.python.org

As a highly visible mail server, mail.python.org receives more than its fair share of spam, originating both from incoming SMTP traffic and from Usenet. Just one part of the suite of tools used to stem the tide, the SpamBayes spam filter is integrated into the mail handling system on mail.python.org at both places. In the SMTP processing pipeline it is the last filter applied to incoming mail before it is handed off to Mailman. It is the only filter applied to messages arriving via Usenet, gated between the Usenet newsgroup comp.lang.python and the python-list@python.org mailing list.

Integration With Postfix

SpamBayes is integrated into the mail processing on mail.python.org in a daemon process, mpo_smtpd which serves as the local mail transport agent (correct term?). This server does more than run SpamBayes, but it does that, rejecting messages which appear to be spam during the SMTP session, passing along messages which appear to be clearly good (ham) and delaying, then later holding messages for moderator review which score in the middle (unsure). The source for the server is in /usr/local/src/mpo_proxy.

By agreed upon policy, emails destined for certain addresses on mail.python.org (mostly, but not entirely, addresses associated with individuals) are passed through unfiltered. When a new user is added to the system the people file must be updated, the server reinstalled, and the proxy restarted::

(vi|emacs) people
sh install.sh

Note that the source directory is just an rsync of a Subversion repository, so you probably don't want to directly edit files in the source directory except in emergency situations. If you do edit files in the mpo_proxy directory make sure to also apply them to the Subversion repository. If you don't have a repository of your own send a unidiff to postmaster@python.org with a brief explanation of the changes.

Integration With Usenet

Usenet news postings from comp.lang.python are distributed to the python-list@python.org mailing list using Mailman's gate_news program. A locally modified version uses SpamBayes to score these posts. Messages which score as spam or unsure are held for moderator approval. Messages which score as ham are forwarded to the mailing list. These changes have been (are being? will be?) propagated upstream to the Mailman developers.

Care and Feeding

SpamBayes scores messages based on the collected wisdom stored in a set of known good (ham) and bad (spam) messages. Messages can be scored as ham, spam or unsure. Messages which score as spam are discarded, ham messages are forwarded on to their destination and unsure messages are held for moderator review.

Both messages held by mpo_smtpd and gate_news will land in the moderator's queue(s). mpo_smtpd is a little cleaner in its implementation, saving unsure messages to /var/spool/spambayes/unsure, one message per file. gate_news currently only holds messages for the list moderator but doesn't save a copy in the unsure directory. It's currently the responsibility of the moderator to forward such messages to someone who can incorporate them into the training database. Fortunately, since this only affects those of us who moderate the python-list mailing list, only a few people need to understand this extra step. When moderating such messages, simply use the Mailman moderation forwarding capability to send them to the person primarily responsible for the training database. At the moment that is Skip Montanaro|mailto:skip@pobox.com.

Classifying Held Mail

I have a typically idiosyncratic way of processing the held messages. I rely heavily on bash history to recall and execute the necessary steps. YMMV. For all of this you need to be root. Feedback on streamlining the process is welcome.

(cd /var/spool/spambayes/unsure ; rm -f /tmp/u.mbox ; for m in *.msg ; do cat $m >> /tmp/u.mbox; echo "" >> /tmp/u.mbox; rm $m; done)

touch ~/tmp/s.mbox ~/tmp/h.mbox ; scp ~/tmp/[sh].mbox mail.python.org:/tmp && rm -f ~/tmp/[sh].mbox

cd /usr/local/spambayes-corpus
cat /tmp/h.mbox >> ham.mbox.cull ; cat /tmp/s.mbox >> spam.mbox.cull
mv ham.mbox.cull ham.mbox ; mv spam.mbox.cull spam.mbox

sh train.sh

The training scheme currently in use is called "train to exhaustion". Mail mesages in the ham and spam collections are trained in alternating small groups. Messages which don't classify correctly the first time are retrained in successive rounds. Google for "spambayes train to exhaustion" for more detail. When you run the train.sh script you will get some progress output, each round generally training fewer and fewer messages until everything is properly classified:

round:  1, msgs:  576, ham misses: 149, spam misses: 203, 2.6s
round:  2, msgs:  576, ham misses:  16, spam misses:  30, 2.1s
round:  3, msgs:  576, ham misses:   2, spam misses:   1, 2.0s
round:  4, msgs:  576, ham misses:   0, spam misses:   0, 2.0s
writing new ham mbox...
  324 of   324
writing new spam mbox...
  252 of   252

It typically only takes three to five rounds to converge to no misses. If it takes longer than that take a look at tte.log in the current directory. It lists message ids of the misses. You might have a misclassified message which needs to be removed from the training database or moved from ham to spam, or vice versa. The "writing" messages will often write fewer messages into the output  {spam,ham}.mbox.cull  than the input. If that's the case, just reexecute the mv command and retrain.

sh install.sh

The last bit of install.sh just tails the current log file. It's probably a good idea to take a little longer look at it with tail -f /var/log/mpo_smtpd/current.

Troubleshooting

TBD. :-/

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