Change in E-mail Open Relay Policy Affects Access for Some Users

Article by Sally Hritz
Originally published in a different format

The Office of Information Technology plans to improve OSU's e-mail accessibility by reversing the university's open mail relay policy. Open mail relays are SMTP servers that accept e-mail from anywhere on the Internet and send it on to other Internet mail addresses. Because our servers allow open mail relaying, other Internet hosts are starting to blacklist Ohio State, which means they won't accept any of our e-mail. The policy change affects access for any Ohio State faculty, students, and staff who use non-OSU Internet service providers and send mail from off campus through OIT's SMTP servers. If you are one of these users, you will have to reconfigure your e-mail client software so that it points to the SMTP servers provided by your ISP and not OIT's (see Action Needed, below).

Background
Open mail relays such as Ohio State's are SMTP (Simple Mail Transport Protocol) e-mail servers that allow any Internet host to "bounce" mail through them to other Internet mail addresses. This system allows any e-mail to move through the Ohio State domain unchecked, and it leaves the domain vulnerable to spam (unsolicited bulk e-mail comparable to postal junk mail) sent to or through the servers, usually with easily faked addresses that make it difficult to trace to the originators. Other Internet hosts can blacklist servers that allow open relaying, which means that they will not accept any e-mail, legitimate or otherwise, coming from or through those servers' domains.

Blacklisting is happening to the Ohio State domain to the extent that we feel it is time to reverse our open relay policy. Sites like Road Runner and Kodak no longer accept incoming e-mail from blacklisted SMTP servers, which means that many OSU users have been unable to send e-mail to these sites. Because blacklisting has become prevalent, it is imperative that we discontinue open relaying on our mail servers.

When we stop open relaying, Ohio State will be dropped from spam blacklists and the university will be able to return to more consistent e-mail delivery to all sites. The change of policy does not mean that all spam will cease, but it does mean that people who send spam cannot relay their e-mail through Ohio State. After the conversion, our SMTP servers will accept e-mail in only two cases: mail destined for our domain and mail, regardless of destination addresses, from the IP address range that our SMTP servers support.

Action Needed
We plan to convert our SMTP servers on Tuesday, February 27 at 7 a.m. Members of the campus community who use Ohio State Internet services such as Postbox, the HomeNet modem pool, ResNet and OSUWEB.net do not have to take any action. However, we have identified approximately 7,000 OSU faculty, students, and staff who send e-mail from Internet Service Providers such as Road Runner, AT&T, AOL, or Microsoft Network by relaying it through OSU's SMTP servers (such as smtp.service.ohio-state.edu). If you are among those users, you will have to reconfigure your e-mail client software so that it points to the SMTP servers provided by your Internet Service Provider and not OIT's. If your department operates its own e-mail servers, you should contact your department's computing support staff to determine if you need to change your e-mail software's configuration.

Prior to the conversion, we are attempting to notify by e-mail those of you who may be affected so you can check and update your settings. It's a relatively simple process to enter the new SMTP server name in the e-mail client software's configuration settings. If you need assistance with the procedure, please contact one of the following:

Posted in: