Setting up your firewall with fail2ban

February 1, 2019 Roberto Puzzanghera8 comments

Fail2ban scans log files (e.g. /var/log/apache/error_log) and bans IPs that show the malicious signs -- too many password failures, seeking for exploits, etc. Generally Fail2Ban is then used to update firewall rules to reject the IP addresses for a specified amount of time, although any arbitrary other action (e.g. sending an email) could also be configured. Out of the box Fail2Ban comes with filters for various services (apache, courier, ssh, etc).

I will show shortly how to install and configure fail2ban to ban malicious IPs, expecially those related to the qmail-dnsrbl patch. This will avoid to be banned ourselves by spamhaus, which is free up to 100.000 queries per day.

fail2ban requires that you have a firewall as iptables active.

Downloading and installing

cd /usr/local/src
wget --no-check-certificate --output-document=fail2ban-0.x.x.tar.gz
tar xzf fail2ban-0.x.x.tar.gz
cd fail2ban-0.x.x
chown -R root:root .
./ install

Running script

In order to start the server you can use an init script that you can copy from the files/ folder of the source dir, where you can probably find one suitable for your distribution. I use this one (download here) that I don't remember where I found:

# Copyright (c) 2008-2013, Nishant Limbachia, Hoffman Estates, IL, USA
# /etc/rc.d/rc.fail2ban
# start|stop|restart|reload|status|ping fail2ban server
# To start fail2ban automatically at boot, make this file executable:
# chmod 755 /etc/rc.d/rc.fail2ban
# you must also add this to rc.local for fail2ban to start during boot.

# default socket file is /var/run/fail2ban/fail2ban.sock which can be
# changed via the config file: /etc/fail2ban/fail2ban.conf

fail2ban_start() {
  if [ -x /etc/rc.d/rc.fail2ban ]; then
        echo "Starting fail2ban: "
        ### using -x option to remove any stale socket file.
        /usr/bin/fail2ban-client -x start

fail2ban_stop() {
        echo "Stopping fail2ban"
        /usr/bin/fail2ban-client stop

fail2ban_reload() {
        echo "Reloading fail2ban"
        /usr/bin/fail2ban-client reload

fail2ban_status() {
        echo "Status: fail2ban"
        /usr/bin/fail2ban-client status

fail2ban_ping() {
        echo "Pinging fail2ban"
        /usr/bin/fail2ban-client ping

case "$1" in
        sleep 5
        echo "USAGE: $0 start|stop|restart|reload|status|ping"
        exit 1

Copy in /etc/rc.d/ or wherever you want, run it and remember to launch it at boot time as well:

/etc/rc.d/rc.fail2ban start

logrotate script

You can copy a logrotate script from the install dir as follows:

cd /etc/logrotate.d
cp /usr/local/src/fail2ban-x.x.x/files/fail2ban-logrotate fail2ban

jails configuration

To understand the terminology and how fail2ban works you are invited to read the manual (quite concise and easy to read).

It is a good practice not to modify the /etc/fail2ban/*.conf files, but edit a customized file with a .local extension, which will be read by the server after each .conf to eventually overwrite the lines that you modified.

cd /etc/fail2ban
cp jail.conf jail.local

Enable the jails according to your needs.

This is what I have in my jail.local, concerning the qmail/dovecot part:

enabled  = true
filter   = qmail-smtp
action   = iptables[name=SMTP, port=25, protocol=tcp]
           sendmail-whois-lines[name=SMTP, logpath="%(logpath)s"]
logpath  = /var/log/qmail/smtpd/current
maxretry = 2
bantime  = 1d
findtime = 1h

enabled  = true
filter   = qmail-smtp
action   = iptables[name=SUBMISSION, port=587, protocol=tcp]
           sendmail-whois-lines[name=SUBMISSION, logpath="%(logpath)s"]
logpath  = /var/log/qmail/submission/current
maxretry = 2
bantime  = 1d
findtime = 1h

enabled  = true
filter   = vpopmail
action   = iptables[name=VPOPMAIL, port=587, protocol=tcp]
           sendmail-whois-lines[name=VPOPMAIL, logpath="%(logpath)s"]
# check your syslog mail related log (mail.log in some systems)
logpath  = /var/log/maillog
maxretry = 5
bantime  = 86400
findtime = 3600

enabled  = true
filter   = qmailadmin
action   = iptables[name=QMA, port=443, protocol=tcp]
           sendmail-whois-lines[name=QMA, logpath="%(logpath)s"]
logpath  = /var/log/qma-auth.log
maxretry = 4
bantime  = 1d
findtime = 1h

enabled  = true
filter   = roundcube-auth
action   = iptables[name=RC, port=80, protocol=tcp]
           sendmail-whois-lines[name=RC, logpath="%(logpath)s"]
logpath  = /path/to/apache/htdocs/roundcube/logs/userlogins
maxretry = 4
bantime  = 1d
findtime = 1h

enabled  = true
filter   = dovecot
action   = iptables-multiport[name=POP3, port="110,995", protocol=tcp]
           sendmail-whois-lines[name=POP3, logpath="%(logpath)s"]
logpath  = /var/log/dovecot/dovecot.log
maxretry = 6
bantime  = 1h
findtime = 1h

enabled = true
filter = dovecot
action = iptables-multiport[name=IMAP, port="143,993", protocol=tcp]
 sendmail-whois-lines[name=IMAP, logpath="%(logpath)s"]
logpath = /var/log/dovecot/dovecot.log
maxretry = 6
bantime = 1h
findtime = 1h

As you can see, we have three jails, so fail2ban will look for the files qmail-smtp.conf, vpopmail.conf and dovecot.conf under the filter.d directory. I'll show the content of these files below.

The qmail-smtp jail is related to a filter named "qmail-smtp" which matches lines in the qmail-smtp log mainly related to the qlogenvelope line, which records almost all kind of rejects. The filter has to be declared in the filter.d/qmail-smtp.conf file.

Similarly, the vpopmail jail will try to ban clients trying to guess the users' password in the submission port, while the dovecot jail will do the same as far as imap/pop3 is concerned.

Here is the content of the filter files:


# Fail2Ban filters for qmail-smtp patched for qmail-dnsbl (, chkuser ( and greetdelay
# Here is an example of log lines that this filter is going to hit:
# @40000000545076ad1de678ec GREETDELAY from client sent data before greeting
# qmail-smtpd: read failed: (null) from to (null) helo
# @4000000055154dc40e884894 qmail-smtpd: timeout: (null) from to (null) helo
# All lines concerning chkuser, qmail-dnsbl and others like these are now catched by the qlogenvelope line:
# @4000000059f5194706e649ec CHKUSER accepted sender: from <sender@remotedomain.xy|remoteinfo/auth:|chkuser-identify:> remote <|remotehostname:unknown|remotehostip:> rcpt <> : sender accepted
# @4000000059f519470be7b0fc CHKUSER accepted rcpt: from <sender@remotedomain.xy|remoteinfo/auth:|chkuser-identify:> remote <|remotehostname:unknown|remotehostip:> rcpt <localuser@localdomain.xy> : found existing recipient
# @4000000059f519470be860c4 qmail-smtpd[20003]: rcptcheck: checking <localuser@localdomain.xy> at
# @4000000059f519470c084ca4 qmail-smtpd[20003]: rcptcheck: ignore address <localuser@localdomain.xy> at
# @4000000059f5195c1f6d7e7c qmail-smtpd[20003]: rbl: ip= result=ignore message=''
# @4000000059f5195c211f1294 qmail-smtpd[20003]: rbl: ip= result=reject message='Client host blocked using Barracuda Reputation, see'
# @4000000059f5195c211f2234 qlogenvelope: result=rejected code=553 reason=rblreject mailfrom=sender@remotedomain.xy rcptto=localuser@localdomain.xy relay=no rcpthosts=yes size= authuser= authtype= encrypted= sslverified=no localip= localport=25 remoteip= remoteport=15630 remotehost= qp= pid=20003
# @4000000059f5195c28b8b49c qmail-smtpd: read failed: sender@remotedomain.xy from to localuser@localdomain.xy helo
# Be aware that the following regex match only my patched chkuser at
# If you are using a standard version of chkuser you can refer to this page for the correct filter:


failregex = qlogenvelope: result=rejected .* remoteip=<HOST>
 GREETDELAY from <HOST>: client sent data before greeting
 qmail-smtpd: read failed: \(null\) from <HOST>

# old filter
#failregex = qmail-smtpd: message rejected \(qmail-dnsbl\) .* from <HOST>
# CHKUSER rejected rcpt: from <.*> remote <.*remotehostip:<HOST>>
# CHKUSER rejected relaying: from <.*> remote <.*remotehostip:<HOST>> .* : client not allowed to relay$
# qmail-smtpd: read failed: \(null\) from <HOST>
# qmail-smtpd: timeout: \(null\) from <HOST>

ignoreregex =

# DEV Notes:
# Author: Roberto Puzzanghera


# Jul 10 12:05:53 qmail vpopmail[3076]: vchkpw-submission: vpopmail user not found helpdesk@yourdomain.xy:
# Jul 22 17:31:46 qmail vpopmail[6383]: vchkpw-submission: password fail (pass: 'dasdas') postmaster@yourdomain.xy:

failregex = vchkpw-submission: vpopmail user not found .*:<HOST>$
 vchkpw-submission: password fail .*:<HOST>$

# Option: ignoreregex
# Notes.: regex to ignore. If this regex matches, the line is ignored.
ignoreregex =

# DEV Notes:
# Author: Roberto Puzzanghera


# bans qmailadmin login attempts looking for lines like this
# 2015/05/27 15:45:58 user:postmaster@domain.xy ip: auth:failed [@domain.xy]
# qmailadmin must be patched with
# (thanks to Tony)

before = common.conf

failregex = ip:<HOST> auth:failed

ignoreregex =


The filter roundcube-auth.conf already exists, so we'll overwrite it.

# Fail2Ban configuration file for roundcube webmail
# Author: Roberto Puzzanghera
# 29/09/2014
# Log line to match
# [01-Sep-2014 00:07:11 +0200]: IMAP Error: Login failed for from AUTHENTICATE PLAIN: Authentication failed. in /usr/local/www/htdocs/roundcubemail-1.0.2/progra$

before = common.conf

failregex = IMAP Error: (FAILED login|Login failed) for .*? from <HOST>\.

ignoreregex =


The filter dovecot.conf already exists, so we'll overwrite it.

# Fail2Ban filter Dovecot authentication and pop3/imap server
# Jul 22 23:33:29 auth-worker(27283): Info: sql(user@yourdomain.xy: Password mismatch
# Jul 22 23:33:31 imap-login: Info: Disconnected (auth failed, 1 attempts in 2 secs): user=<user@yourdomain.xy>, method=PLAIN, rip=, lip=, session=<k2t5+c7+5AAKAAAC>
# Jul 22 23:34:04 auth-worker(27283): Info: sql(adminww@yourdomain.xy: unknown user
# Jul 22 23:34:06 imap-login: Info: Disconnected (auth failed, 1 attempts in 2 secs): user=<adminww@yourdomain.xy>, method=PLAIN, rip=, lip=, session=<ONqY+87+7gAKAAAC>

failregex = Info: Disconnected \(auth failed, .* rip=<HOST>,

ignoreregex =

# DEV Notes:
# Author: Roberto Puzzanghera

Finally you may want to overwrite the file /etc/fail2ban/action.d/sendmail-common.conf just to set the recipient email address where to send the alerts

# Fail2Ban configuration file
# Common settings for sendmail actions


# Recipient mail address
dest = postmaster@yourdomain.xy

# Sender mail address
sender = fail2ban@yourdomain.xy


When you modify a jail, you have to reload the jails in this way:

/etc/rc.d/rc.fail2ban reload

or simply

fail2ban-client reload

Look at the jail list

# fail2ban-client status
Status: fail2ban
|- Number of jail:      3
`- Jail list:           vpopmail, qmail-smtp, dovecot

Before you turn on a jail it's always a good practice to test your newly created filter against a log file as follows:

# fail2ban-regex /var/log/qmail/smtpd/current /etc/fail2ban/filter.d/qmail-smtp.conf

Running tests


Use   failregex file : /etc/fail2ban/filter.d/qmail-smtp.conf
Use         log file : /var/log/qmail/smtpd/@40000000532f677b088a7854.s


Failregex: 65 total
|-  #) [# of hits] regular expression
|   1) [58] qmail-smtpd: message rejected \(qmail-dnsbl\) .* from 
|   2) [3] CHKUSER rejected rcpt: from <.*> remote <.*remotehostip:> .* : not existing recipient$
|   3) [4] CHKUSER rejected relaying: from <.*> remote <.*remotehostip:> .* : client not allowed to relay$

Ignoreregex: 0 total

Date template hits:
|- [# of hits] date format
|  [1596] TAI64N

Lines: 1596 lines, 0 ignored, 65 matched, 1531 missed
Missed line(s): too many to print.  Use --print-all-missed to print all 1531 lines


qmail-smtpd fail2ban

Hi, fail2ban is not blocking

qmail-smtpd: read failed: (null) from to (null) helo ylmf-pc

Any idea?


Reply | Permalink

Re: qmail-smtpd fail2ban

I can confirm that it is hitting those events here... double check everything

Reply | Permalink

ylmf-pc - fail2ban

Hi Roberto,

qmail-smtp fail2ban is not catching ylmf-pc

@400000005682c0591bee0064 qmail-smtpd: read failed: (null) from to (null) helo ylmf-pc

What can i do to get it working?



Reply | Permalink

Hi Nic,

Hi Nic,

according to my examples, fail2ban is tuned with a "qmail-smtpd: read failed:" string, not with a particular helo string. In my example there must be two such events within an hour (findtime parameter).

If you want to match other string you have to modify your qmail filter accordingly

Reply | Permalink

Wrong log path for vpopmail / qmail-submission


In /etc/fail2ban/jail.local, in the [vpopmail] section, you have:

logpath = /var/log/maillog

But in the scripts setting up qmail-submission (which is the service listening on port 587) the log file path is set to:

#!/bin/sh exec /usr/local/bin/setuidgid qmaill /usr/local/bin/multilog t /var/log/qmail/submission



/ Otto

Reply | Permalink

That's correct

That's correct, Otto. The failed login attempts are logged exactly there.

Reply | Permalink

Sorry, I was expecting the

Sorry, I was expecting the submission service to log to that fiile, but I suppose the login comes earlier in the chain and those errors are routed to a custom location?

However, after searching through  my logs, the failed login attempts from the submission service are logged in:


(Please notice the dot).

Not sure wher this is configured?


/ Otto

Reply | Permalink

vpopmail and syslog

You are right. The log are directed to syslog (look around line no. 679 of vchkpw.c). My slackware put all mail.* logs in /var/log/maillog, so it's worth that I clarify this point as soon as possible.

But you can manage what syslog is going to write at configure time:

--enable-logging=OPT       Log to syslog: n=nothing, e=errors only (default), y=all attempts, p=errors with passwords, v=verbose (all attempts, with passwords).
--enable-log-name=TEXT     Set syslog name vpopmail.

The second one is not very clear to me, but maybe can adjust the log file name.

As an alternative you may want to record your logs on mysql

--enable-sql-logging       Enable authentication logging to MySQL/Postgres.

but this is not convenient if you are going to use fail2ban

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