Email transport security in 2016, it’s still a thing! The last mile is fortified — no reasonable provider accepts plaintext smtp, pop, or imap from a client. But what about transport? It’s still opportunistic, downgradeable, interceptable, and correlateable. It’s time to put some more band-aids on this wound!

SMTP delivery to Tor Hidden Services

Moving forward our MX is reachable at ysp4gfuhnmj6b4mb.onion:25. We are happy to accept mail for all our domains (ie. all domains where is the MX) there! Do you want to know how to do that? Or even how to make your system reachable through tor? There is a tutorial for Exim at the bottom of this post and there is another one for Postix. But wait, there is more!


So how about everyone on the internet does this? How about using the following format to publish Onion Service MX records in dns: 3600 IN SRV 0 5 25 ysp4gfuhnmj6b4mb.onion.

Fair enough, dns can be spoofed. But we still get all the other benefits when it works, we make correlation much harder and improve the meta-data leakage. And we exclude the attacker who can only tamper with the SMTP session but not the DNS query.

At the moment this is just a proposal but we are eager to collaborate on this if you reach out to us!

Howto? (Exim)

Now let’s see how we can configure Exim send mail to a tor Onion Service for a manually curated set of domains.

There is previous work, but since the exim 4.87 release an easier approach is possible. Here is the high level overview of what we need:

  1. A static mapping between email domain and MX onion address
  2. A router to prepare the submission using Tor’s AutomapHostsOnResolve feature: The router performs a programatic DNS lookup with the tor daemon. The returned IP is being mapped to the correct onion url by tor.
  3. A transport sending emails via the tor socks proxy using the above IP as destination.

Here’s how we adjusted our exim setup for outgoing mail (and you should be able to do it in a similar way):

  • First create the mapping of recipient domains to onion addresses:

/etc/exim/onionrelay.txt ysp4gfuhnmj6b4mb.onion ysp4gfuhnmj6b4mb.onion
  • Then convert it to cdb for faster lookups:

    cdb -m -c -t /tmp/onionrelay.tmp /etc/exim/onionrelay.cdb /etc/exim/onionrelay.txt

  • Install and configure Tor for Onion Service DNS mapping and have the local daemon running:


AutomapHostsOnResolve 1
DNSPort 5300
  • Configure Exim:


perl_startup = do '/etc/exim/'


use Net::DNS::Resolver;
sub onionLookup {
  my $hostname = shift;
  my $res = Net::DNS::Resolver->new(nameservers => [qw(],);
  my $query = $res->search($hostname);
  foreach my $rr ($query->answer) {
    next unless $rr->type eq "A";
    return $rr->address;
  return 'no_such_host';


domainlist onion_relays     = cdb;ONION_RELAYDB


# send things over tor where we have an entry for it
  driver    = manualroute
  domains   = +onion_relays
  transport = onion_relay
  # get the automap IP for the onion address from the tor daemon
  route_data = ${perl{onionLookup}{${lookup{$domain}cdb{ONION_RELAYDB}}}}


  driver = smtp
  socks_proxy = port=9050

Running OnionService MX

To receive mail all you need to do is set up a Tor Onion Service (there are plenty of tutorials out there) which listens on port 25 and publish the address to the world.

We strongly advice to run this hidden service on a separate VM and internally forward to your MX to avoid running an open relay.

You could also configure the Onion Service directly on the MX but then you need to be extra careful since connections will appear to come from Most mail servers treat localhost in a privileged way and you want to avoid that. Possible workarounds are to either locally map to a different port or bind tor daemon to another ip (eg.