Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 : Exchange Server-Level Security Features (part 2) - Protecting Exchange Server 2007 from Viruses

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Protecting Exchange Server 2007 from Viruses

Exchange 2007 includes many improvements to assist organizations with their antivirus strategies. The product continues to support the Virus Scanning Application Programming Interface (VSAPI). In addition, Microsoft has made a significant investment in the creation of more effective, efficient, and programmable virus scanning at the transport level.

A few of the antivirus measures included in Exchange 2007 are listed as follows:

  • Transport agents— Exchange 2007 introduces the concept of transport agents. Agents are managed software components that perform a task in response to an application event. These agents act on transport events, much like event sinks in earlier versions of Exchange. Third-party developers can write customized agents that are capable of utilizing the Exchange Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) parsing engine allowing extremely robust antivirus scanning. The Exchange 2007 MIME parsing engine has evolved over many years of Exchange development and is likely the most trusted and capable MIME engine in the industry.

  • Antivirus stamping— Exchange 2007 provides antivirus stamping, a method of stamping messages that were scanned for viruses with the version of the antivirus software that performed the scan and the result of the scan. This feature helps reduce the volume of antivirus scanning across an organization because, as the message travels through the messaging system with the antivirus stamp attached, other systems can immediately determine whether additional scanning must be performed on the message.

  • Attachment filtering— In Exchange 2007, Microsoft has implemented attachment filtering by a transport agent. By enabling attachment filtering on your organization’s Edge Transport server, you can reduce the spread of malicious attachments before they enter the organization.


Although Exchange Server 2007 provides features to help minimize an organization’s exposure to viruses, it does not have true, built-in antivirus protection, as Exchange does not actually scan messages or attachments to look for infection. However, continued support for the built-in Virus Scanning Application Program Interface (VSAPI) allows specialized antivirus programs to connect their applications to your Exchange environment to scan messages as they are handled by Exchange.

Forefront Security for Exchange Server

Designed by Microsoft specifically for Exchange Server 2007, Forefront Security for Exchange Server is the next generation of Microsoft Antigen for Exchange. Because these products were designed specifically to work together, Forefront integrates with Exchange Server 2007 to provide improved protection, performance, and centralized management.

Forefront Security for Exchange Server delivers the following:

  • Advanced protection against viruses, worms, phishing, and other threats by utilizing up to five antivirus engines simultaneously at each layer of the messaging infrastructure

  • Optimized performance through coordinated scanning across Edge, Hub, and Mail servers and features such as in-memory scanning, multithreaded scanning processes, and performance bias settings

  • Centralized management of remote installation, engine and signature updating, reporting, and alerts through the Forefront Server Security Management Console

Although the client antivirus protection that is provided by Forefront Security for Exchange Server is language independent, the setup, administration of the product, and end-user notifications are currently available in 11 server languages. When Forefront Security for Exchange Server detects a message that appears to be infected with a virus, the system generates a notification message and sends it to the recipient’s mailbox. This message is written in the language of the server running Forefront because the server is not able to detect the language of the destination mailbox.

Third-Party Antivirus Products for Exchange

In addition, there are many third-party antivirus vendors in the marketplace. At the time of this writing, there was little to no documentation on their websites about future integration with Exchange 2007; however, there is no doubt that most of these companies will have compatible products ready by the time the product is released.

Many mechanisms can be used to protect the messaging environment from viruses and other malicious code. Most third-party virus-scanning products scan for known virus signatures and provide some form of heuristics to scan for unknown viruses. Other antivirus products block suspicious or specific types of message attachments at the point of entry before a possible virus reaches the Information Store.

Antivirus products keep viruses from reaching the end user in two fundamental ways:

  • Gateway scanning— Gateway scanning works by scanning all messages as they go through the SMTP gateway (typically connected to the Internet). If the message contains a virus or is suspected of carrying a virus, the antivirus product can clean, quarantine, or delete it before it enters your Exchange organization.

  • Mailbox scanning— Mailbox scanning is useful to remove viruses that have entered the Information Store. For example, a new virus might make it into the Exchange environment before a signature file that can detect it is in place. These messages on the Information Store cannot be scanned by a gateway application; however, with an antivirus product that is capable of scanning the Information Store, these messages can be found and deleted.

Antivirus Outsourcing

Although an organization can put in place many gateway antivirus products to address antispam and antivirus issues, outsourcing these tasks has gained popularity in recent years. Companies specializing in antivirus and antispam are able to host your organization’s MX records, scanning all messages bound for your company, and forwarding the clean messages to your organization. Although this removes a level of control from your administrators, many organizations are finding this outsourcing cost-effective, as they no longer have to maintain staff devoted strictly to these measures.

  •  Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 : Components of a Secure Messaging Environment (part 5) - Using Email Disclaimers
  •  Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 : Components of a Secure Messaging Environment (part 4) - Establishing a Corporate Email Policy, Securing Groups
  •  Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 : Components of a Secure Messaging Environment (part 3) - Hardening Windows Server 2003 - Running SCW
  •  Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 : Components of a Secure Messaging Environment (part 2) - Hardening Windows Server 2003 - Using the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer
  •  Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 : Components of a Secure Messaging Environment (part 1) - Hardening Windows Server 2003 - Auditing Policies
  •  Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 : Server and Transport-Level Security - Considering the Importance of Security in an Exchange Server 2007 Environment
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