(Resolved) Service degradation due to apparent attack

Beginning 2:36 AM US Pacific time, Mailsac internal monitoring indicated slowness due to an abnormally large amount of spam coming from China. By approximately 6:30 AM we identified all root causes and believe the issue is resolved.

Our service employs several methods of blocking, shaping, and throttling egregious traffic from unpaid users. This particular attack worked around these automatic mitigation efforts, in part because the attackers opened thousands of sockets and left them open a long time, exploiting a loophole in our SMTP inbound receiver code.

Here is a graph of our inbound message rate showing the attack compared to baseline.

(Resolved) Outage Report: Tue Feb 6 2018

The VPS host which handles the Mailsac database servers is having a routing issue, and most of the microservices are unable to contact it. We are in direct communication with the our support rep regarding this issue and expect it to be resolved ASAP. This is a full outage.

Service status can be tracked here: status.mailsac.com

We apologize for the issue and will be working to minimize the likelihood of this happening again.

Timeline (US Pacific)

– 2018-02-06 09:36 Outage noticed by monitoring services
– 2018-02-06 09:37 Troubleshooting and evaluating logs on shared logging server
– 2018-02-06 09:38 Able to ssh into primary database node from office
– 2018-02-06 09:38 Ticket opened with upstream hosting company indicating many geographically distributed services cannot reach the network of the database servers
– 2018-02-06 09:43 Provided several traceroutes for help troubleshooting
– 2018-02-06 09:59 Monitoring indicates the service is back online
– 2018-02-06 10:03 All frontend UI/API servers were rebooted in series to clear a MongoDB error “Topology was destroyed”
– 2018-02-06 10:05 Error notifications seem to all be cleared
– 2018-02-06 10:10 Updated HAProxy error pages to include links to status page and community website

Edit: Concluding Remarks

Mailsac’s database, for caching and data storage, is MongoDB. Without the database, everything grinds to a halt. MongoDB supports configurations for high availability (Replication with Automatic Failover).

Having all nodes of the database hosted in one provider’s network has proven to not be sufficient to prevent outages. In this case, a router within the hosting company’s network failed, which caused none of the MongoDB nodes to be accessible to the networks of the other hosting companies. We will take some time to change that configuration.

Mailsac already has microservice instances across multiple providers and geographic regions, as seen in the system diagram:

basic diagram of the mailsac email microservices

In the event one or two instances went offline, or even an entire region of an upstream host, Mailsac should not go down as long as the database was still accessible to the API. Obviously that was not the case here.

The solution will be to add a Secondary Node and Arbiter in different networks.

15 minute partial API outage due apparent DOS

For about 15 minutes (8:13 am – 8:27 am PDT), our API was flooded with traffic due to hundreds of thousands of email attempts from 4 IP addresses. Nearly all emails were received, but HTTP requests for the API and UI frequently timed out. We do not know the percentage of requests that timed out, but it was quite high. The API is load balanced and only one API was timing out frequently.

We blocked the bad IPs immediately upon seeing traffic logs (~8:19), but because our custom IP blocking service relies on the API to fetch the blacklist, and the API was not fully responsive to HTTP on one leg, it took a while for the changes to propagate to all five inbound SMTP servers.