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Email and Mailing Lists

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CSAIL Email vs MIT Email (and email forwarding)

MIT students, faculty, and staff members receive an MIT email address and can read and send email via MIT's Athena mailhubs. The Athena mail system provides you with an address at, which you may prefer to give out because it it short and prestigious. You will also receive a CSAIL account. You may like to read your mail at CSAIL because we provide slightly better spam control. Also, CSAIL serves fewer users than MIT, so your first choice for an account name is more likely to be available at CSAIL than at MIT. You can use the two accounts separately or forward one to the other for convenience.

  • You could keep your MIT and CSAIL mail accounts completely separate. If you don't change anything, you will need to log into each account separately to read all of your mail.
  • You could have your MIT email forwarded to your CSAIL account. Use Athena's chpobox command. See also IS&T's page on Email Forwarding Options at MIT.
  • You could have your CSAIL email forwarded to your MIT account, or to another destination entirely (Gmail, or your research group's mailhub). See Email Forwarding.

Account Creation and Management

You may have a CSAIL account and not a CSAIL IMAP account, for example, if you forward your email to another address. If this is the case, you can Create your IMAP account (requires CSAIL certificate), which will overwrite any forwarding options.

CSAIL IMAP passwords are distinct from main CSAIL Kerberos passwords. If you expect to ever check email by remote, please use a separate password for your IMAP account. Change your IMAP password (requires CSAIL certificate)

Instant messaging and conferencing

There is also a Jabber instant-messaging server, which uses the same passwords as CSAIL IMAP. There is a one-hour propagation delay for password changes.

CSAIL Mailing Lists

Please see Mailing Lists for general information about our mailing-list infrastructure (including how to create new mailing lists, how to find lists you may be interested in, and links to end-user and list administrator documentation.

Popular CSAIL mailing lists (e.g., for announcements)

Please see Popular Lab Mailing Lists for information about some of the most important CSAIL mailing lists, including the ones CSAIL members are automatically signed up for when they get a CSAIL account. In particular, that page is good for answering "What list should I send this announcement to?" questions.

Mail Clients

You can read your CSAIL IMAP email at any time through the Horde webmail interface. This is not as comfortable a way to read your mail as a dedicated email client (see below), but it requires no more configuration and it's available wherever you have a web browser. It's also the way to set Vacation rules (see below) and other filters (following above steps 1-3) -- any filters you create on your local IMAP email client will only work when that computer and mail client is running, but filters you set up through webmail are applied as your mail is being delivered so they reliably filter all your mail.

The most popular IMAP client (desktop email program) at CSAIL is Mozilla Thunderbird.

How to Configure an IMAP Client

How to Configure an SMTP Client

Vacation Auto-responder Instructions

  1. Log into using your CSAIL username and IMAP (email) password
  2. Click the drop-down menu at top center labelled "Mail".
  3. Click "Filters".
  4. Click "Vacation" to edit the vacation rule.
    • "Subject of vacation message": If blank, your response will have Subject: Re: [sender's original subject]. If filled in, your response will have Subject: [exact text you fill in].
    • "Reason" will be the entire message body sent out (original sender's message will not be included at bottom)
    • Autoresponses will start and stop automatically according to "Start/End of vacation" only if the overall Vacation Rule is enabled.
  5. Click "Save and Enable"
  6. Click "Log out" in top right, if desired.

Encrypted (and/or signed) mail with PGP/GnuPG

Encryption can be used with mail in two ways: To encrypt a message so that only the recipient (or recipients) can read it, and it's safe from snooping in transit (e.g., when it's being stored on various mail servers on its way to its destination, or if a network connection between the sender and the recipient is being tapped), or to add a cryptographic signature to a message to prove that it was actually sent by the person it claims to be from. The only really common and widely supported mechanism for this is called PGP, originally the name of a commercial product called "Pretty Good Privacy", but now often used in a generic sense for the encryption standard. The most common implementation of this standard is GnuPG, which is Free Software, and generally interoperable with commercial implementations. (Technically, PGP is the commercial software, GnuPG, a/k/a GPG, is the competing but interoperable Free Software package, and OpenPGP is the standard they and other interoperable pieces of software implement.)

The PGP/GnuPG standard relies on public-key cryptography, and identifies you by a secret key, which as the name suggests should be kept private, and a public key which you can share with others. These can be used for encryption, authentication (or "non-repudiability"), or both.

Using encryption with Thunderbird

Thunderbird, the most commonly used IMAP email client at CSAIL, supports PGP-style encryption through the "Enigmail" add-on. In Thunderbird, you can install add-ons (such as Enigmail) by choosing Tools > Add-ons and using the search box in the upper-right. (You can also browse add-ons by selecting the "Get Add-ons" tab, but that's a pretty hard way to search for a specific one.) Once you've installed "Enigmail" and restarted Thunderbird, you'll have a new "Enigmail" menu, and you can get yourself set up to use encryption with the "Setup wizard" you'll find on that menu. (If you already have a keypair, you can import it so Thunderbird can use it; otherwise you can create a new one.)

Using encryption with CSAIL's webmail

CSAIL uses the Horde project's software suite for our webmail interface (at Horde's mail component supports PGP-style encryption, so you can send or receive encrypted mail, sign your messages to prove they come from you, and verify the signatures on other people's messages (assuming you have their public keys available).

To set up encryption, log into Horde and then from the white gear menu (next to "Others ▼"), choose "Preferences" > "Mail". Then on the "Preferences for Mail" page you get, at the bottom of the left-hand column, select "PGP" to "Configure PGP encryption support". You can turn on "Enable PGP functionality?" (paying attention to the note that you need to configure your browser to allow pop-up windows from in order for that to work!), and set the other options as you like.

In order to sign mail, or receive mail encrypted for you, you'll need a keypair. You can have the webmail system itself create one with the "Create Keys" button, or you can import an existing key (as displayed with the command gpg -a --export-secret-keys your@email.address) with the "Import Key" button (which will pop up a new window, so you need your browser configured appropriately).

Hidden Folders

If you configure folders using the Horde webmail interface, you might not automatically see them in an IMAP client. Also, there are a few 'hidden' folders that are useful for spam filtering. Here's how to subscribe to a hidden folder.

Shared Folders

Sharing your IMAP folders with others

If you have a folder of messages you'd like to share with others:
  1. Log into CSAIL webmail
  2. Click the preferences cog > Preferences > Mail
  3. Choose Share Mailboxes
  4. In the bottom left, click the drop-down folder list (which starts out as "INBOX") and select the folder you want to share
  5. The permission listed will be for the current mailbox selected. In the blank box underneath your own name, enter the CSAIL username of the person you want to share with and select a template for access from the dropdown next to it (e.g., "Read", "All", etc.) to set the permissions.
  6. Click "Save"
  7. Repeat as desired for additional users and/or folders.

Viewing folders shared with you

If you have shared IMAP folders you would like to view, they are generally not available by default in most email clients. *For Thunderbird:*The instructions below are for Thunderbird (MacOS and Windows.) Other email client configurations are not dissimilar.

  1. Click File -> Subscribe
  2. In your folder list, expand the "shared" folder, select the appropriate folder, and click Subscribe.
  3. Repeat until all desired folders have check marks next to them, then click OK
  4. The shared folder(s) will now be available for viewing messages at the bottom of your folder list

For Apple Mail: See "shared folders" in AppleMail#Optional_steps

Spam Filtering

CSAIL provides spam filtering using SpamAssassin, a powerful free software solution. It works automatically on the mail server. You can change the settings so that it works better for you.

  • Change basic SpamAssassin configuration (CSAIL Certificate required).
  • Subscribe to the Spam folder if you want to see messages that the server has marked as spam and check for false positives.
  • To report missed spam to the server, subscribe to the folder MissedSpam. Then drag any spam from your inbox to the MissedSpam folder.
  • If you are getting "false positives," then subscribe to the NotSpam folder. Drag the message from Spam to NotSpam. The server will start 'learning' messages that you mark as NotSpam. After a few iterations, it should stop marking these messages as spam.
  • The server starts "learning" from messages saved to MissedSpam and NotSpam after enough messages are saved to both folders. The more messages you can categorize in both folders, the better.

See also:

Email Aliases

*New alias may take up to an hour to be accessible. Create an Email Alias

Virus filtering

The Clam anti-virus package checks all incoming email for viruses. Note that email virus scanning does not replace having up to date virus scanners on your own machine, but it should help cut down on the problems.

Tips and Troubleshooting


  • NIST SP800-177 is the federal government's recommendations for email server configuration. The introductory sections of the document contain an excellent description of the technology used for email and the sorts of security threats faced by email users and administrators.
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Topic revision: 05 Dec 2017, JasonDorfman

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