Troubleshooting TLS SMTP Connections to Exchange Online Protection

Monday, March 10, 2014
By default Office 365 uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) to send encrypted SMTP emails between Exchange Online and Exchange on-prem. This provides end-to-end encryption of emails between your on-prem Exchange Hybrid Server and Exchange Online Protection (EOP), just like they were the same organization.

TLS utilizes x.509 (SSL) certificates to encrypt the email in transport. Exchange Online and Exchange 2013's implementation of TLS differs from previous implementations of TLS in several important ways:
  • The certificates used for TLS must be issued by a trusted third-party CA (Digicert, Godaddy, Verisign, etc.)
  • The CRL for the certification authority must be available. If Exchange or O365 can't read the CRL it will not trust the certificate.
  • The FQDN that the Receive Connector provides in response to EHLO must match the subject name or a subject alternative name on the certificate. SAN certificates and wildcard certificates are both valid for TLS use. If you use a wildcard cert the FQDN used on the connector can be any name that is valid for the wildcard cert's domain.
  • In previous versions of TLS any certificate could be used to encrypt SMTP traffic, even expired or self-signed certificates. This is not the case with Office 365 and Exchange 2013.
As previously mentioned, TLS is required by default for SMTP communication between Hybrid servers and Exchange Online Protection (EOP). When you run the Hybrid Configuration Wizard it will configure forced TLS for all Send and Receive Connectors. Note that this configuration is updated whenever you run the HCW, so if you reconfigure the connectors for opportunistic TLS or turn it off completely, the HCW will reconfigure them to use forced TLS again.

The following options are available for TLS encryption in Office 365:
  • Force TLS - Email sent across this connector must use TLS. If TLS is unavailable messages will queue until they are delivered or expired.
  • Opportunistic TLS - The connector tries to setup a TLS connection using the STARTTLS verb. If a TLS connection cannot be made the connector falls back to regular ESMTP or SMTP. This is functionally equivalent to turning TLS off.
Normally the use of TLS is configured on Receive or Inbound Connector. You do this to control how email is accepted by your domain and it can be easily configured using the Exchange Admin Console. 
Office 365's Inbound Connector from Hybrid Server
Send Connectors can also be configured to require TLS. This is used to enforce that email is sent by this connector must only use TLS, and is configured in the shell using the RequireTLS property:
Outbound Connector TLS Settings to Office 365
Using this configuration if the corresponding Receive Connector does not offer or require TLS, messages will queue on the sending server until they are finally delivered or expire.

You can easily tell if a receiving SMTP server is configured to use TLS using Telnet. Install the Telnet Client feature, Telnet to the server using TCP port 25, and look for the STARTTLS verb after issuing the EHLO command. For example:
Telnet servername 25
If you see that the STARTTLS verb is missing, the server is not offering TLS. If your Send Connector is configured to require TLS, the messages will queue on the sending server with the error,
451 4.4.0 Primary target IP address responded with: "451 5.7.3 STARTTLS is required to send mail."
There are several reasons that the STARTTLS verb might be missing:
  • The receiving server is not configured to Force TLS or use Opportunistic TLS.
  • The sending server's IP is on an SMTP block list (aka SMTP blacklist or SMTP blocklist). Office 365 will not attempt to send TLS traffic with a server it can't trust.
  • The receiving server is configured to only respond to SMTP (not ESMTP) commands. TLS is part of the ESMTP protocol.
  • Your firewall is doing some form of email inspection and is filtering "unsafe" verbs from the SMTP conversation. Some examples of firewalls that do this are:
Office 365 uses internal and external SMTP blocklists to protect the network. If the sending server is on one of these black lists the EOP servers will not offer TLS. You can test this by sending a non-TLS email to EOP using Telnet. See Brian Reid's article, "Cannot Send Emails to Office 365 or Exchange Online Protection Using TLS". The response from the EOP server will tell you which block list you're on and how to request removal.

If the receiving server requires TLS, but the sending server is not configured to use a TLS certificate messages will queue on the sending server with the error,
451 4.4.0 Primary target IP address responded with: "451 5.7.3 Must issue a STARTTLS command first."
The fix here is to configure the Send Connector to use TLS and a valid certificate using the Enable-ExchangeCertificate cmdlet, such as:
Enable-ExchangeCertificate -Thumbprint 5DC5902752816FD2FC51D5564C363F68D8F7FFC4 -Services SMTP
Make sure to use Get-ExchangeCertificate to get the correct certificate's thumbprint for the command above.

Hopefully this information will help you understand TLS and will assist you with troubleshooting.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment! It is my hope that you find the information here useful. Let others know if this post helped you out, or if you have a comment or further information.