Sandy Chen

Geek Quest: All About Linux, But Where’s the Anti-Virus?

Posted on: January 25, 2010

To embark on my geek quest, I’ve decided my first mission would be to learn about Linux. I’ve known and heard legends of Linux for quite some time now, but my understanding of Linux has always been “Linux users are strictly for computer programmers” or “Common folk don’t use Linux, common folk use Windows, and if you’re an artistic folk, then you use Mac”.

A couple of reasons why I have decided to embrace Linux: First, Ryan’s laptop was in need of an overhaul, and Andrew Currie was more than happy to help, but with the condition that it gets the Linux overhaul, plus he doesn’t have any Windows software anyways, he’s a former snooty Mac user. Secondly, I’ve always been frustrated by Window’s blatant strategy to make more money by coming out with a new version of Windows as soon as most people have upgraded to their last version. For eample, the new craze is the Windows 7, but what happened to Windows Vista, I swore I had just heard about it and saw it come out not too long ago. To upgrade to a new version of Windows, you need to pay for the software. If you don’t know me already, I’m pretty cheap and stingy, so I have a hard time paying to upgrade my software that I’m not guaranteed it’ll be better than the previous version. I’ve been pretty lucky to have always somehow scored my Windows for free, but I’m pretty sure my freeloader status is bound to expire any day now. My understanding of Linux is that it is open source software, and therefore, it’s el cheapo, in fact, it’s free!

So my very first experience with Linux is through Ryan’s laptop, and my second experience is with an Asus netbook that Andrew is kindly letting me borrow to take notes for a class, which I’m really digging so far, minus a couple of hicups, but otherwise a very good gadget to have. I think I’ll end up buying one myself. So far, I don’t have much to say about Linux, however, the one thing I’m seriously hung up on is the lack of anti-virus. Having been a Windows user for such a long time, it’s etched in my brain that anti-virus is a must and that if you don’t have it, then you’re an idiot. Over the course of one week, I think I must have asked about aniti-virus at least a dozen times, and each time, Andrew tells me that it is not necessary. I asked him once again yesterday about the lack of anti-virus on the latop, and out of irritation, Andrew accused me of having severe emotional Windows baggage and that this baggage will take a serious toll on my new relationship with Linux if I choose to take it with me.

To ease my paranoia, I’m guided to this article by techthrob.com. Truth be told, it’s hard to reverse the brainwash Windows has done, therefore, I’m still not 100% convinced.

Anyone a user of Linux? I definitely welcome your comments, discussions, as well as your expertise, if you so willing to share.

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18 Responses to "Geek Quest: All About Linux, But Where’s the Anti-Virus?"

There are viruses for Linux, but they pale in comparison — in both number and power — to their Window counterparts. It’s not that you can’t get a virus on Linux, it’s just that it is so easy to get one on Windows! Perhaps it is best to look at why baddies have such a hard time attacking a Linux platform:

http://www.linux.com/news/software/applications/8261-note-to-new-linux-users-no-antivirus-needed

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux_malware

Seems I have much to learn about Linux. Thanks Mike and Shane for sharing your thoughts, much appreciate it! For the beginner Linux user, are there certain books or sites that you’d recommend in getting my feet wet?

I have been a Linux user for about 5 1/2 years now. I too had this notion of an anti virus being a necessity. When I first installed Linux I installed Clam antivirus as well. After countless people telling me that it is not required, I let go of that baggage. And I can tell you that I have never once had any virus problems ever in Linux. Ever.

I have learned since that the only valid reason to have an antivirus installed in Linux is to protect the Windows machines in your network. To that I say if you want to run Windows, then protect yourself. I’m not going to bear the overhead of an antivirus. I have better things to do 🙂

Hope you’re enjoying Linux!

Seems I have much to learn about Linux. Thanks Mike and Shane for sharing your thoughts, much appreciate it! For the beginner Linux user, are there certain books or sites that you’d recommend in getting my feet wet?

Welcome to the club Sandy! I had been running three Linux machiens for 3 years now. This 1st one I installed clamav with the windows mindset. When I replaced the distro I did not bother and on both my other machines I did not bother about av as well. I never had any problem on all three machines. What I do though is setup a firewall and close all those vulnerable ports that can be exploited. That’s it.

presently an antivirus is not needed under Linux : keeping your system up-to-date and being careful about what you are installing/running and where you take it is the best protection.

Concerning documentation you will have :
– the documentation site of your distribution
– the Unix manpage to discover and learn about the CLI tools
– read boots or sites talking about the Unix philosophy or the Unix way

http://www.tuxmachines.org : monitor many site and linux blogs. Good way to have howto and tips
http://www.lwn.net : more technicals articles

You did not mention which Linux distribution you have installed. While the Linux kernel and inner workings are basically same/similar across distributions, I reckoned the first place to start is the specific distribution itself. Deeper knowledge about Linux would come in time as you gain experience.

If you have Ubuntu, here is a free downloadable guide:
http://www.ubuntupocketguide.com/index_main.html

On the laptop we installed Linux Mint on it, and on the Netbook, we’ve got Easy Peasy on it. So far, both are working good, no complaints!

Linux Mint has a handbook which I am sure will be of use to you.

http://ftp.heanet.ie/pub/linuxmint.com/docs/user-guide/english_8.1.pdf

In Linux Mint if you start up the IRC chat client, it automatically logs you in to the Mint chatroom where you can ask for help. There’s also the very helpful forums. You can find me there with the same name.

The Ubuntu guide is pretty phenomenal and covers almost everything you would want to do.

http://ubuntuguide.org/wiki/Ubuntu:Karmic

Mint is based on Ubuntu, so stuff that works on Ubuntu works on Mint as well… Just make sure you have the package for the right version… Currently the Mint version is on version 8 which is based on Ubuntu 9.10, Mint 7 is based on Ubuntu 9.04, 6 on 8.10, 5 on 8.04… etc. They also have code names; Mint uses girl names and Ubuntu uses animal names + adjective, both in alphabetical order… but numbers are easier I think.

Join the Mint forums if you face any problems. People are very helpful over there.

I would recommend this book: http://www.ubuntupocketguide.com/index_main.html
Another good read is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_Unix_Programming
It goes into the history of Unix, from which Linux is derived. It also explains the reasons why things are done like they are in unix-like environments.

Thanks for the suggestions, I’ll definitely put that on my list of to-reads!

Although there are a couple of viruses in Linux, they are nothing compared to Windows counterparts and at until now you will hardly get your computer infected. I doubt you will ever get a virus by just using the internet. In addition, you will hardly get malware, spyware, etc. When it comes to having viruses, Linux is like Windows 3.1 back then you knew viruses existed but you would hardly worry about them. Anyway, if you want to have an antivirus, you can try with clam, it is command line based but you have a couple of GUI based versions like Klamav. The antivirus will also scan any Windows partitions if you have any.

Try this, it will go against everything you have ever been conditioned to NOT do.
Find one of those sites that offer a free computer scan that you don’t ask for, searching for torrents of recent popular things should get you there after a few tries. After the very windows-looking ‘scan’ takes place and it finds all sorts of ‘viruses’, click the ‘OK, infect me’ button. It may be the hardest thing you have ever done to click that button but after you see that nothing is wrong and there is no malware infecting your machine, it should help to cure you.
It was difficult for me and I’ve been exclusively using some linux distro for about three years now.

BTW: Klamav is a good thing to start with if you really need to have something on linux. It will at least protect your email form carrying bad stuff that could be passed along to windows people.

Sandy,

You will see a lot of Linux OS computers running anti-virus, especially servers. The main reason that an anti-virus exists for Linux, is to protect the Windows OS computers. Say you have a Linux computer as your firewall – running an anti-virus to protect the Windows OS computers behind the firewall is a really good idea. It adds a level of protection.

Computers running ‘nix based Operating Systems, like OSX, Linux, Solaris or BSD are immune to Windows based attacks. They are also, because of the ‘nix architecture, virtually immune to any attack that targets them directly. You would literally have to download and run the virus for it to be able to do anything, and even then, it would be limited in what it could do, because anytime it wanted to do something dangerous, it would have to get you to type in your administrator password.

The biggest lie that you will hear, is that if Linux and/or OSX were to gain as much market share, they would be as vulnerable. This is untrue. The reason that Windows is vulnerable is that it is badly designed. Any attempt to correct the problem would break almost all existing Windows software.

FYI – Linux Mint is a Ubuntu variant. You may also want to try CrunchBang Linux, it’s also based on Ubuntu, and I really like it.

You have to ask yourself, what do you expect from an antivirus to do, exactly. Is it to protect you from malware? In GNU/Linux you download software from your official repository (every distribution has one) which guarantees it’s virus-free. There’s effectively no need to “download” software from other sources, so you’ll be hard pressed to install any malware, unless you really WANT to.
Is it to protect you from mail viruses? There are no auto-executable “attachments” in GNU/Linux, and in addition, I’d recommend sticking with text-only mail (no HTML) for an additional layer of security.
Is it to protect you from ill-intentioned web sites? Those attack are usually browser-specific, so you’re reasonably safe the moment you ditch Internet Exploder.
Any way you look at it, the mere VENUES of entry for malware are severely restricted in GNU/Linux as opposed to Windows. In addition, as if this wasn’t enough, even if you manage to contract a disease (or, say, intentionally bork your system just for the heck of it), you only lose a user account. In 30 seconds, you can create a new one, and delete the old account with the “contaminated” data. It’s NOT like you have to reformat, reinstall or anything.
So, yes, GNU/Linux IS reasonably safe. On one hand, there are stable distributions (such as Debian Stable) which attain security through issuing security updates on a daily basis; and then there are more bleeding-edge distributions with the most recent kernel, and most up-to-date softwares, which are permanently evolving and attain security by being such a fastly moving target.

Relax. You don’t absolutely need an AV program at this time. They are available but no need to rush out and find one. I have been using Linux since the late 90’s. Never seen a virus in Linux. Sure, theres supposed to be a few but compared to Windows…damn few. I would guess there are more new viruses created for Windows in a couple hours than all the viruses available for Linux put together. It may change in the future but I have no doubt as Linux users we’ll know about it way before its a real issue and a fix will be out far in advance of any real damage to Linux users.
Relax. Enjoy the ability to just use your computer without all the stress. 🙂

Actually I have never seen a Linux Virus. The only ones I have heard of are ones that you had to run as root so you have to volunteer.

Now on servers and constantly connected units one could have a black hat install a root kit. So a firewall is somewhat more valuable. But other than a server I am not sure I would bother.

I have used Linux for ten years and have never used an AV programme without incident. However, I do not run Wine which can adds a Windows compatibility layer and it can make your fake C; drive used by Wine susceptible to Windows viruses. I run Windows in a VM which I have duplicated. If it becomes infected, I just used the copy.

As long as you follow Linux protocols regarding passwords rigorously you can use Linux without much danger or fear of infection.

Another consideration is that Linux AV applications do NOT work as well as Windows ones in the sense that you have to manually scan each file or directory. Getting Linux to scan email and files as they are downloaded and work in the background a la Windows is not easy to set up. It is do-able, but it isn’t for the faint hearted.

Welcome to the Brave New World of Linux!

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