For a long time, the Linux operating system (OS) has been touted as an extremely safe platform. The one core OS may not be as popular as its Windows or Mac counterparts, especially on desktops, but it’s open-source, lightweight, stable, and flexible, and is less vulnerable than other systems in terms of security.
There are several arguments for and against Linux requiring an antivirus program for desktop and server users. This post explains a bit about how Linux works and whether or not it needs an antivirus.
What Is Linux and Why Is It Considered Safe?
Linux is an OS like Windows and macOS, but it’s derived from UNIX and has many variants, also known as distributions or distros.
The Linux OS is the most favored option among developers, mainly because of its reputation for being a safe platform.
The permission-based structure in Linux prevents regular users from performing administrative actions because each app needs authorization by the admin user before it’s executed. This is probably why many people are under the impression that you don’t need an antivirus for Linux.
Linux systems apply these restricted permissions to system users and human users alike. In short, you’re free to create accounts with elevated permissions, but you can’t perform administrative functions, thus reducing the probability of damaging the system.
In addition, even if agents wanting to exploit your security could run under a user account, it’s not possible for them to tamper with the OS core, therefore, avoiding any extensive damage.
Do Cybercriminals Target Linux?
Unlike Windows and Mac, which are prime targets for cybercriminals, Linux isn’t typically a priority for virus writers. In fact, Windows and Mac are more likely to cause widespread damage owing to the number of users both operating systems command worldwide.
For this reason, many users of the Linux OS have long held the belief that it doesn’t need antivirus software.
The inverse is true for servers compared to desktops because this is where Linux shines. Consequently, if you want to protect your endpoints, you’re better off having an antivirus for your systems.
While Linux machines aren’t the main target for virus authors and cybercriminals, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t any viruses on Linux. Other threats, like keyloggers, spyware, adware, and rootkits, can also threaten Linux machines, meaning you need to do everything possible to protect your system and yourself from such online threats.
Does Linux Need Antivirus?
The short answer is yes, and here’s why.
While Windows and Mac have a higher probability of being targeted by cybercriminals, most servers run on the Linux kernel, meaning that there’s a constant battle between system admins and hackers.
In fact, the Ubuntu website acknowledges that antivirus software for Linux exists, but they believe you may not need to worry about viruses or use Linux antivirus because cases of viruses affecting Linux OS are very rare.
A case has been reported in which a popular Linux operating system distro was the victim of a surprise hack. The lone hacker, who goes by the name of “Peace”, said that they maliciously placed a backdoor in hundreds of Linux Mint downloads.
While the hacker claimed their aim was to build a botnet, they ended up duping hundreds of users into downloading the Linux version with the backdoor. A few hundred installations of the Linux Mint distro were under their control, but that’s not where the story ends.
Peace claimed that he stole a whole copy of the Linux Mint site’s forum twice in separate months, well before the hack was confirmed. The hacker went further still, sharing a portion of the forum dump which contained various email addresses, profile photos, birthdates and scrambled passwords.
At the time, there were at least six million Linux Mint users, all of whom were affected when the site went down owing to the surprise attack.
This just goes to show the vulnerability that Linux OS has, even though it doesn’t have as many PC users as Windows and Mac.
For the most part, Linux is virus-free and relatively safe, but as long as your device is connected to the internet, you should prioritize security.
How to Avoid Malware and Viruses on Linux
If you want to be extra-safe when using Linux, here are a few basic rules to protect yourself from those who would seek to steal your data:
Install antivirus software for Linux. Some perennial favorites that work on Linux include Sophos, Comodo and ClamAV. All are free and provide enhanced protection with minimal impact on system performance.
Use a virtual private network (VPN) when online to encrypt all the data you send or receive from servers.
Scan any files you send or receive from people using Windows and Mac computers for viruses.
Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication to secure your endpoints and add extra security, especially for Secure Shell (SSH) connections. For non-administrative users, you can consider enforcing a password rotation policy.
Keep Your Linux System Protected
Regardless of the platform you prefer, every operating system has its strengths, limitations and vulnerabilities. Your network may have a mix of all the major OSs and vulnerabilities, which means you need integrated security software solutions to keep your data safe and secure from cybercriminals.
If you’re an organization, make sure your team follows best security practices and that you have a solid endpoint security with prevention capabilities and automated detection across the board.
Whatever your admins prefer to use, having antivirus for Linux, Windows, Mac or any other system should be a priority.
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