When a seasoned Windows user first migrates to Linux, the first question is always “where is the anti-virus?” I have been asked this question countless time and were always given the “you are lying to me” kind of look when I told them that they don’t need anti-virus software in Linux.
Over the decade where computer viruses have become so rampant, it is to no surprise that many people are treating Windows and anti-virus software as one unit; and that one cannot live without the other. This is deeply imprinted in people’s mind and I suspect that if one day, they were to live without anti-virus software, they will have nightmares.
Back to the issue about anti-virus software in Linux: when I say that Linux don’t need anti-virus software, I don’t mean that it is completely safe from virus attack. In fact, anyone who say that Linux is completely safe from virus attack is saying a big fat lie. No operating system is completely safe from virus attack, and you can be sure that the salesman who is trying to sell you the EeePC is lying to you when he says that there is no virus for Linux. What I am trying to bring across is that: it is much more difficult for a virus to infect a Linux machine, even without anti-virus software. Let’s see why is this so…
By default, Linux does not grant its users root privilege. Users who are installing applications or making amendment to the filesystem need to provide the root password, of which failure to do so will render the installation process useless. Similarly, for a virus to create havoc and cause a system-wide destruction, it needs to has root privilege, which can only be granted by the user. As long as the user is careful about what he or she installs and do not grant executable permission to untrusted program from unverified sources, there is little risk of getting infected by virus. Without root permission, the best the virus could do is to infect the Home folder and wipe out all the data in it. Your system won’t hurt a bit.
Do I still need anti-virus software?
You will definitely need an anti-virus software if you are setting up a file server with your machine. In situation where you are running Samba or NFS servers, there is a possibility that the virus residing on your machine can infect the Windows PC in your network. In cases where you might have documents in undocumented, vulnerable Microsoft formats, such as Word and Excel, that contain viruses, you definitely want to eradicate them before you share the documents with your counterparts that are running Windows. Having an anti-virus software at check can definitely reduce the chance of your Linux machine becoming a virus propagator.
While Linux provides you with a pretty secure environment, it can only do so much. You still have to play your part to filter out the bad from the good and make sure that none of the viruses get into your system. With due diligence, I am sure that you can have a peaceful night without any virus scare.