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Editor's Note: Give a Hoot! Don't Pollute!

May 05, 2006, 23:30 (8 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

There's nothing like having a cute doctor with a British accent sticking a needle in your face to get you thinking about desktop security.

But there I was, lying on the exam table while getting a minor procedure done this week, fading out on the doctor's pleasant voice, when suddenly I started contemplating the meaning of anti-virus for Linux.

What can I say? Like my boy Walt Whitman, I am large, I contain multitudes. (Or was it the medication?)

I have touched on this subject before, back in November. My basic premise then (and now) is that the very notion of anti-virus software for Linux is about as necessary as wearing a life jacket around the house to prevent drowning. Sure, you could fall into a tubful of water and die, but in reality, what are the odds of that happening?

Given that my stance on antivirus software for Linux hasn't really changed, why am I bringing it up again? Quite simply it was the recent announcement from Kaspersky Labs that there are, in their estimation, 863 known Linux viruses.

863? Wow. That's a full 105 percent increase from their numbers last year. Surely this is the apocalypse.

What was de-emphasized quite a bit in that same announcement was that Kaspersky found 11,000 new Windows viruses in 2005. Oh, I'm sorry--make that just in the second half of 2005. So, the total number of Linux viruses found ever is just 7.9 percent of the Windows viruses found from July-December of last year. And, in case you're wondering, there are an estimated 114,000 total known Windows viruses, so if I plug in the numbers in Gcalctool... 8, 6, 3, divide... enter... Linux viruses make up 0.76 percent of the total number of Windows viruses.

Time to stock up the bomb shelters? I think not. Because even that 863 number becomes moot when you consider not one of those Linux viruses Kaspersky is referring to are found in the wild. They are all lab viruses only.

Now, when faced with such disparate numbers, even Kaspersky is going to realize how weak their argument is. So, they spin the tale that overly complacent Linux users are going to fall harder when one of these very rare viruses actually gets out into the wild, because we won't think it can happen to us.

While I am the first one to preach against overconfidence in anything, this argument is rather weak for one important fact: many people who are using Linux are likely using it because they are security conscious. For some, this may be their only reason. So to think that such users are going to be complacent if a Linux virus ever gets loose is ridiculous.

Linux users as a whole are very security minded, even if that wasn't what attracted us to Linux in the first place. We're the ones who are setting up the firewalls and spam filters to block all the offal from Windows zombies that hits our networks and boxes. Unconsciously, I believe, we have become the environmentalists of the Internet.

We are cleaning up the trash, running the security sweeps, and trying to preserve the ecosystem of the Internet from such rampantly opportunistic schemes like DRM. Whether we planned this role or not, I firmly believe that at heart most Linux users have a strong sense of environmentalism about the Internet in which they live, work, and play. If environmentalism is too loaded of a word, then perhaps protectionism.

We know full well what viruses can do, because we see our friends and co-workers suffer from them every day. Passively or actively, we get them to try Linux for this very reason--to end their own suffering. Not so they can join the secret penguin club and learn our secret wing-shake oe espouse political slogans. We are trying to clean up the silicon world, one user at a time.

So don't even think about labeling us as complacent. We are very aware of all of the dangers out there, with anti-virus vendors right there on the list of things to avoid.

As harsh as I am about Kaspersky's (and Symantec's and McAfee's) attempts to self-promote their anti-virus products, I have to admit I do find their pronouncements of doom and gloom useful. By serving to statistically and repeatedly remind all computer users just how bad Windows is compared to Linux, they are helping the cause of Linux adoption that much more.

Too bad they may be talking themselves out of a customer base.