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

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.