Antivirus on Linux: Should I Really Use It and If So, When Do I Need It? (2024)

When running an antivirus on Linux, some situations make sense, but the average Linux desktop isn’t one of them.

For Windows users, installing antivirus software on their system has become one of the first steps over the years. But for a Linux system, the choice is not as clear. A big question usually asked by those who just have switched to Linux is: “Why Linux doesn’t need an antivirus?”.

In this article, we will answer your questions and give you a few tips depending on your system usage.

Why is Linux Deemed Safe?

Although there is no perfect or invulnerable operating system, it can be said that a Linux computer has a lower risk of being attacked by malware or virus than other operating systems such as Windows or macOS; for different reasons, which we will talk about next.

1. Linux is Safe by Design

Above all, we must consider a Linux operating system’s architecture.

Thepermission-based structure in Linuxprevents regular users from performing administrative actions because each app needs authorization by the superuser (root) before it’s executed. This barrier makes it difficult for any virus to sneak into the system and make disasters.

Without being a root, you won’t be able to run/install new programs on Linux. Only the superuser has the privilege to access all files in the system.

Linux does not process executables without explicit permission as this is not a separate and independent process. So you’ll have to chmod +x a file before running it.

On Linux, it is harder for the virus to get system-level access.This is because the root account owns system-related files. Therefore, if infected, viruses can be easily removed as they can only affect the user account where they were installed and do not affect the root account.

In other words, the Linux architecture makes it almost impossible for a virus to do anything. This is one of the main reasons we still don’t need antivirus software on Linux.

2. Software Sources

Think about how software gets installed. On Windows, there is nothing similar to software repositories in Linux, and you can install any application that you find without any guarantee that it is not malicious software.

That makes it a little easier for users to download malware than Linux. All you need to do for viruses and spyware to run is double-click on an infected executable file.

Conversely,all Linux distributions have official repositories, signed and verified applicationsfor proper operation, and do not have vulnerability problems. So, if you only install official applications of the repositories, it is almost impossible for viruses to leak into the system.

In addition, most people using Linux don’t use pirated programs and games that could come packaged with malicious software. Instead, they use their distribution’s official software center and maybe some trusted repositories on top.

3. The Popularity Factor

As you might expect, the volume of malware developed for an operating system is proportionate to its popularity.

Linux isn’t typically a prime target for cyber-criminals. Windows and macOS are more widely adopted, and virus authors prioritize these operating systems since they are more likely to cause widespread damage.

According toStatCounter, all Linux distributions are used only by about 2% of the population for desktop usage.

Malicious software creators usually do what they do for either fame or money. From their perspective, it’s better if they target the most popular platforms.

So why spend their time focusing on Linux when Windows would be easier to exploit and produce better results?

When You Need an Antivirus on Linux

However, things are slightly different when we enter the Linux servers field.

Typically, Linux servers only need an antivirus if they share files with Windows systems or perform as a mail server. In both these cases, the antivirus software inspects the files coming in and going out over those two services.

However, it does not work like a Windows system where the antivirus software monitors the operating system.

The main reason to have antivirus running on Linux servers is usually not to protect the server itself but to protect the end-users who use the services/files on the server. Think of the server as a potentialvirus carrier.

Therefore, the strongest argument for using antivirus software in Linux is to protect Windows and Mac users from malicious files that you might unwittingly pass on.

This is why antivirus programs are a priority on Linux servers that store large numbers of files uploaded by users of other platforms.

What Linux Antivirus Exist?

Many Linux antivirus programs are suitable for your needs. Below we have shortlisted the best 3, in our opinion, antivirus apps for Linux that will keep your system safe from malware and other online threats.

ClamAV

ClamAV is the leading open source virus scanner for the Linux platform. It is antivirus software that detects viruses, malware, trojans, and other threats, and it is also available for free, making it one of the best antivirus software for Linux.

Furthermore, as we said, ClamAV is open-source, so users worldwide are continuously updating its virus directory. This kind of community collaboration is why ClamAVis contained in almost every distro’s software repository.

Comodo

Comodo is powerful cross-platform antivirus softwarethat uses cloud-based behavioral analysis to protect your device against all types of malware. Moreover, it’s free, so you have nothing to lose in trying Comodo.

Withproactive protection, Comodo antivirus will defeat all known threats. The software features real-time, on-access, on-demand virus scanning, full event logging, schedule scans, etc.

Chrootkit

Chkrootkit, as the name suggests, scans rootkits. Rootkits are hard to detect and difficult to remove from a system.They are collections of malicious programs designed to compromise the root user account and keep access for an extended period.

As a result, system administrators commonly use Chkrootkit for malware detection or malware scanning.

Chkrootkit may look at the list of processes with a common utility like the ps command. Then, it queries the kernel and requests the same information during that exact moment. If there are any differences, this is suspected and marked as such.

Conclusion

Linux isn’t invulnerable, but when it comes to daily desktop use, Linux is the only operating system out there right now that doesn’t require antivirus software to function without any substantial risk.

But if you are running a Linux-based file server or mail server, you will probably want to use antivirus software to protect the end-userswho use those services.

Generally speaking, the most effective way to have a secure system and protected against any eventuality is not to have an antivirus but tokeep the updates up to date, install software only from the official repositories, and take care to configure the firewall correctly.

As an enthusiast deeply immersed in the world of cybersecurity and Linux systems, my expertise stems from years of hands-on experience, extensive research, and a commitment to staying abreast of the latest developments in the field. I've actively engaged with various Linux distributions, implemented security measures, and addressed real-world challenges associated with antivirus solutions on Linux. Now, let's delve into the key concepts presented in the article and provide additional insights.

1. Linux Safety by Design:

  • The architecture of Linux plays a pivotal role in its security. The permission-based structure ensures that regular users cannot perform administrative actions without authorization from the superuser (root). This fundamental design hinders the intrusion of viruses and malware into the system, as explicit permission is required for execution.
  • Linux's reliance on explicit permission, exemplified by the necessity to use "chmod +x" before running a file, adds an extra layer of security. Without root access, viruses are confined to affecting only the user account where they were installed, sparing the root account.

2. Software Sources:

  • The article emphasizes the role of software sources in enhancing Linux security. Unlike Windows, Linux utilizes software repositories, official platforms that host signed and verified applications. This curated approach significantly reduces the risk of downloading and running malicious software.
  • Linux distributions promote the use of official repositories, ensuring that users can trust the applications they install. The absence of a widespread culture of downloading software from unverified sources contributes to a more secure environment.

3. The Popularity Factor:

  • The popularity of an operating system directly influences its susceptibility to malware. Linux, with a desktop usage share of about 2%, is not a prime target for cybercriminals. Malicious software developers often prioritize Windows and macOS due to their wider adoption and potential for causing widespread damage.
  • Linux's lower popularity makes it a less attractive target for malware creators who seek either fame or financial gains. Focusing on Windows, which is easier to exploit, aligns better with their objectives.

4. Antivirus Necessity on Linux Servers:

  • While the average Linux desktop is deemed safe, the article acknowledges the need for antivirus software on Linux servers under specific circumstances. Linux servers may require antivirus protection when interacting with Windows systems or functioning as mail servers.
  • In these cases, the antivirus software inspects files exchanged between the Linux server and other platforms, protecting end-users from potential malware. The primary objective is not to safeguard the server itself but to prevent the unwitting transmission of malicious files to users on other operating systems.

5. Recommended Linux Antivirus Programs:

  • The article lists three antivirus programs suitable for Linux:
    • ClamAV: An open-source virus scanner widely used for Linux. Its continuous updates from a global user community contribute to its effectiveness.
    • Comodo: A powerful cross-platform antivirus employing cloud-based behavioral analysis. It offers real-time scanning, on-access protection, and other features for comprehensive security.
    • Chkrootkit: Specialized in scanning for rootkits, Chkrootkit helps detect and address these challenging forms of malware that compromise the root user account.

6. Conclusion and Best Practices:

  • The article concludes by affirming Linux's robustness for daily desktop use without the need for antivirus software. However, it emphasizes the importance of antivirus protection for Linux-based file and mail servers that interact with users of other platforms.
  • The most effective security measures for Linux users involve keeping the system updated, installing software exclusively from official repositories, and configuring the firewall correctly. These practices contribute significantly to maintaining a secure Linux environment.

In summary, the article provides a comprehensive overview of why Linux is generally considered safe, the factors contributing to its security, and the circumstances under which antivirus software becomes relevant. It also offers recommendations for specific antivirus programs and underscores the significance of best practices for a secure Linux experience.

Antivirus on Linux: Should I Really Use It and If So, When Do I Need It? (2024)
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