Antivirus on Linux: Should I Really Use it and if So, When Do I Need it?

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

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.

The permission-based structure in Linux prevents 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 applications for 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 to StatCounter, 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 potential virus 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 ClamAV is contained in almost every distro’s software repository.

Comodo

Comodo is powerful cross-platform antivirus software that 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.

With proactive 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-users who 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 to keep the updates up to date, install software only from the official repositories, and take care to configure the firewall correctly.

7 Comments

  1. “Linux is the only operating system out there right now that doesn’t require an antivirus software to function without any substantial risk.”
    What about BSD distributions?n (Maybe Mac excluded)
    Antivirus is also useful when using Wine apps.

    • You are definitely right!

      I apologize for missing that information and appreciate the point made about Sophos Antivirus.

      The article has been edited. Once again, thank you!

  2. Most of the “safe by design” items are true for Win10 too. Win10 has a modern kernel, modern filesystems, modern permissions. On both Linux and Win10, a user can install a new app for their own use without needing root permissions. Both systems have operations where you must escalate to root/admin to do the operation.

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