Debunking the Linux Virus Myth

Posted by Cypress on Jul 16, 2008 7:33 PM EDT; By Scris de Cypress
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Linux and UNIX-like operating systems in general are regarded as being more secure for the common user, in contrast with operating systems that have "Windows" as part of their name. Why is that? When entering a dispute on the subject with a Windows user, the most common argument he tries to feed me is that Windows is more widespread, and therefore, more vulnerable. Apart from amusing myths like "Linux is only for servers" or "does it have a word processor?", the issue of Linux desktop security is still seriously misunderstood.

There are numerous reasons why a Linux PC is more secure from malicious software than a Windows PC. The most obvious is the way a user interacts with his operating system. Virus and worm writers make heavy use of social engineering to trick users into opening a file. One day you receive an attachment disguised as an image that promises you a heaven of naked movie stars, and without thinking twice, you click and open. No image there, but your antivirus may or may not go berserk in flashes of red. Linux users teach themselves to be more careful and we know better than to log in as root for simple daily tasks.

A Linux virus is doomed from early conception and there's a rough jungle awaiting. For an ELF binary file to get infected by a virus, the malicious program has to first get write access to other binaries. Prior to that, it must somehow disguise itself. Binary-only applications are so rare in the Linux world that any software not designed by a major developing firm is subject to inquiry. After a day in the wild, someone will figure out the binary file hides something else and the element of surprise will be gone. We're used to having the source code at our disposal. Try hiding a malicious code in plain text...

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