Linux users get virus protection

Antivirus vendors like Trend Micro Inc. have recently introduced virus protection software for Linux, but some users of the open source operating system say these measures are unnecessary.

This quarter, Trend Micro will be making available its InterScan VirusWall gateway virus protection and content filtering software for Red Hat, SuSE and Turbo Linux distributions in addition to WindowsNT, Solaris and HP-UX.

The software helps stop viruses before they can spread to the desktop by scanning and protecting viruses and malicious code travelling in hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) and file transfer protocol (FTP) traffic that arrives at the Internet gateway.

In addition, InterScan eManager v3.6 provides content filtering and spam blocking capabilities to the company network. It can also be used to identify and block potentially harmful messages and file attachments during a virus attack.

Another company, Hewlett-Packard, provides the Praesidium Intrusion Detection System/9000 to alarm and protect Unix systems.

Sheridan Lee, country marketing manager, business customer sales organization, HP Singapore said: “If firewalls are fences with gates to let authorized personnel in, intrusion detection is the video surveillance and burglar alarm systems that are set off when someone scales the fence and is now within the firewall area.”

Since Linux is growing more popular with organizations as a simple-to-use open-source operating system, it could become more susceptible to virus attacks, said Trend Micro.

According to International Data Corp. (IDC), Linux has become the second-most popular server platform deployed to support Internet-related applications such as e-mail and Web hosting. IDC estimates that shipments for the Linux operating environment will experience a compound annual growth rate of more than 20 per cent to 2004.

However, Harish Pillay, president, Linux Users’ Group (Singapore), feels that Linux and Unix-like operating systems are less vulnerable to viruses.

“Someone who writes a virus that is targeted at the Linux user has to make more assumptions – first, that the user who receives it as an e-mail attachment reads e-mail as root. Second, that the user will automatically execute whatever that is sent,” he said.

“In the Linux or Unix worlds, attachments, for example, are not executable even if the attachment is an executable file in the first place. In this case, the receiver has to explicitly grant execution permission to the attachment before it can be run,” he added.

However, Isaac Lim, regional business development manager, Trend Micro, noted that even though Linux on its own does not face major virus threats now and Linux servers may not get infected, they can be carriers to viruses, if companies use them as servers for Windows or NT.

Still, Pillay believes there are other options for Linux users. If a Linux operating system does get attacked, as an open-source operating system, it would be a simple case of alerting the worldwide Linux community to “right” the problem, he said.