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Protecting against the elusive Linux virus

Estimates vary, but generally it is believed that there are 100 to 500 Linux viruses out there. The tiny number of Linux viruses that do exist have never resulted in a significant outbreak. In comparison to the plethora of viruses and worms in Windows-based platforms, the volume of Linux viruses is insignificant. So this leads us to two questions: why are there so few Linux viruses and are Linux anti-virus tools necessary?

The answer to the first question has a lot to do with the differences between Linux and Windows desktops. Linux hosts are an unwelcoming environment for a virus because the multi-user access controlled model makes traditional virus propagation methods problematic.

Let's look at an example:

Virus attacks often start with the victim receiving an email containing a malicious attachment. If the user attempts to execute the attachment on a Windows platform, it will run if it has a suitable file extension, appropriate executable content or configured to be executed by association with a particular application. Even worse, some clever Windows-based viruses don't even require the user to execute the attachment. Viruses can be activated by merely reading the email containing it. As users of many Windows-based hosts, especially Windows XP, are also running with local administration rights, the virus may potentially infect and subvert the entire host.

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