Viral ethics for Linux users

A little while ago I found a very intelligent, well presented argument discussing the responsibility of Linux users to install antivirus software.

No, I’m not talking about Linux getting a virus; that is one worry I hardly ever consider. I’m talking about Linux machines acting as intermediaries — carriers, to follow the virus analogy — between Windows machines, and possibly passing contaminated files between them.

This is not something I regularly consider, but to be honest, I probably should, since I sometimes forward files to other family members. Mom is the least of my worries, since she runs Hardy on an Ubuntu-preinstalled Dell laptop.

The others are not so … lucky. Two family members steadfastly refuse to use Linux; one of them is savvy enough to take the precautions to avoid virus/malware problems, but the other is not so much a technophile, and is therefore at greater risk.

So do I shoulder some of the responsibility if I pass a file to one of them, and it proves to be infectious? Should I be taking the time to make sure my machine is not a vector for technological disease?

The best rationalization of the issue (that I have read, anyway) is here. That post makes me realize two things.

First, that an unprotected Windows box (or for that matter, a protected Windows box facing a previously unseen threat) is not something I can defend to any degree. Even if my family members were foolish enough to connect directly to the Internet, run without anti-virus/anti-malware, accept incoming traffic, etc. — and they’re not — there’s very little that my efforts can do to prevent, as the post says, the inevitable. Any machine infected by a document forwarded by me has already stepped out in front of that bus, so to speak. 🙄

And second, it’s not my problem. I admit, that’s a very laissez-faire attitude, but from my perspective it’s true. Part of the reason I use Linux is freedom from antivirus crap (which I mentally categorize under “reduced system load on older hardware,” as if that mattered 🙄 ), and since it is a result of my conscious choice, I have the right to ignore that deficit in other operating systems. My family members have that same choice — they might believe they don’t — but choose otherwise.

So no, I see no need to worry about transferring files that may or may not pose a threat to relatives who use Windows. That danger is the consequence of their insistence on using a flawed product, and so it becomes their responsibility to compensate for that flaw. It is not mine.

Of course, I’ll be singing a different tune if I get an e-mail crying for help, and something I sent is a culprit. 😯 😳


7 thoughts on “Viral ethics for Linux users

  1. ubuntucat

    I found that post’s argument compelling as well. I’ve generally found having anti-virus installed ineffective for careless users, anyway, since they click on anything and run as administrator all the time, not to mention what dealing with false positives does to the anti-virus approach…

    For XP-using family members, I’d recommend SuRun, as it sets up a sudo-like permissions system that allows a user to be a limited user almost all the time and then temporarily escalate privileges (after password authentication) for Windows Updates and software installation.

  2. Shamil

    The most you can do with windows is add a good firewall and good antivirus. Clamwin (windows port of clamav) setup with a scan schedule and to automatically clear out viruses, combined with zonealarm firewall is a good combination. There’s no need to worry about viruses so much because once a week they get deleted from the hard drive or quarantined with clamwin. Zonealarm makes the user more cautious because it even notifies when it keeps other people out of the computer as well as certain apps requesting access to the net with a simple “allow” or “deny” feature. Pretty fast a good acl will get set in place for apps in use on a windows machine while clamwin wipes out any malware once a week or more scanning (depending on scanning preference) in the background.

    This is the best way i’ve found for stupid users to not need to worry about security so much except ocasionally the firewall asking if a program needs access to the net, of which you can just click “allow” and tick the “remember setting” box.

    I don’t have to worry about malware, users of other operating systems shouldn’t need to either, the best thing for windows losers is to get a good acl in place for a firewall and automate antivirus (which clamwin is great at).

  3. Mikko

    In my opinion this attitude (“If it does not hurt me, why should I care about others?)” is just irresponsible. It is just like “I am driving a safe Volvo, why should I care about other people on the streets, if I am safe while drinking and driving?”.

  4. empty_tank

    Microsoft and Apple and their users (Windows and Mac users) don’t care about linux users getting infected with viruses and malware. You just have to read the features of various available antivirus software for their systems. If these proprietary OSes couldn’t care less about preventing infections of linux systems, then why should linux users care if windows or mac systems are infected.

  5. Christopher

    I would think this would depend on what kind of content you regularly forward. If you are constantly forwarding stupid chain-emails, pornography, spam, and that sort of thing, then you might take some measures to scan your e-mails before you send them out.

    It is different if you are just sending typical content from trusted sources (e.g., family photo jpegs). In this case, the chances of you actually sending something that can damage someone’s computer is so small, that it is unreasonable for you to be expected to install and configure special software.

    So, in my opinion, it is ethically sufficient for us to simply make intelligent, careful decisions about what we send and forward to other people.

  6. Tony

    I think we are all affected by virus’s one way or another. I help family and friends with their computers whether or not it is a Linux system or Windows system. I’ve been blessed over the years and if somebody is in need of my help, I gladly give it(and that includes removing a virus).

    On my Linux box I run Firestarter and ClamAV. If for no other reason but to make sure I don’t pass something nasty to other systems. Also, if there is a one in a million chance that a virus catered to Linux will attack somebody – that somebody will more than likely be me…?

    On one recent Windows box I cleaned between 100-200 virus’s and other threats from one 2 year old system. 4 teenagers took turns using the computer almost 24-hours a day / 7 days a week. I helped their mother and told her the problems as well as the “type” of sites her teenagers were visiting and she cancelled internet access for home.


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