Does a Linux user need antivirus software? Not really: infecting a Linux machine is pretty hard to do. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good reasons to have scanning software around, though.
If you insert your thumb drive regularly into Windows computers, for example, it might be infected, meaning you’re spreading malware with it and not even knowing it (see: Stuxnet). Antivirus software for Linux gives you a quick way to check your drives without any risk of infecting yet another Windows machine.
It’s also a great tool to have around if you regularly help your Windows-bound friends and family recover from viruses. Remove their hard drive and plug it into your computer, or just use your Linux machine to clean their external drives.
Most Linux antivirus software focuses on removing Windows viruses, and function as one-time-scan tools rather than the Windows-style, sit-in-your-tray-and-protect-you products that’s common in Windowsland. Such software is not essential for Linux users, but is pretty handy.
Oh, by the way: if you’re looking for Windows anti-virus software, you will want to read the ten best free antivirus programs that we previously published.
Avast, the anti-virus program I previously decided has the coolest name for an anti-virus program, also sports a pretty great Linux GUI. As you can see it looks right at home on my Ubuntu desktop. This makes it easy to update defintions and scan the folders of your choice.
It’s also really easy to install Avast for Linux. Just download your package of choice (rpm, deb and tar.gz), then register for a free year of Avast usage. If you don’t register, you won’t be able to use the program:
Happily, registering gives you one year of free non-commercial usage, so you won’t need to do this frequently. And you’ll have access to a sleak GUI and all of the definitions Avast has to offer.
This is one of my favorites. BitDefender frequently finds, for me, viruses that other scanners miss. Being able to use it from Linux is a big plus.
Finding it for Linux isn’t straightforward, though. You need to head over to the BitDefender for Unices page, then click the “evaluation version” button. You’ll be given a form to fill in, and when you’re done you’ll get a license valid for one month and a link to downloads.
The downloads look like this:
Find your platform and package of choice (ignoring, for now, the “.run” file extension) and download it (right-click and click “save as“, or your browser might try to open the entire file as a text document.) Change the permissions of the file to allow it to be executed. If you don’t know how to do this, the simplest way is to right-click it, click “Properties,” open the permissions tab, then click “allow executing.”
Finally, open your command line. Browse to the folder with the file, then type “sudo ./[filename]“, where [filename] is the name of the BitDefender version you downloaded. You’ll need to read an EULA before BitDefender will finally install (mercifully, using the package manager of your choice).
Why you need to go through all of that I don’t know, but it’s worth it. You now have access to a complete version of BitDefender. You can scan any file, update with the click of a button and much more. The graphical interface is identical to that of the BitDefender Live CD.
The free license lasts for only 30 days, but you can apply for another one if you need to.
Completely open source, ClamAV is probably the most famous Linux anti-virus. Using it requires some command line knowledge, but there is a basic GUI for running scans:
Installing ClamAV is simple; it’s in the repositories of most Linux distributions. Install the “clamtk” package and you’ll get the above GUI and you’ll have everything you need; or, if you’re an Ubuntu user, simply click here to download ClamAV.
Once you’ve installed ClamAV, fire up your terminal and run “sudo freshclam“. This will update ClamAV’s virus definitions for you.
Now you simply need to run clamtk. Fire it up from the command line, or find the program called “Virus Scanner” in the “Accessories” section of the menu. Use the GUI to scan any folder, or your entire system. Or, if you prefer, use “clamscan” from the command line. Either way you’ve got some quality, free anti-virus protection.
Those familiar with AVG’s Windows interface will be disappointed: AVG for Linux has no GUI. This command line scanner does offer the same virus definitions of AVG’s famous Windows program, though.
You can easily download AVG for Linux. You’ll find packages for every major distro, including .deb and .rpm files.
Using the program is straightforward. First you need to start the AVG daemon: run “sudo avgctl –start“. Then you can use “sudo avgupdate” to update the software, and “avgscan” to scan a given file.
There’s not a whole lot else to say about this one, although I hope AVG releases a Linux GUI again soon (previous versions offered one).
These four programs all offer Linux users a way to scan for Windows viruses, and the occasional Linux one as well. If you regularly help your friends and family out with IT stuff I recommend you install at least one such program, to keep it on hand.
Can you think of any other Linux anti-virus programs? What do you think of the ones outlined? Let me know in the comments below, along with any questions you might have about the above products.