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Linux and the (Lack of) Spyware

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 6/11/2010

Linux has many things to offer users, including its distinct lack of spyware. This article covers some of the reasons behind this, and some lingering security issues to consider for your Linux distro.

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    The question crops up every so often on Linux forums by those beginning with open source: where does one acquire anti-spyware software for Linux distros?

    The answer?

    It's not necessary.

    For many users, especially those converting from virus-laced PCs and, yes, even Macs, this may seem downright unbelievable. Protecting the computer from harmful programs comes as second nature to most computer users, often involving buying expensive anti-virus software just to keep the files safe from deletion or corruption on a daily basis. But it's true. On Linux systems, you really don't need to worry that much about spyware, hacking, and most other security issues.

    The beauty behind the open source philosophy of Linux is that no piece of code, for instance malicious ones like viruses or spyware, can really hide. All is made completely transparent. While Windows and other operating systems trust virtually all incoming commands, Linux is based around an environment of untrusted users and networks, making it a much more difficult structure to crack.

    Furthermore, the open nature of the code of the OS itself means that any potential security issues are quickly discovered, discussed, solved, and the fixes distributed through regular updates.

    There is a less than perhaps ideal reason why spyware is less than prevalent as well. The relative scarcity of Linux users means that there's simply less of a market for the companies that profit from spyware and viruses to exploit.

    All of these account for the distinctly pleasant lack of spyware that Linux users enjoy!

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    But just in case...

    All that being said, there is the occasional piece of spyware floating out there to trip up your system. There really isn't much by way of scanning or anti-spyware software, but there are still a few basic things you can do to protect your computer.

    Following safe surfing practices while out and about on the Internet is probably the single best thing you can do to protect your computer from any potential spyware. Be careful on some of the less reputable websites out there, and resist the temptation to press every hyperlink in sight on site. Most importantly, however, do not, repeat, do not use the internet while in root! This makes it incredibly easier for any potential security threat, spyware, hackers, whatever, to get into your system and wreak possibly irreversible harm.

    Non-spyware security threats should also be accounted for: hacking is an occasional issue, as well as unfortunate features of the Internet like phishing and popups. All have their respective fixes within the open source community.

    Though there are precious little in the way of anti-spyware software specific to Linux, there being such a low risk of accruing spyware to begin with, that it's a good idea to check at least occasionally. There are two options here: one can run a program like AVG Anti-Virus, which is specific to Linux, or find PC- or Mac- based anti-spyware software and run it through Wine or some equivalent emulation program. Either way, combined with Linux's inherent lack of spyware and better security, you'll be much safer and more secure than with most other operating systems.