After a nasty computer virus, sys admin looks to Linux

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My first brush with open source came while I was working for my university as a part-time system administrator in 2001. I was part of a small group that created business case studies for teaching not just in the university, but elsewhere in academia.

As the team grew, the need for a robust LAN setup with file serving, intranet applications, domain logons, etc. emerged. Our IT infrastructure consisted mostly of bootstrapped Windows 98 computers that had become too old for the university's IT labs and were reassigned to our department.

Discovering Linux

One day, as part of the university's IT procurement plan, our department received an IBM server. We planned to use it as an Internet gateway, domain controller, file and backup server, and intranet application host.

Upon unboxing, we noticed that it came with Red Hat Linux CDs. No one on our 22-person team (including me) knew anything about Linux. After a few days of research, I met a friend of a friend who did Linux RTOS programming for a living. I asked him for some help installing it.

It was heady stuff as I watched the friend load up the CD drive with the first of the installation CDs and boot into the Anaconda install system. In about an hour we had completed the basic installation, but still had no working internet connection.

Another hour of tinkering got us connected to the Internet, but we still weren't anywhere near domain logons or Internet gateway functionality. After another weekend of tinkering, we were able to instruct our Windows 98 terminals to accept the IP of the the Linux PC as the proxy so that we had a working shared Internet connection. But domain logons were still some time away.

We downloaded Samba over our awfully slow phone modem connection and hand configured it to serve as the domain controller. File services were also enabled via NFS Kernel Server and creating user directories and making the necessary adjustments and configurations on Windows 98 in Network Neighborhood.

This setup ran flawlessly for quite some time, and we eventually decided to get started with Intranet applications for timesheet management and some other things. By this time, I was leaving the organization and had handed over most of the sys admin stuff to someone who replaced me.

A second Linux experience

In 2004, I got into Linux once again. My wife ran an independent staff placement business that used data from services like to connect clients with job seekers.

Being the more computer literate of the two of us, it was my job to set things right with the computer or Internet when things went wrong. We also needed to experiment with a lot of tools for sifting through the mountains of resumes and CVs she had to go through on a daily basis.

Windows BSoDs were a routine affair, but that was tolerable as long as the data we paid for was safe. I had to spend a few hours each week creating backups.

One day, we had a virus that simply would not go away. Little did we know what was happening to the data on the slave disk. When it finally failed, we plugged in the week-old slave backup and it failed a week later. Our second backup simply refused to boot up. It was time for professional help, so we took our PC to a reputable repair shop. After two days, we learned that some malware or virus had wiped certain file types, including our paid data, clean.

This was a body blow to my wife's business plans and meant lost contracts and delayed invoice payments. I had in the interim travelled abroad on business and purchased my first laptop computer from Computex 2004 in Taiwan. It had Windows XP pre-installed, but I wanted to replace it with Linux. I had read that Linux was ready for the desktop and that Mandrake Linux was a good choice. My first attempt at installation went without a glitch. Everything worked beautifully. I used OpenOffice for my writing, presentation, and spreadsheet needs.

We got new hard drives for our computer and installed Mandrake Linux on them. OpenOffice replaced Microsoft Office. We relied on webmail for mailing needs, and Mozilla Firefox was a welcome change in November 2004. My wife saw the benefits immediately, as there were no crashes or virus/malware infections. More importantly, we bade goodbye to the frequent crashes that plagued Windows 98 and XP. She continued to use the same distribution.

I, on the other hand, started playing around with other distributions. I love distro-hopping and trying out new ones every once in a while. I also regularly try and test out web applications like Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress on Apache and NGINX stacks. And now our son, who was born in 2006, grew up on Linux. He's very happy with Tux Paint, Gcompris, and SMPlayer.

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Soumya Sarkar is a senior IT sales enablement professional with a leading Indian IT consulting firm that provides business consulting, information technology, software engineering and outsourcing services. He loves open source and has been as user of Linux and other open source technologies since 2002.


Great story! Thanks for sharing. I too used Mandrake Linux at one point in my journey.

Hello! I have a question about viruses on linux. Since only 2% of desktop users have Linux maybe the guys who make viruses/malware do not target Linux so much. If, for example, Linux was used by 50% of the total users, it would be so secure? I am a new normal user od GNU/Linux, not a programmer/developer. Thank you!

This is a big security topic, but generally speaking you are correct; regardless of OS, security is ultimately up to the administrator of the system (on the home desktop, that's the everyday user).

Of course, none of this changes the fact that it was a virus that prompted the author to investigate other options, and I don't believe the author was suggesting that viruses can't happen on a given OS.

Your 2% estimate is a little off, however. The desktop market is hard to get numbers on for several reasons, but 2% sounds pretty low. Also, the number of servers running Unix and Linux is staggering by comparison, so the insinuation that Linux and Unix are not targets is ignoring a significant install base.

It's enlightening to subscribe to a security vulnerabilities RSS feed, such as to keep tabs on some of the major exploits (it's also interesting that many exploits in closed source systems are never directly revealed to the public, which makes preventing them more difficult even if you're an informed user/admin).

In reply to by Daniel Sorin (not verified)

I'd like to add my two cents to the "Security Debate". Having been a LAN Admin for quite a few years, I can say that security is something that starts with the end user. Doesn't matter how many RSA tokens you dole out, or how many "requirements" you create for passwords, if the user is constantly leaving their password written on a Post-It under their keyboard, then your security measures are Null and Void. If they're constantly complaining that the requirements for passwords are too complex and they keep trying to use easy ones that they'll remember, then your security measures are Null and Void. It isn't so much that Linux the Operating System is more secure, because the same rules apply, if an end-user is still leaving their password out and about because they complain its too hard to remember, or if they're leaving their screens unlocked because the password is too "long" for them and they need to get back to work quickly from their bathroom / smoke / coffee break, then your security is STILL Null and Void. The one thing that Linux has over most other operating systems is the SELinux module, it helps to secure parts of the kernel that other OS'es might not have totally locked up. It's also a great tool for keeping certain users "in their place" and not giving them access to admin credentials. Overall Linux is more secure by the fact that the majority of people who use it "know better" than those who just install McAfee or AVG and let it run WHEN they remember to do it! Most people who use Linux KNOW that their passwords should be complex enough to be hard to crack and easy enough for them to remember, heck, some people use a Password Generator and just use the password given to them! But for the most part, its the "knowledge" of knowing that threats exist everywhere and that you can NEVER be TOO secure that keeps most Linux boxes safe and secure, when you add that knowledge with the SELinux, and the ClamAV, and the fact that some systems run things differently, (not all files live in a "Registry" that can be hacked, but there are different directories, that house the root file system, and the swap partition, and the user's home directory, etc..etc. All in all Linux is the better choice because by the time you're ready to use it?'ve learned enough to keep your system safe. Even if you're not a technical person. I have installed Linux Mint and the like for older folks in my neighborhood, and you should see them when I sometimes stop by for lunch or on my way to pick up my son, they're sitting there waiting for their "System Update" to complete, and they're clicking on the Security Updates, it's a complete contrast to when they were using Windows, they'd get pop ups from McAfee and the first thing they'd do?...IS GO GET THEIR CREDIT CARD because they automatically equated those pop ups with having to "update" their Anti-Virus! in a way...Linux is more safe by the simple fact that the people who use it "Know Better". (Not by a large margin....but the few that DO know better...usually point things out to the others! Sharing their knowledge and helping others to "know better" as well. Ok...I'm done! Sorry for the long winded-ness! LoL!

In reply to by sethkenlon

Although a tad long winded, but points you raised and clarified was good and necessary. As they say security is as good as the weakest link and more often than not its the human element.

In reply to by Eddie G. (not verified)

It doesn't matter. Linux is not going to get any more popular so it is likely to avoid being a target.

In reply to by Daniel Sorin (not verified)

This story is all too similar to many stories that I have heard before. Not a criticism, but an unfortunate fact. Or fortunate, depending on your point of view.

Thanks@RFD to me its a fortunate event that I was introduced to Linux and will never look back.

In reply to by RFD (not verified)

Linux is now the most popular OS on earth. Like the author's opening story your argument is from 2001.

2001 was also the year I switched to Linux.

Every OS has its weak and strong points but I love Linux. Several years ago I had to reinstall Windows 7. I formatted the drive and used a downloaded ISO and my Windows key. My next step had me call a phone number to activate it. What a massive pain. The person couldn't understand me. Windows 8 and 10 were easy to install. My Windows 10 install was hit with malware. I've always dual booted so my Linux install was fine.

Linux is generally safer on-line then Windows. Some of the Windows issues can be avoided by using a non Admin account. Linux installs are faster. Linux updates happen quickly and seamlessly. I don't play game and this is where Windows is better still then Linux. There is no one size fits all distro. OS X is great. Windows 10 is fine. I just like Linux better.

Thanks for sharing this story related to keeping you Linux system safe. Nice topic related to security. Linux malware includes viruses, Trojans, worms and other types of malware that affect the Linux operating system.

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