Antivirus tools in Debian and Ubuntu

Posted: November 30, 2009 in Debian

There are not many anti-virus tools included with Debian GNU/Linux, probably because GNU/Linux users are not plagued by viruses.

The Unix security model makes a distinction between privileged (root) processes and user-owned processes, therefore a “hostile” executable that a non-root user receives or creates and then executes cannot “infect” or otherwise manipulate the whole system.

However, GNU/Linux worms and viruses do exist, although there has not (yet, hopefully) been any that has spread in the wild over any Debian distribution. In any case, administrators might want to build up anti-virus gateways that protect against viruses arising on other, more vulnerable systems in their network.

Debian GNU/Linux currently provides the following tools for building antivirus environments:

  • Clam Antivirus, provided since Debian sarge (3.1 release). Packages are provided both for the virus scanner (clamav) for the scanner daemon (clamav-daemon) and for the data files needed for the scanner. Since keeping an antivirus up-to-date is critical for it to work properly there are two different ways to get this data: clamav-freshclam provides a way to update the database through the Internet automatically and clamav-data which provides the data files directly.
  • mailscanner an e-mail gateway virus scanner and spam detector. Using sendmail or exim as its basis, it can use more than 17 different virus scanning engines (including clamav).
  • libfile-scan-perl which provides File::Scan, a Perl extension for scanning files for viruses. This modules can be used to make platform independent virus scanners.
  • Amavis Next Generation, provided in the package amavis-ng and available in sarge, which is a mail virus scanner which integrates with different MTA (Exim, Sendmail, Postfix, or Qmail) and supports over 15 virus scanning engines (including clamav, File::Scan and openantivirus).
  • sanitizer, a tool that uses the procmail package, which can scan email attachments for viruses, block attachments based on their filenames, and more.
  • amavis-postfix, a script that provides an interface from a mail transport agent to one or more commercial virus scanners (this package is built with support for the postfix MTA only).
  • exiscan, an e-mail virus scanner written in Perl that works with Exim.
  • blackhole-qmail a spam filter for Qmail with built-in support for Clamav.

Some gateway daemons support already tools extensions to build antivirus environments including exim4-daemon-heavy (the heavy version of the Exim MTA), frox (a transparent caching ftp proxy server), messagewall (an SMTP proxy daemon) and pop3vscan (a transparent POP3 proxy).

Debian currently provide clamav as the only antivirus scanning software in the main official distribution and it also provides multiple interfaces to build gateways with antivirus capabilities for different protocols.

Some other free software antivirus projects which might be included in future Debian GNU/Linux releases:

FIXME: Is there a package that provides a script to download the latest virus signatures from

FIXME: Check if scannerdaemon is the same as the open antivirus scanner daemon (read ITPs).

However, Debian will never provide propietary (non-free and undistributable) antivirus software such as: Panda Antivirus, NAI Netshield, Sophos SweepTrendMicro Interscan, or RAV. For more pointers see the Linux antivirus software mini-FAQ. This does not mean that this software cannot be installed properly in a Debian system


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