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War on Error

John E Dunn

Anti-virus pioneer Alan Solomon thinks anti-virus is dead. He uses Linux instead

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Symantec has done a “Gerald Ratner�, quips the great Doctor

Symantec has done a “Gerald Ratner”, quips Britain's other Doctor

British anti-virus pioneer Dr Alan Solomon is so convinced that AV software no longer works that he gave up using it a “long time ago” and solved his security worries by moving from Windows to Linux, the iconic figure has said in a blog.

John McAfee rubbishing the software that still carries his name was one thing but Solomon’s more clinical disassembly of an industry he helped create in the 1990s with Dr Solomon’s highly-regarded Anti-Virus Toolkit (bought by Network Associates in 1998 for $642 million) is more like a well-aimed punch in the solar plexus.

Describing Symantec’s recent declaration that antivirus is “dead” as a “Gerald Ratner” moment [see endnote], Solomon goes on to deliver the coup de grâce.

“I stopped using an antivirus a long time ago, because I couldn't see how it could work in a world where you would need daily updates, which means that each update is tested for ... how long? Not very long, obviously. Because these days, we're looking at around 100,000 new malware samples PER DAY. Or 200,000, depending on who you talk to.”

In the AV industry’s early days in the late 1980s, viruses appeared so infrequently that he’d had telephone conversations with other experts when no new samples appeared for two months, he wrote

“Happy days!,” quips Solomon who then goes on to use the ‘L’ word.

“Instead, I switched to Linux. There doesn't seem to be much malware for Linux. I don't know why. Some say it's because Linux's security is better, some say it's because fewer people use it. I'm not really bothered.”

It’s not a radical idea at all. Noticing that Linux malware is rarer than a sighting of Lord Lucan, he did what a lot of other power users have done and started running Linux as his desktop. (People use similar arguments for switching to Google’s Linux-derived Chromebooks but we digress.)

Significantly, a key moment arrived after he visited The Register website a decade ago where he believed he was hit with an iframe attack from one of its advertising partners. With his anti-virus software presumably mute and his faith shaken, Solomon ended up re-formatting his hard drive.

“And then I thought, I won't reinstall Windows, I'll go 100% Linux. And I did, and it worked, and I haven't had any trouble since then.”

So Symantec’s Brian Dye has a point when he says anti-virus is “dead”, it’s just that industry insiders realised this a long time ago. Time for businesses to look more carefully at those license renewals?

Endnote: Gerald Ratner was a self-made British jewellery businessman who joked that the goods his firm sold were “total crap” in a 1991 speech and promptly saw its sales and company value collapse. He resigned a year later. His views on anti-virus software are not known.


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