Why Linux Needs Malware Protection

“This is very embarrassing.” So began a post by the developers of UnrealIRCd server after finding that their software was infected with a Trojan. Another example of why enterprises should consider the safe haven of Linux? Just the opposite: The Trojan infected only the Linux version of the server software, but its Windows counterpart was clean.

Although Linux malware is relatively rare compared to attacks on Windows, it exists, and it’s steadily increasing. In fact, as far back as 2005, the amount of known Linux malware had already doubled over the course of a year to 863 programs. As Linux’s popularity grows among consumers and enterprises, so does its attractiveness to hackers.

In the process, the strategy of security by obscurity becomes less viable. So far, Linux servers appear to be targeted more frequently than Linux PCs partly because there’s a larger installed base. The risks aren’t limited to servers and desktops, either. One recent example is Backdoor.Linux.Foncy.a, which attacks smartphones running the Linux-based Android operating system. Kapersky Lab calls Backdoor.Linux.Foncy.a “the most striking example of a malicious program used by cybercriminals to remotely control an infected device by sending a variety of commands.”

In a sense, Linux malware today is like mobile malware circa 2002: Many businesses, consumers and analysts scoffed at warnings simply because attacks were so few and far between. But as the attacks mount, so does the need for a strategy that’s more robust than simply betting that the odds are in your favor.

Developing a Security Strategy
The good news is that many successful strategies from the Windows world are applicable to Linux.

1. Think twice about downloading free software and content even when it, the source or both appear innocuous. Ignoring that advice has facilitated hacks such as screensavers that use Ubuntu PCs for distributed denial-of-service attacks. Backdoor.Linux.Foncy.a passed itself off as the “Madden NFL 12” game.

2. Run a Windows antivirus program. Because Linux PCs are still a minority, there’s a good chance that a file is headed for a Windows machine. Windows antivirus software minimizes the chances that the Linux PC or server will facilitate malware’s spread.

3. Borrow from Ronald Reagan: Trust, but verify. For example, many Linux users trust Ubuntu’s Personal Package Archives. The potential catch is that although there’s a code of conduct, there’s no guarantee that a secretly malicious signatory won’t leverage that trust. Verification could include using only entities that have proven themselves to be trustworthy, or inspecting the files in a package for anything suspicious before installation.

There’s also a growing selection of books and Web tutorials for developing an enterprise Linux security strategy. For example, CyberCiti.biz advises: “Most Linux distro began enabling IPv6 protocol by default. Crackers can send bad traffic via IPv6 as most admins are not monitoring it. Unless network configuration requires it, disable IPv6 or configure Linux IPv6 firewall.”

4. Explore vendors offering Linux security services and products. There’s a good reason why they’re worth paying attention to: They wouldn’t have those lines of business if there weren’t enough threats already out there.

5. Don't let managers and other supervisors blindly sign off on the wireless portion of expense reports. This advice is as low-tech as it gets, but it's also highly effective -- not just for Android malware, but types that target all other mobile OSs, too. Although a lot of malware is designed to harvest credit card numbers and other personal information, Backdoor.Linux.Foncy.a is an example of the types that send messages to premium-rate text message and other data services. By simply questioning why an expense report has an unusually high wireless bill that month, you could catch an infected smartphone before it has several months or more to incur unnecessary charges. In the case of Backdoor.Linux.Foncy.a, only about 2,000 Android phones were infected, but that was enough for the hackers -- later arrested -- to run up an estimated 100,000 Euros in unauthorized charges.

Under the Hood: A Look Inside the Ultrabook

Mobile devices have been transforming the world of computing. Smartphones, tablets, e-readers and netbooks have revolutionized the way people communicate and interact with each other, buy things, shoot video, make music and play games. Perhaps most important, mobile devices are changing the way people work.

Consumers’ expectations have risen with this proliferation of mobile technologies. Fast, reliable access to the Internet and location-aware services on smartphones and tablets has upped the ante: People expect instant gratification without barriers. Who wants to wait for their mobile device to turn on, or spend a lot of time learning a complex user interface? Smooth computing experiences in 2012 require always-on connectivity and application responsiveness.

Combining Mobility and Power
Recognizing this sea of change, a new line of mobile devices -- Ultrabooks -- was unveiled last year at Computex in Taiwan. According to the announcement, Ultrabooks “would operate more like smartphones -- wake up in a flash, combine responsiveness with performance, offer a seamless and compelling experience and be sleek and less than an inch thick.”

Ultrabook devices extend and enhance the practical applications of smartphones and tablets by combining portability with the technology that’s typically associated with high-performance laptops -- second-generation processors and a 64-bit OS. Toss in accelerometers, a gyroscope and other sensor technologies and wrap it all in a sleek, thin, lightweight case with an equally attractive price tag, and you’ve got a recipe for what manufacturers hope is the next big thing in mobile computing.

“Developers that were strictly building PC applications will now have a platform that’s more mobile than a typical laptop and have technologies and sensors they previously could not access,” says Tom Deckowski, a developer marketing manager for Intel [disclosure: Intel is the sponsor of this content]. “On the flip side, mobile app developers who were focused on creating apps for small-footprint devices that didn’t take a lot of CPU performance will now have access to CPU and graphics performance they never had before, without losing access to the sensors. There’s something new in the Ultrabook device for both PC and mobile app developers alike.”

The Details
Ultrabook devices have three primary technologies that help them perform responsively:

  • Fast start-up ensures that it will take less than seven seconds to get the system up and fully functioning from hibernation, saving time and battery charge. In some Ultrabook devices, a portion of the system’s hard drive is reserved for caching information about the operating system and application state, providing users with a mobile experience that’s highly responsive.
  • Fast response using a solid-state drive (SSD) or SSD-hybrid as a cache between a hard drive and its memory without the use of an additional drive partition, makes application launch times faster.

  • Continuous updates allow applications on some models to continue receiving data updates even while the system is in hibernate or sleep mode. This can be used for all kinds of things; for game developers, they can push game updates to MMORPG players while they’re away from their Ultrabook, instead of spending time downloading updates before they can continue playing the game.

Device security is provided via new identity protection tools that are embedded in the BIOS/firmware of the devices. While no system is immune to theft or loss, these identity protection measures can detect theft or loss and disable the system. When the Ultrabook is recovered, the software can reactivate it with no loss of data.

Another crucial feature is extended battery life. Ultrabook devices are based on low-voltage processors that offer a minimum battery life of five hours, and up to eight hours or more on some systems.

The first Utrabook devices, including the Acer Aspire S3, the ASUS ZENBOOK, HP Folio, Lenovo IdeaPad U300 and Toshiba Portege Z830 Series, are hitting shelves now. They all weigh in at 3 pounds or less, are paper thin and feature air-cooled keyboards, HDMI connectors for hooking up to a TV set and USB 3.0 connectors. Storage options include SSDs and hard drives of various sizes.

Photo: Getty Images

Where Do Ultrabook Devices Fit In?

"Sexy" might not be the first adjective that comes to mind when thinking about enterprise-grade notebooks, but that's how some reviews are describing the first generation of Ultrabook devices. The initial models -- from vendors such as Acer, ASUS, HP, Lenovo, LG and Toshiba -- shipped in late 2011, and in 2012 Intel believes there will be 75 Ultrabook devices announced or available.

The Ultrabook design is less about a checklist of must-meet specs -- which Intel says are under NDA with vendors -- and more about delivering certain types of user experiences. For example, all Ultrabook devices must be able to wake up in less than seven seconds so users always have immediate access to both content stored on their Ultrabook and Web-based data. Those abilities come, respectively, via Intel’s Rapid Start and Smart Connect technologies. [Disclosure: Intel is the sponsor of this content.]

“It’s extremely convenient,” says ​Brian Pitstick, executive director of laptop marketing for consumers and SMBs at Dell, whose initial Ultrabook is the XPS 13. “Smart Connect allows the device to periodically wake up while it’s asleep and refresh the content. So as you open it up, within seconds, you have updated content.”

Those abilities could help make Ultrabook devices attractive to enterprises that are using or considering tablets, whose always-on design helps boost productivity.

“One thing we’ve heard from the users who have done that is that one of the major purchase drivers is lightweight, easy to take with me, highly convenient in terms of instant on,” Pitstick says. “We believe we’re delivering on that with this device. At the same time, customers say they want to stay productive, and in a lot of cases, productivity requires a keyboard, [Microsoft] Office compatibility and the right performance. That’s what makes it a different proposition than a tablet.”

Bring Your Own Ultrabook

If Ultrabook devices are known for anything so far, it’s their thin, light designs. The Toshiba Portégé Z830, for example, weighs less than 2.5 pounds and is 0.63 inch thick. If that svelte figure makes Ultrabook devices popular with consumers, that’s another way they could wind up in the enterprise.

“The Ultrabook is a poster child BYOB (bring your own box) PC,” says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group.

Some vendors are designing their Ultrabook devices to support that kind of scenario.

“We do things like add a TPM chip so it has data-encryption security capabilities,” Pitstick says. “We have custom-configuration services [so] IT administrators can get custom images, BIOS settings, asset tags, things like that. Bringing any kind of device into an enterprise environment can cause a lot of headaches for IT. So with this class of device, we’ve thought about capabilities that would ease those concerns.”

When it’s the enterprise buying the Ultrabook, it’s important to scrutinize the specs and try it out first. That’s standard advice for any notebook, but it’s particularly valuable for Ultrabook devices because their svelte designs force vendors to get creative in areas such as durability and battery life.

“Think through what the minimums are in terms of a feature set you’ll allow into the enterprise and make sure that spec is communicated well,” Enderle says. “Some Ultrabook [devices] have brighter displays and may work better outdoors, suggesting that when that is a requirement, even the screen performance (measured in nits) should be given as a selection criteria.

“This really is a class of product that varies a great deal vendor to vendor. The buyer should try a variety of offerings before making their decision to determine which feature set, feel and appearance works best for them.”   

New Market Opportunities?

If their thin, light designs encourage consumers and business users to carry an Ultrabook in more places, they could create new opportunities to make or save money. For example, a growing number of vendors offer cloud-based video conferencing services that support a wide variety of endpoint types, from high-end telepresence rooms down to PCs, smart phones and tablets. For some users, participating in a video conference with a 10-inch tablet or a 3.5-inch smart phone might feel cramped -- to the point that they avoid using those services, undermining productivity.

With screen sizes between 11 inches and 14 inches, Ultrabook devices could be big enough to provide a good video conferencing user experience in hotel rooms, home offices and airport lounges. And as full-fledged PCs, Ultrabook devices also would enable collaboration such as file sharing, something that’s difficult on a tablet or smart phone.

“You want to be able to share and create while you’re talking,” Pitstick says. “Having the processing capability, the PC compatibility and keyboard becomes pretty important.”

The same benefits also could enable enterprises to offer a wider range of services aimed at mobile consumers, particularly those who don’t want to carry a heavy notebook or struggle to make do with a tablet or smartphone.

“What we often hear on the customer side is most people who buy laptops leave them in the home,” Pitstick says. “When it’s easier to take outside the house, I think you’ll start to see more people take it outside the house. Maybe they’re a whole new segment of devices purchased as a result.”

Why Do We Need Intelligent Desktop Virtualization?

For nearly two decades, traditional desktop management has been business as usual. But today’s IT environment is anything but usual. Powerful forces are driving rapid change, including the rise of consumerization, cloud computing applications and server virtualization. Users want to work using any device from any location, and the concept of “bring your own IT” makes it possible to readily access cloud services, regardless of IT approval. Despite many advances, such as classic virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and desktop virtualization, traditional desktop management is poised for change.

Intel’s vision is an evolutionary framework -- called Intelligent Desktop Virtualization, or IDV -- in which the overall system of managing user computing is made significantly more intelligent. IDV maximizes the user experience while also giving IT professionals the control they need -- all within an economically viable framework.

Three Tenets of Intelligent Desktop Virtualization
There are three key tenets that distinguish IDV from desktop virtualization: managing centrally with local execution, delivering layered images intelligently and using device-native management.

Each tenet is considered to be central to IDV, whereas the concepts are usually considered to be peripheral in desktop virtualization. The three tenets represent a progression. If IT departments embrace the first tenet, it will be critically beneficial for them to proceed to the second tenet. If the first two tenets are fully adopted, the third tenet will be considered essential.

By evaluating desktop virtualization solutions according to these tenets, IT can implement a desktop management infrastructure that meets the needs of both users and IT, making IDV a solution that is truly without compromise.

Tenet No. 1: Manage Centrally With Local Execution
The first tenet of IDV is essentially a division of labor that delivers the benefits of both central management and local execution. IT retains full control over operating system and application updates by managing a golden, or master, image from the data center and relies on the local compute resources of the endpoint PC to deliver a rich user experience. With the first tenet,

IT can:

  • Improve manageability and security by controlling operating system and application updates
  • Provide the best possible user experience -- and better economics -- with local compute resources
  • Optimize data center resource usage

Tenet No. 2: Deliver Layered Images Intelligently
The second tenet of IDV is based on two concepts: creating layered images to allow for user customization and simplified management of the golden image, and using bidirectional synchronization with de-duplication (also known as single-instance storage) for intelligent delivery.

By dividing the traditional desktop image into layers -- instead of managing it as a single entity -- and using bidirectional synchronization, IT can gain the flexibility to:

  • Enhance central management
  • Deliver the appropriate layers transparently to user-chosen computing platforms
  • Use bidirectional synchronization and de-duplication for intelligent delivery and storage

Tenet No. 3: Use Device-native Management
The third tenet of IDV is based on the assertion that both virtual and physical device management are required for a complete IDV solution. To fully manage user computing, endpoint devices require physical management. With the third tenet, IT can:

  • Supplement central management capabilities for operational excellence
  • Leverage hardware resources independent of the operating system to ensure a robust computing platform and gain unparalleled flexibility

The Role of Intelligent Clients
In addition to employing the three tenets, IT must find the right balance between the data center and desktops to create an infrastructure that meets unique organizational needs. By using intelligent clients, IT can achieve balanced computing with IDV.

Intelligent endpoints offer the processing power, security and management features that complement central management -- all without placing additional strain on the data center.

Intelligent clients offer a range of native management options, including support for multiple desktop virtualization models, as well as mobile computing, compute-intensive applications, rich media, offline work and local peripherals.

By design, intelligent client computing helps IT avoid expensive data center expansion and maximizes total cost of ownership.

Take the Next Steps to Full-scale IDV
As you move toward a full-scale IDV solution, remember: One size does not fit all. Most companies need more than one delivery model based on unique business requirements.

For organizations still in the planning stage:

  • Thoroughly investigate all models of desktop management.
  • Evaluate solutions according to the three tenets and ask potential vendors about their support for each.
  • Investigate options for intelligent clients to deliver the best user experience and the most effective management and security measures.

For organizations that have already implemented virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI):

  • Take the remaining steps toward a full-scale IDV solution.
  • Off-load processing to the local client (e.g., redirect multimedia tendering to intelligent clients) to further improve virtual machine density and boost VDI economics.

Get more on desktop virtualization from our sponsor.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/eyetoeyePIX

The New Mobile Landscape

The word “convergence” won’t mean quite the same thing to the next generation as it does to us. That’s because kids today will come of age in a time when phones were used to play video games, computers could double as a private movie house, and televisions were flipped on to browse the Web. Unlike us, they’ll be living in a world where “ubiquity” is the word -- surrounded by devices.

Paring Down

The most interesting development of the ubiquity age isn’t that we’re surrounded by screens and able to connect to the Internet in myriad ways, from smartphones to televisions to tablets. Most fascinating is that no one device serves as the ultimate Swiss Army Knife, acting as a substitute for all the rest.

Rather, we collect these devices the way golfers keep clubs. On the go, we check movie times on mobile phones. On the couch, we research that movie on a laptop PC or tablet, or we play a game of “Words With Friends” while our significant other watches the big game. Rather than seek a one-size-fits-all solution for computing, consumer behavior indicates that there’s a time and a place for every kind of screen.

All these screens mean that portability and power are both becoming major considerations. Laptop shipments exceeded that of desktops in 2008, and high-end “desktop replacements” -- notebooks with large screens and enough horsepower to handle any computing task -- became the primary computers for many consumers. And a new designation, the netbook, sought to lower the barrier of entry to mobile computing by offering compact laptop PCs at a fraction of the price.

New Device: Ultrabooks

Now, there’s a new category of portable PC to compete with the upstart tablet PC and other flavors of laptop. The ultrabook format is light, thin, fast and portable -- an antidote to the traditional laptop PC. Ultrabook PCs are less than .08 inch thick, weigh around 3.1 pounds and have a battery life of five to eight hours.

“The ultrabook is much more than just a product segment,” says Jim Wong, president of Acer Inc. “It’s a new trend that will become the mainstream for mobile PCs.”

The model for this new kind of laptop is Apple’s MacBook Air, which was introduced in 2008. Apple sold 1.1 million units of their super-thin laptop, and they managed this feat at premium pricing. The next phase of the ultrabook device is to build major appeal by offering similar benefits to Apple’s machine at a consumer-friendly price.

Toshiba’s Portege Z835, which debuted in November of last year, dipped in price to $699 (after a $200 rebate) at Best Buy. Competing ultrabooks include the Hewlett-Packard Folio 13 and the Acer Aspire S3, which both run for about $900. The entry-level MacBook Air is $999.

Early Buzz

Initial reception to the new ultrabooks is positive. Rob Beschizza of Boing Boing called the new ASUS ZENBOOK “very good,” but he cautions against laptops that try to adopt the ultrabook moniker but stray from the design specs that make the new class of computers so attractive in the first place.

Dilip Bhatia, vice president of Lenovo’s ThinkPad business unit, is excited about his company’s contribution to the field. “The ThinkPad X1 Hybrid and T430u ultrabooks represent the next generation in thin and light computing,” he says. “From small businesses that literally live on the road to corporate professionals working in a managed environment, these new crossover laptops fundamentally change the way people think about mobile computing technology.”

Matt McRae, Vizio’s chief technology officer, recently told Business Week that his company’s entry in the ultrabook game was meant to shake things up: “It’s very similar to TV -- we want to get in there and disrupt it,” says McRae. “We think most PCs have been designed for the small-business users, that others have not done a very good job of making them entertainment devices.

With all the new ultrabook models that appeared at CES last week, it’s now just a matter of discovering just how the ultrabook will find its place in our lives next to the televisions, tablets, smartphones and desktops many consumers already have. Nobody could have predicted this 10 years ago, but it seems pretty clear: There’s still plenty of room for this light, new computing upstart.