Sucking Clams, Kosher Style

I’m going to start out the new year blogging about servers, so if you don’t like my techy talks, this is one to avoid.

ClamAV is an tool that you put on your server and it detects malicious software. In short, it’s a server virus scanner and most servers use it to scan email for viruses. Now those of you who use stuff like McAffee and Norton and other virus scanners for your email, you may not know that servers also scan for that stuff as well, and try to kill the emails before they ever get to you! Yeah, think about how many emails with viruses you get. Personally, I’ve never had a problem with viruses and not because I use a mac. It’s because I pay attention to the content and context of an email before I open any attachments.

But this is about ClamAV and server-side scanners.

The story starts with my twice a week check of my server. I like to keep tabs on what it’s doing, how it’s doing, what’s going on, etc etc. I was a little surprised to see my server load spiked. Server load is sort of how you know how hard your server is working. A high load means its looking at a lot of work. A low load is ‘better’ but you have to admit that you’re going to have SOME load, so you may as well figure out what’s a good load for you. I’ve had problems with WordPress and right now I’m using WP Super Cache (See “I take it back. WP-Super-Cache is a Super Hero” from September 2009).

The point is, I know that a spike like this is okay:

That spike there was when I ran a small upgrade. You’ll notice how after the moment, it drops back down and has a happy nice day? That’s how things are supposed to work. A spike with traffic and then everything’s happy again. Great.

So what does this mean?

Yeah, I took a look at that, paled, and asked myself ‘What in the four hells is going on!?’ I did the logical thing and looked at the date and time. Noon on Monday I’d made a change to the firewall, moving from the perfectly acceptable, though harder to manage (no GUI), APF Firewall to CSF. That move was a TEENY bit on the spur of the moment, as I wasn’t having any problems with APF per se, but I was being hit up by a lot of spammers and my usual attacks of http:BL and Bad Behavior weren’t cutting it. They’re front end fixes to the ongoing spam problem, alas. I hate spammers.

Worried that my new firewall was ‘bad’, I started to Google if CSF caused high server loads. And found nothing. So I went back to the beginning and checked top. Top is a unix command that you use to see what’s using up resources on your server. It’s like Task Manager for Windows, but it’s a lot more informative. Top lets you see details and sort and basically when you want to find out what ran off with the spoon and killed your server, baby, I’m the bottom and log on to top. Top showed me, interestingly enough, that ClamD was using between 70 and 90% of my resources. On a slow week, like the net generally has for entertainment sites between Christmas and New Years, that’s not really a problem. There’s not a lot going on with the sites I host right now, the extra CPU usage wasn’t a problem. Come back on January 20th, though, now that’s a problem.

But the thing of it is, back in September, I optimized my server and I remember reading on multiple places that ClamAV and ClamD use up a lot of resources and people turn them off. So I did.

Isn’t that much nicer?

The real question, at the end of the day, is if having ClamAV turned off causes more problems than having it on? So far, no one’s breached my servers, though that’s a function of my firewalls, and SpamAssassin seems to be taking care of the spam emails, which is where most viruses come from in my experience, unless the server’s hacked, at which point I’m kind of screwed anyway. But what I find myself wondering now is if it’s dangerous to not be using ClamAV or what. And I don’t have an answer to that yet.