Chromebooks are being advertised heavily at the time of writing, and are marketed as devices that don’t suffer from viruses, spyware or other nasty stuff that can be a problem on Windows PCs. And this means a calmer experience.
While this is true to an extent, you may still be at risk if you use a Chromebook in certain ways. We explain what you need to know about viruses and security on a Chromebook.
Do viruses exist on ChromeOS?
While there might be the occasional report of a virus on Chromebooks, it is very rare indeed. Google has done an excellent job of building ChromeOS to fend off intrusive software. This is achieved through a combination of automatic updates to the system, self-monitoring for any changes to files during boot-up, sandboxing of browser tabs so one can’t affect another, and encryption for sensitive data.
Google outlines how all of these features work on its Chromebook security page.
So, that’s the end of the article then? Chromebooks are impervious to attack? Not quite. While ChromeOS does a great job of keeping itself secure, there are still threats that you need to be aware of if you want to stay safe while using a Google-powered laptop.
Android app malware
For a while now, Chromebooks have been able to run Android apps. On one hand this is excellent, as it makes Chromebooks much more versatile, but it also introduces a vector for attackers to hack your system.
If you’re using mainstream apps from reputable sources, then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. But lesser-known apps can come with dangers. There have been instances in the past where apps present themselves as very similar to more established ones, hoping that you’ll accidentally download them. If this happens, they can often harvest your data and send it to the hackers, which is not something you want. Obviously.
We’ve also seen reports of fake Crypto currency apps that charge users for services they never deliver, and in some cases would encourage you to store your Bitcoin, Dogecoin or similar in the app, only for it to steal the digital cash. This, of course, is a problem for Windows laptops, Android phones and other devices, not just Chromebooks.
If you use third-party app stores – anything other than the Google Play Store – then again you may find that the apps aren’t vetted quite as well, or at all. Google itself, with its wealth of resources, still struggles to keep dodgy apps out of the Play Store, so you can imagine the challenge for those with fewer resources.
Another area to be careful of is Chrome Extensions. While most are safe, if you opt for obscure ones you could be opening up your system to malicious software that goes after your data.
Phishing emails and fake websites
ChromeOS may have plenty of security built-in, but most hackers know that the easiest part of a system to target is the user. This is why you still get spam emails warning you that your Paypal/Apple/Google/bank account has been suspended and that you need to click the link provided to log in and sort out the issue.
If you do so, there’s nothing a Chromebook can do to protect you from giving away your data and bringing disaster upon yourself. You may see warnings from time to time though, where Chrome says that the site you’re visiting is unsecure or listed as dangerous. If this happens, heed the warnings and don’t go any further.
It doesn’t take much to create a clone of a real website that looks just like the one you’re expecting to arrive at. When you ‘log in’ the hackers have your account details, go to the real site and raid it for any other personal information – and money – they can steal. The golden rule is that you never click links in emails or messages that will take you to your ‘account’.
If an email warns you of a problem with your account, simply open a browser window, navigate there yourself and log in safely.
As with phishing scams, using public Wi-Fi can be a real danger. You might find that a hacker has set up a faux network that’s named as something similar to what you’d normally see in a coffee shop, library, train station or whatever.
Most reputable websites will protect payment details using encryption, but there’s always a risk that hackers might be able to see other personal details and use them to scam you or steal your money.
VPNs are a way to protect yourself against these ‘man in the middle’ attacks as they create an encrypted secure connection that stops others from being able to intercept and understand your data. So, take a look at our guide to the best VPNs and use one if you’re going to be accessing public Wi-Fi networks regularly.
Do I need antivirus software on my Chromebook?
If you’re sticking to the main apps in the Chrome Web Store and Google Play Store, not clicking on dodgy looking emails, and aren’t running in Developer Mode (if you don’t know what it is then you won’t have it turned on), then Chromebooks are one of the safest devices you can use.
But things can always slip through the cracks, especially if you get over-confident in the machine’s ability to protect you not only against malware but also your own questionable online choices.
So, if you want to bolster your defences that bit more, then you will find several companies offering antivirus software for Chromebooks. These include Malwarebytes for Chromebook as well as the entries in our best Android antivirus apps chart. The latter will cover you when using Android apps on your Chromebook, but be sure to contact the company before buying, just to ensure it will work on Chromebooks.
If you don’t already own a Chromebook and are persuaded that they’re right for you, then read our best Chromebook roundup to see which models are the ones to buy.