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Chromebooks get a lot of hype at the time of this writing and are marketed as devices that don’t suffer from viruses, spyware, or other nasty things that can be a problem on Windows PCs. And this means a calmer experience.
While this is true to some extent, you can 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.
Are there viruses in ChromeOS?
While there may be occasional reports of a virus on Chromebooks, it is in fact very rare. Google has done an excellent job building ChromeOS to defend against intrusive software. This is accomplished through a combination of automatic system updates, self-monitoring of any file changes during startup, isolation of browser tabs so that one cannot affect another, and encryption of sensitive data.
Google describes how all of these features work on its Chromebook safety page.
So is that the end of the article? Are Chromebooks immune to attack? Not quite. While ChromeOS does a great job of staying safe, there are still threats that you need to be aware of if you want to stay safe while using a Google-powered laptop.
Malicious software for Android apps
Chromebooks have been able to run Android apps for a while. On the one hand, this is great as it makes Chromebooks much more versatile, but it also introduces a vector for attackers to hack into your system.
If you are using conventional applications from trusted sources, then you should have nothing to worry about. But lesser-known applications can carry dangers. There have been cases in the past where the apps are presented as very similar to the more established ones, hoping that you will accidentally download them. If this happens, they can often collect your data and send it to hackers, which is not something you want. Obviously.
We have also seen reports of fake Crypto currency apps charging users for services they never provide and in some cases would encourage you to store your Bitcoin, Dogecoin or similar in the app, just 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, you may find that the apps aren’t screened that well, or aren’t screened 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 keep in mind is Chrome extensions. While most are safe, if you opt for the dark ones, you could be opening up your system to malicious software that is after your data.
Phishing emails and fake websites
ChromeOS may have a lot 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 on the link provided to log in and solve the problem.
If you do, there is nothing a Chromebook can do to prevent you from handing over your data and causing a disaster. However, you may see warnings from time to time, where Chrome says that the site you are visiting is unsafe or is listed as dangerous. If this happens, heed the warnings and go no further.
It doesn’t take much to create a clone of a real website that looks like the one you’re hoping to get. 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, that they might steal. The rule of thumb is never to click on links in emails or messages that will take you to your ‘account’.
If an email alerts you to a problem with your account, simply open a browser window, navigate there, and log in safely.
As with phishing scams, using public Wi-Fi can be a real danger. You may find that a hacker has set up a fake network that has a name similar to what you would normally see in a coffee shop, library, train station, or whatever.
Most trusted websites will protect your payment details using encryption, but there is always a risk that hackers can see other personal information and use it to scam you or steal your money.
VPNs are one way to protect against these “man in the middle” attacks by creating a secure encrypted connection that prevents others from intercepting and understanding your data.
Do I need antivirus software on my Chromebook?
If you stick to the main apps on the Chrome Web Store and Google Play Store, don’t click on unreliable-looking emails, and don’t run in developer mode (if you don’t know what it is, then you won’t have it turned on), Chromebooks are one of the safest devices you can use.
But things can always go unnoticed, especially if you rely too heavily on the machine’s ability to protect you not only against malware, but your own questionable online options as well.
So if you want to beef up your defenses a bit more, you will find several companies that offer antivirus software for Chromebooks. These include Malwarebytes for Chromebook, as well as 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 purchasing, just to make sure it will work on Chromebook.
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