My Computer Is More Secure Than Yours

Suck it up:  my computer is more secure than yours.  That is a bold, flat-out claim but it also is true.

That is because I use the Google powered ChromeBook, have for four years since the laptops debuted in mid-2011.  The machines – which start at $200 US — run on the Google developed Chrome OS.

It doesn’t matter if you are on a Mac.  Mac users generally believe Macs are safe from viruses but they are wrong.  Experts agree:  Macs are risky.

Chew on the KitM.a malware found on a computer of an attendee at a political free speech conference in Oslo.  It takes a screenshot of an infected computer and uploads it to a remote server.

The Dalai Lama has been targeted by attackers, believed to be in China, who have sought to infect computers in his organization with viruses created to infect Macs, computers that appear to be the Dalai Lama’s preference.

There are many, many more such stories of attacks on Macs.

As for Windows computers, don’t even ask. They have been plagued by viruses since they launched and, really, nothing has gotten better.

It’s a different, happier story with me and ChromeBook. In four years I have suffered no malware, no viruses, no nothing, and I surf the Web pretty much wherever I wish to go, without fear. I open emails, I click on links and I do so safely.

But do not take my word for it. The man you want to listen to is Mike Daugherty, Director of Technology & Information Systems, Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools in Ohio in the US.

Daugherty said he has around 1700 students in grades 3-12 on ChromeBooks, and he continued: “The students use the Chromebooks at school during the day and take them home on nights and weekends. They access a mostly unfiltered internet so they are subject to the same types of security threats as a traditional consumer laptop. This is my seventeenth year in the IT industry and I can easily say the Chromebooks are the most secure device we have.”

He added: “We have not had a single incident of a virus, spyware or malware infection on any Chromebook all year long.”

I cannot speak for the surfing habits of the kids in Chagrin Falls but I can say that kids I have known habitually visited the kinds of sites known for toxic payloads:  bootlegged films, pornography, gaming.  Teenagers in particular are walking Petri dishes for computer infections and, in Chagrin Falls, there are no incidents whatsoever on the school’s ChromeBooks.

Adam Kujawa, head of Malware Intelligence at Malwarebytes Labs, had this to say about ChromeBooks: “Chromebooks are incredibly safe for consumers to use.”

There is a technical reason for this and, for better or worse, it is something neither Windows nor Mac computers can claim: not much software runs on a ChromeBook.  It is mainly an Internet appliance.  It probably won’t run your favorite game (unless it is an online version) and it won’t run your favorite applications (unless they are online). That means it also won’t run a criminal’s malware.

Is the ChromeBook a limiting computing experience?  That’s each user’s call.  Little by little, cloud based versions of popular apps – such as Microsoft’s Office – are emerging.  The ChromeBook Web Store is also populating with ever more apps and extensions. But there still is plenty that can be done on a Mac or Windows computer that won’t happen on a ChromeBook.

Want more details about why a ChromeBook is safer? Google, in a web page, elaborated. For starters, said Google, the OS is continually updated.  That means it always has the latest protections.  Updates come automatically.

For two: “On a Chromebook, each web page and application runs in a restricted environment called a ‘sandbox.’ If the Chromebook is directed to an infected page, it can’t affect the other tabs or apps on the computer, or anything else on the machine. The threat is contained.”

Google also uses what it calls a verified boot. It explained: “Even if malware manages to escape the sandbox, the Chromebook is still protected. Every time the Chromebook starts up, it does a self-check called ‘Verified Boot.’ If it detects that the system has been tampered with or corrupted in any way, typically it will repair itself without any effort, taking the Chromebook back to an operating system that’s as good as new.”

So the ChromeBook may become infected but it is designed to heal itself, on the fly.

All that said, ChromeBook users cannot assume they are invulnerable. Said Conrad Smith, chief information security officer at cloud security company Bitium: “users are still users.”

Click on a phishing email, cough up your Google log-in credentials and that just probably is game, set, match where you just lost, whether you are on a ChromeBook or not.

But use commonsense in computing – and just don’t click to blatantly high risk websites (such as free views of the latest celebrity nude shots) and know to avoid phishes — and on a ChromeBook you will do fine.

Oh, use those attitudes and – just probably – you will also do fine on a Mac or Windows box.

But that’s a whole different story.

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