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Chromebooks are already extremely secure. The operating system encrypts all local data (such as cookies and browser cache files), it has a verified boot, all web pages and apps are run in a sandbox, all system updates are automatic, and there’s an easy-to-use recovery mode in case something does go wrong.
Sure, it’s not completely infallible, nothing is. But you can easily make the argument that Chromebooks are the most secure laptops on the market.
However, just because they’re secure at a hardware level doesn’t mean you can’t improve their security at a user level.
Here are four ways to make your Chromebook even more secure.
1. Deploy Guest Mode
Guest Mode’s primary purpose is to allow other people to use your machine without using your Google Account. As such, it keeps your data on Google’s suite of apps safe from prying eyes.
But Google itself likes to pry. Anything you do on your Chromebook — whether it’s saving a song to Google Drive, visiting a particular website, or installing an app from the Web Store — is logged against your Google Account. Google then uses the mountain of information to show you (supposedly) relevant ads.
If you’re planning to do things you don’t want Google to log against your account, the best approach is to use the Guest Mode. Unlike Incognito Mode, which still sits within your user profile on your machine, Guest Mode is in no way attached to your account.
Guest Mode still lets you download files and browse the entire web. The only restriction is you cannot install new apps.
To use Guest Mode, press Ctrl + Shift + Q if you’re already logged in, or select Browse as Guest from the shelf on the main login screen.
If Guest Mode is not enabled on your Chromebook, head to Settings > People > Manage Other Users > Enable Guest Browsing.
2. Change the Default Search Engine
If using the Guest Mode is either too extreme or too inconvenient, you can at least replace the default search engine.
There are several search engines that don’t track you, store your IP address, or profile their users. Two of the most popular are DuckDuckGo and Startpage. DuckDuckGo draws its results from more than 50 “high-quality” sources, while Startpage removes all your identifying information then submits the search term to Google’s search engine.
If you value the depth and breadth of Google’s results, the latter is probably the best option.
To change your Chromebook’s default search engine, navigate to the homepage of the engine you want to use and perform a search for any word or phrase. Doing so will make the search engine a selectable option in the browser’s list of providers.
Next, right-click in the address bar and choose Edit Search Engines. Scroll down and search through the list of domains under Other Search Engines until you find your provider. Finally, click Make Default.
3. Change the DNS Service
Chromebooks do allow you to hard-configure the DNS service, but the option is buried away and not easy to find.
Changing your DNS has significant benefits: it can improve your connection speed, increase uptime, and sometimes even let you access geo-blocked content.
Security-wise, the benefits can be split into three categories:
- Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) — DNSSEC prevents apps and DNS resolvers from falling victim to fake or compromised DNS data. Most ISP DNS services do not offer this feature.
- Phishing Protection — Obviously, most browsers now have built-in phishing protection, but it adds an extra layer of safety.
- Parental Controls — Parental controls are particularly useful if you have young children who regularly use your Chromebook. The laptops don’t have any native parental controls.
Not all public DNS services have all the benefits. For example, Google DNS and OpenDNS both support DNSSEC, but only OpenDNS supports parental controls and anti-phishing. Do your research before selecting one.
To change the DNS service on your Chromebook, go to Settings > internet Connection, click the name of your Wi-Fi network, then click on your name again in the drop-down menu.
On the new window, click the Network tab. At the bottom of the window, you can choose either Automatic Name Servers (your ISP’s), Google Name Servers, or Custom Name Servers.
You need to repeat this process for every Wi-Fi network you use.
4. Install Third-Party Apps
If you want to supercharge your Chromebook’s security and privacy, installing a few third-party apps/extensions can make a huge difference.
Here are my top three picks that every Chromebook owner should be using.
HTTPS Everywhere is a joint development between Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The premise is simple: the extension automatically converts insecure HTTP domains to secure HTTPS domains. The switch will help protect you against surveillance and domain hijacking.
Privacy Badger [No Longer Available]
Privacy Badger is another app from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It’s an anti-tracking extension that prevents spying ads and invisible trackers from loading on a page.
You can even customize which permissions are allowed on a granular case-by-case basis for each site. For example, you can block access to your microphone and location while still allowing a site to load images and automatically download content.
Spotflux [No Longer Available]
Spotflux is a free VPN service. It uses the developer’s security cloud rather than P2P VPN like Hola.
In addition to the VPN feature, it also encrypts all your browsing using SSL and hides your IP address from sites. The app is ad-supported.
How Do You Make Your Chromebook Secure?
When combined with a Chromebook’s hardware-level security, following my four tips and installing the three extensions will turn your laptop into a fortress. It would arguably become the safest and most secure way of accessing the world-wide web.
However, my list isn’t exhaustive. There are always more steps you can take to make yourself more secure.
If you’re a Chromebook addict, I’d love to know how you boost your device’s security. What settings do you enable? What little-known tricks do you use? You can leave your tips and recommendations in the comments below.