Find out if your Chromebook has a virus or malware – what to do if your PC is infected

Criminals can target Chromebooks with malware and poor practice can leave Chrome OS users vulnerable to viruses. Fortunately, the Chrome operating system was designed to prioritise security, meaning it is relatively straightforward to stay safe if you are careful.

What is the difference between malware and a virus?

Although the terms virus and malware are frequently used interchangeably, they are technically different.

Malware is an umbrella term for any sort of malicious software, regardless of how it works or distributed.

A virus is a specific type of malware capable of self-replicating by inserting its code into other programs.

There are broadly speaking five types of malware: worms, ransomware, scareware, adware and fileless malware.


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Can Chromebooks become infected by a virus or malware?

Chromebooks boast a number of features making it extremely difficult to become infected with computer viruses.

Every time a Chromebook is rebooted, the OS performs a self-check.

Should the Chromebook discover any modifications to the system, such as files modified by a virus, the OS will automatically repair itself.

And another feature helps stop viruses from infecting files or stealing passwords in the first place.

This is ensured by running individual browser windows, browser extensions, and Android apps in isolated “sandbox” environments that are unable to access each other or even the Chromebook OS.

Because every sandbox works in isolation, any virus is unable to infect system files or files in another sandbox.

However, although it is unlikely for a virus to infect a Chromebook, other types of malware can prove a problem.

The main threat of malware infecting a Chromebook comes from browser extensions and Android apps.

Deciding to run un-sandboxed browser extensions can consequently open users to increased risk.

And while developer Google is efficient at scanning Android apps for malware, malicious apps can, unfortunately, sneak into the store.


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What to do if Chromebook is infected:

If your Chrome OS browser window is locked and displays a message that you have a virus, a malicious website has visited or a malicious extension has inadvertently been installed.

This problem can usually be fixed by restarting and uninstalling the extension.

And in a worst-case scenario, a Chromebook Powerwash can resolve the issue.

Although most Chrome OS files and settings are stored in the cloud, some locally-stored items permanently are deleted with Powerwash.

Files saved to a Chromebook’s local hard drive are usually stored in the Downloads folder.

The contents of this folder should always be backed up to an external device or to your Google Drive before beginning a Powerwash.

All Google Accounts previously used on your Chromebook are removed during a Powerwash, as well as any settings associated with said accounts.

As long as users retain relevant usernames and passwords, these accounts can be restored on a Chromebook.

Begin by opening the Chrome browser, then click the menu button.

When the drop-down menu appears, select Settings, then scroll to the bottom and click Advanced.

Now scroll down again until you locate the Reset settings section and select the Powerwash option.

A dialogue labelled Restart your device should be displayed, overlaying the Settings interface. Click on Restart.

Your Chromebook will now restart and the Powerwash process will complete.

Simple steps to keep your Chromebook safe:

You can download and install antivirus software on a Chromebook through a browser extension or as an Android app.

Always ensure to get your extension or app from the official Play Store, and stick with trusted names like Malwarebytes.

Even without antivirus software, the built-in security features of Chrome OS make it fairly easy to stay safe.

Always bear in mind some or all of these precautions to minimise the risk:

Never enable developer mode unless you really need it.

Avoid using third-party app stores, as developer Google does is highly effective at monitoring apps available in the Play Store.

Pay attention to what you install and any permissions it requests.

The Chrome OS is really good at keeping itself secure, but postponing updates can leave users vulnerable.

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