Will Chromebooks Spell the End of Anti-Virus Software?

When Google announced the Chromebook, they made a claim that the laptops have security built-in, so there is “no anti-virus software to buy or maintain.” The last time such a claim was made was probably when Apple said something similar. That proved to be mostly true, until very recently, when a particular dangerous virus became a threat for macs. However, according to an article in Forbes, Chrome may be purposely missing the parts of the operating system that could make it vulnerable to rogue programs.

As such, there is no anti-virus protection software currently available for Chrome OS, which is centered around web power rather than individual system power (though the reported system specifications are nothing to sneeze at for a netbook-competitor – See Acer chromebook specs and Samsung chromebook specs).

Why Can’t Viruses Get in?

No traditional software can be “installed” on a Chromebook per se, as programs installed on the hard drive have been replaced by a library of apps that can be accessed “on the fly,” without requiring installation. This includes malicious software, such as viruses, hijackers, trojans, and other malware — which will not be able to gain a “foothold” in your Chromebook, because there’s no real way for a program to do so. If Google’s install-free system catches on, it could end up meaning big losses for familiar anti-virus names like McAfee, Symantec/Norton, and so on.

Charlie Miller of Independent Security Evaluators, a man who has “made a career out of disproving Apple’s security claims,” has owned one of the early-model Chromebooks since February after winning one in a hacking competition. According to him, the Web-only security model actually does work in theory. While a hacker could theoretically exploit bugs in the Chrome browser to run code on a user’s machine, that exploit would only allow the attacker to access the user’s data for a single session, and would disappear the moment the browser closed.

He says the way hackers maintain persistent control over a system is by installing software, but that the design of Google’s Chrome operating system prevents this. He says a user who had been affected by an exploit could turn their computer off and on and be “good to go.” (Forbes)

The Future

Google is, however, planning to release a software development kit for native applications. We can only assume that a company like Google is sufficiently familiar with the way the internet works well enough to have put restrictions in place that prevent people from creating malware in the first place. But hackers are a smart, persistent bunch. In the worst case scenario, if someone found a way to exploit the system, the web-centric nature of Google’s laptops would prompt the company to release immediate updates to the operating system that would neutralize the threat.

It’s not just a theory — when a certain app posed a security hazard on their Android devices, Google was able to “flip the kill switch” and immediately — remotely — wipe the insecure app from all its Android devices.

The Chromebook’s security goes even deeper than their Android mobile devices, however. It has to — a Chromebook is meant for the net. Its level of data protection and apparent immunity to exploits threatens to make those annoying subscription anti-virus programs that are constantly demanding attention in the Windows system tray slowing down our computers at the worst times, well, outdated. I know I won’t miss ‘em (looking at you, Nawt’n Anti-virus.)

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