A Defensive Computing Checklist
by Michael Horowitz
CHROMEBOOKS and CHROME OS
ChromeOS is the operating system on Chromebook laptops and Chromeboxes (tiny desktop computers).
Note that configuration settings for ChromeOS are in two places. Some are Chrome browser settings, others are ChromeOS settings. The browser settings are available either by clicking the three vertical dots in the top right corner, then click on "Settings". Or, in the address bar, by typing
chrome://settings. From the initial browser settings screen, click on "Chrome OS settings" to see the other settings.
- Suggested Browser Settings:
- Set the default Search Engine to something other than Google. Some pre-defined choices are DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, Yahoo and Bing. Note that DuckDuckGo gets its search results from Bing.
- Advanced -> downloads -> "Ask where to save each file before downloading" should be on
- Privacy and Security -> Security -> "Safe Browsing" should be set to "Enhanced protection" for an account used by a child. However, an adult may want this set to Standard or disabled because it require browsing data to be sent to Google.
- Cookies and other site data -> turn on "Block third-party cookies". In the same section, maybe turn on "Clear cookies and site data when you quit Chrome" It does not
always work perfectly, but it helps.
- Suggested Sync and Google services (in browser settings)
- Turn off "Autocomplete searches and URLs"
- Turn off "Help improve Chrome's features and performance" which "Automatically sends usage statistics and crash reports to Google"
- Turn off "Make searches and browsing better" which "sends URLs of pages you visit to Google"
- Turn off Enhanced spell check which "sends the text you type in the browser to Google"
- Turn off "Google Drive search suggestions" which lets Chrome access the files on Google drive to make suggestions in the address bar
- Suggested ChromeOS settings:
- Just underneath the Preferred search engine, is "Google Assistant". Turn it off, if you don't use it.
- Security and Privacy -> Turn off "Help improve Chrome OS features and performance" which Automatically sends diagnostic and usage data to Google.
- Security and Privacy -> Turn off "Suggest new content to explore"
- Advanced -> Languages and inputs -> "Suggestions" -> Turn off "Emoji suggestions"
- Safety Check-> click the blue "Check now" button to check for missing OS updates, malicious extensions, weak passwords and more
- In the Browser settings -> Cookies and other site data -> See all cookies and site data. This does just what it says. Maybe manually delete stuff here. This page can be bookmarked at
- Bluetooth is enabled by default. If you don't need it, turn it off. The On/Off switch for it is in the box that pops up when you click in the bottom right corner of the screen.
- DNS tip: You can specify an Encrypted DNS provider that works system-wide (for all Google accounts on the Chromebook, and Guest Mode too). As of Chrome OS version 88, do:
Settings -> Security -> Use secure DNS. I am a big fan of NextDNS and you can get a free account at their website, nextdns.io. Then, in Chrome, select the Custom option for secure DNS and
enter a URL such as
where zzzzzz is a NextDNS Profile ID.
- MICROSOFT OFFICE
There are many ways to view/edit Microsoft Office files on a Chromebook. This list is not complete.
- A how-to writeup from Google: Open & edit Office files on your Chromebook
- Any browser should be able to use www.Office.com but a free Microsoft account is required. Note that to create a Microsoft account you must give them a cellphone number. After logging in, you can, optionally, install a PWA (Progressive Web App) version of the individual Office programs. PWAs have some advantages over the office.com website: they can be used off-line, they an be pinned to the taskbar and they support push notifications. While using the website, look for an Install icon in the top right of the address bar.
- You can edit most Office files on ChromeOS if you install the Office Editing for Docs, Sheets, and Slides extension from Google
- You can edit Office files if you install the Office Online Chrome extension from Microsoft. This also requires a Microsoft account
- The Android version of Collabora Office is supported on Chromebooks. Collabora Office is based on Libre Office and supports DOCX, XLSX, PPTX, DOC, XLS, PPT and the same open standards as Libre Office. See a press release.
- If Linux is installed on the Chromebook, you can use the Linux version of Libre Office. See How to install LibreOffice for Linux on a Chromebook after downloading it as a tar.gz file by Kevin C. Tofel (February 2020).
- In the old days, we could use the Android versions of Microsoft Office, Outlook, OneNote and OneDrive but they are no longer supported on ChromeOS.
- Guest Mode Explained: Think of it as private browsing mode on steroids. You start with a virgin copy of the operating system. No Android. No bookmarks. No extensions. Just the Chrome browser. While in Guest Mode, you can not create a bookmark or install a browser extension. When you log out of Guest Mode anything and everything you did is thrown away. To save a file from Guest mode, you have to copy it to a USB flash drive before logging out. This is one of my favorite aspects of a Chromebook. One down side is that you can not create a VPN connection while in Guest mode.
- GUEST MODE TIPS
- Safe browsing has three options: Enhanced protection, Standard protection and no protection. Enhanced protection sends browsing data to Google, No protection does not. It is a bit iffy as to whether Standard protection, which is the default (last checked Oct. 2021), phones home to Google. You may, therefore, want to turn off Safe browsing. To turn it off: Settings -> Security -> Safe Browsing. This has to be done every time you enter Guest Mode.
- Turn off the Chrome OS setting "Suggest new content to explore". It is in the Security and Privacy section. The description says that it "...sends statistics to improve suggestions only if you have chosen to share usage data". It is also available from the Address Bar using
chrome://os-settings/osPrivacy (Note: case sensitive). this has to be done every time you enter Guest Mode.
- While in the Privacy and security section, verify that "Help improve Chrome OS features and performance" is disabled. The description says "Automatically sends diagnostic
data and usage data to Google".
- Turn off Bluetooth while in Guest mode if you don't need it. This setting seems to stick.
- Turn off the Chrome OS setting for "Emoji suggestions". It is at Languages and Inputs -> Suggestions. This has to be done every time you enter Guest Mode.
- Turn off the browser setting to "Preload pages for faster browsing and searching". It is in Privacy and Security -> Cookies and other site data.
- Maybe change the Search Engine from Google. The only options are Bing and Yahoo! This has to be done every time you enter Guest Mode.
- When a Chromebook wakes up from sleeping, it can either be ready to use immediately, or, require either a PIN or the Google account password to unlock it. There is no one right choice, just be aware that you can opt for security or convenience. The option is in Settings, look for Screen Lock. It is called "Show lock screen when waking from sleep".
- Chromebooks are Wi-Fi creatures, but you can also plug an Ethernet adapter into a USB port and make them more secure by using Ethernet for the Internet connection. It automatically uses Ethernet when available, still, you would be even safer if you disabled the Wi-Fi.
- November 17, 2022: Kevin C. Tofel wrote about this very web page: 4 Chromebook security tips for data privacy and protection
and he added a security topic not mentioned here because I have no experience with it: using a Yubikey on a Chromebook.
- NEW GOOGLE ACCOUNT ON CHROMEBOOK
When you first setup a new Gmail/Google account on a Chromebook, there are a number of steps. Here are some highlights (as of May 2022):
- Sign in to your Chromebook: enter a Gmail email address here
- There will be a checkbox to review Sync options after the initial setup. I would turn it on, can't hurt.
- There is a checkbox to backup to Google Drive that is on by default. No one right answer.
- There is a "Use Location" checkbox under Google Play apps and services. Turn that OFF as it lets Google spy on you. It is on by default. This is the Android side of the house.
- There is a checkbox that says "Optional: Help improve Chrome OS features and performance by automatically sending diagnostic and usage data to Google."
I would turn that off. See screen shot.
- You can enable or block Google Assistant. I think it is a bit more private to have it off. The choice is "No thanks" or "Turn on"
- There may be an option to sign up for Chromebook SPAM from Google. It used to be on by default and it was never explained. Not sure it still exists.
- If you chose to review Sync settings, you end up at chrome://settings/syncSetup where there is an option:
"Make searches and browsing better. Send URLs of pages you visit to Google". This is On by default, I would turn it Off.
- After setup you are dumped in a Welcome to Chromebook app. If you want to find it later, it is called "Explore"
- BlueTooth is on by default. If you do not need it, then turn it off
- BUYING A CHROMEBOOK?
- Check this page for how long it will get bug fixes -> Auto Update policy.
- September 14, 2023: Google announces 10 years of ChromeOS support on Chromebooks by Kevin C. Tofel. Google announced that all Chromebooks released from 2021 will automatically have a 10-year software expiration date. That’s up from 8, which is up from the previous 6. Most Chromebooks released before 2021 will let you extend automatic updates to 10 years from the platform’s release after they receive their last automatic update. A small selection of device platforms may not receive the full 10 years of automatic updates, and some features and services may not be supported.
- In June 2019, the longest expiration date was June 2025 (6 years).
- In September 2022, the longest expiration date was June 2029, almost 7 years.
- New Chromebooks sold in November 2022 got about 8 years of software updates. See Google announces 8 years of Chrome OS software updates for all new Chromebooks (Updated) by Kevin C. Tofel.
- In November 2020, Kevin C. Tofel warned (Getting your first Chromebook? Here’s a buying guide of what to look for) that Amazon lists many old Chromebooks as "new", "newest" or "2020" models, when in fact, they are not.
- HAVE A CHROMEBOOK? Find the software expiration date:
- Starting around Feb. 2020, ChromeOS displays its expiration date at Settings –> About ChromeOS –> Additional Details.
- Google refers to the drop dead date for software updates as the AUE (Auto Update Expiration) date. See Check when your Chromebook's updates will stop from Google.
- The Google AUE is for ChromeOS. They say nothing about Android. In my one experience with a Chromebook past its AUE date, Android apps were still updated and they continued to function.
- Old Chromebook: How secure is a Chromebook after it stops getting Chrome OS updates? by Kevin C. Tofel (December 2021). Quoting: "Chromebook security without future Chrome OS updates doesn’t appear to be a major issue. At least, not yet." Two suggestions in the article: install ChromeOS Flex, if possible, on the old Chromebook and use an Android browser that is still being updated. My suggestion: limit usage to Guest Mode.
- How To: Check How Long Until Your Chromebook Stops Getting Updates
by Daniel Golightly for Android Headlines (June 2019)
- KIDS ON A CHROMEBOOK
A child's account is different from a normal Google account. A parent creates a child account using the Family Link app. This will keep the child's account under the control of the parent.
- Google has a SafeSearch option designed to prevent explicit content from showing up in search results. This is a Google search thing, not a Chrome OS thing. There are no settings on a Chromebook for this. To enable it, log into Google or Gmail and go to google.com/safesearch
- Settings -> Privacy and Security -> Security -> "Safe Browsing" should be set to "Enhanced protection" for an account used by a child. However, an adult may want this set to Standard or disabled because it requires browsing data to be sent to Google.
- How to Setup Chromebook for Your Child by Ravi Teja (Aug 2021)
- How to securely set up your own Chromebook for your kid’s remote school learning by Kevin C. Tofel (April 2020). Process starts at Settings -> People -> Parental Controls -> "Set up" button while logged on as the child. Family Link is the name of this feature and it lets adults allow access to only specified websites, limit screen time and approve/block Android apps. Adult gets prompted to install the Family Link mobile app on their phone - it is optional.
- How to prepare a Chromebook for your child with family link
controls by Shubham Agarwal (Nov 2020).
- Kids: Manage your child's account on a Chromebook from Google. Its complicated, lots of options.
- Sometimes, software requires the user to hit an F (aka Function key) which does not exist on a Chromebook, by default. This article, How to use function keys on a Chromebook (by Kevin Tofel Aug 2022) shows that you can re-define the top row on the keyboard to act as Function Keys with Settings -> Device -> Keyboard -> "Treat top-row keys as function keys".
- There is no Delete key on a Chromebook but you can get the function with Alt-Backspace
- Thinkpad Chromebook: In February 2021, Lenovo released the first Chromebook with a Thinkpad keyboard. These are great keyboards. I blogged about my disappointment with the keyboard in the Chromebook in April 2021: First impressions of the Lenovo Thinkpad C13 Chromebook. It is expensive for a Chromebook and, if the keyboard is the attraction for you, not worth the money.
Printing was never great from a Chromebook, but it has gotten better over time.
- Excellent article: Which printers work with Chromebooks? Here’s a resource.
by Kevin C. Tofel (March 2022). The author says that most recent printers from the last few years will work. The article discusses Brother, Canon, Lexmark, HP, Epson, Ricoh and Kyocera.
- To add a printer, search for "add printer". Some printers can be found and configured automatically, especially those that support Internet Printing Protocol (IPP).
- Epson Printers for Chromebooks
- Set up your printer from Google
- Find compatible Chromebook printers from Google
- Expect a very different experience using a Wi-Fi printer vs. a USB connected printer.
- A Wi-Fi printer is best assigned a permanent IP address, something that can be done either by the router or by the printer itself.
- SIGNAL STRENGTH
A weak signal is perhaps the biggest reason for slow Wi-Fi. You can verify that this is the problem on a Chromebook, in three different ways:
- Settings -> Network -> click on the SSID (it will say "Connected" in green underneath the SSID) -> Advanced -> Signal Strength. Google being Google, they don't say what the number is. My guess is that the number is a percentage. The display is dynamic, so you can leave it on the screen, move around your home and watch the number change. Just give it a few seconds to adjust, it seems to re-sample every 15 seconds or so. (as of ChromeOS version 101, from May 2022)
- chrome://network -> Network Health -> WiFi. This too seems like a percentage. (as of ChromeOS version 106, from Oct 2022).
See a screen shot
- chrome://network -> Network Metrics. This shows the RSSI over time which is perfect for walking around to see areas with good and weak signal strength (as of ChromeOS version 106, from Oct 2022)
- USABILITY TIPS
- To see the extensions installed in Chrome browser enter chrome://extensions
- The ChromeOS task manager is available at both Escape+Search or three vertical dots in top right corner -> More tools -> Task manager
- If text on the screen is too big/small: Chrome OS Settings -> Device -> Displays -> Display Size
- If text on the screen is too big/small: Browser Settings -> Font size
- How to change the zoom levels in Android apps on a Chromebook for easier reading by Kevin C. Tofel (February 2022). A tip that applies to all Android apps on a Chromebook. Make this change, and you will be able to modify the font size in Android apps, using the standard CTRL and + or – keys.
- Mouse pointer too small? Chrome OS Settings -> Advanced -> Accessibility -> Manage accessibility features -> Show large mouse cursor
- If things go really bad:
- Chromebook Help is the main Help page ofr ChromeOS
- Fix hardware and system problems from Google
- Recover your Chromebook from Google. Covers removing and reinstalling the OS.
- Reset your Chromebook to factory settings from Google about Powerwashing
- How to use network-based Chromebook recovery by Kevin C. Tofel (December
2022). This relatively new feature is only available on Chrome OS devices that were released after April 20, 2022.
- How to see the version of Android on a Chromebook by
Kevin C. Tofel (September 5, 2023). In brief: ChromeOS Settings -> Apps -> Manage Android preferences -> About device. While it may be nice to know, there is nothing you can do about the installed Android version.
- How to create a private alternative to Google services for Chromebooks by Kevin C. Tofel April 3, 2023. The solution discussed here is NextCloud which can be installed locally or run in the cloud for about $5/month. NextCloud is similar to Google Docs, Drive and Photos. It also does spreadsheets, presentations and it has a calendar. You use it from a web browser by pointing to an IP address. You can also set up the NextCloud mobile app on your phone to automatically back up photos to your NextCloud server.
- Pro Tip: A portable power bank can double your Chromebook usage on the go by Kevin C. Tofel (January 28, 2023). What to look for in terms of both battery capacity (milliamp hours o mAh) and amperage (speed of charging).
- See the Batteries page for more Chromebook batteries.
- As of December 2022 (ChromeOS v108), there is now a recycle bin. Previously, deleted files were actually deleted. Now, they go to the Trash can. Files older than 30 days are automatically deleted from the recycle bin.
- As of September 2022 (ChromeOS v104), PDF files on a Chromebook open in the Gallery app rather than the Chrome browser. This change adds new features: you can fill out forms in PDF files, add text annotations, add highlights (yellow background color) and sign documents in free-hand. See Review, edit & sign PDFs from Google and How to edit PDFs on a Chromebook natively by Kevin C. Tofel (Oct 2022).
- How to screenshot on a Chromebook (updated) by Kevin C. Tofel. Last updated: November 2022.
One option: Press the CTRL and Switch Window keys at the same time. Screen shot will be a png file in the Files app.
- Tips for using Mastodon on a Chromebook by Kevin C. Tofel (November 2022). About installing the PWA and using a different web interface.
- A Chromebook can take dictation.
- When the option is enabled, a Microphone button will appear in the bottom right corner of the screen, next to the time and the Wi-Fi indicator.
- To Enable it: Chrome OS Settings -> Advanced -> Accessibility -> Enable dictation (speak to type)
- How to use your Chromebook's Dictation tool to save yourself hours of typing by Michael Perrigo
of Chrome Unboxed. October 21, 2023. Dictation is baked into Google Docs, but it is also a quick toggle you can enable in the Accessibility settings. Once enabled, just click inside any text field, be it a document, email, an app search, a Google Search, the Google Messages web app, etc. Then, touch the microphone icon and you’ll see it light up.
- File types and external devices that work on Chromebooks from Google. ChromeOS does not support Apple HEIC format pictures. It does support Box and some other cloud file storage systems (and Google Drive of course). Locally, it supports SMB file sharing.
- As of ChromeOS version 90, released April 2021, there is a new Diagnostics app that shows info about the battery, CPU and RAM memory. It also offers tests of each. In addition, it can do a network connectivity test. Find it by searching for "diagnostics" in the search box that pops up after clicking on the start button/circle. The official term for this search box is the "Launcher search bar".
- How to revert Chrome OS to a prior version on a Chromebook by Kevin C. Tofel (Feb. 2022)
- You can transfer files from an Android device to a Chromebook using a USB cable.
- Multiple peeks into the internals of ChromeOS are available from chrome://chrome-urls. Perhaps the most useful is
- More peeks into the guts of the system are available at chrome://system, including the display of a number of log files.
- Another useful URL is chrome://network
- 5 reasons Chromebooks are the perfect laptop (for most users) by Jack Wallen for ZDnet (July 2022). They are cheap, fast, reliable and "The ease of use found in ChromeOS is light years ahead of the competition."
- Alt-clicking (right or left click, both work) on an icon on the taskbar is how you can pin or unpin the app from the taskbar.
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