Imagine being able to pay around $200 for a computer that is simple to operate, super-fast to boot up and can serve as the linchpin in your strategy to protect yourself and your finances from cyber-threats.
Those are just a few of the reasons why money expert Clark Howard loves his “Financial Chromebook.”
What Is a Chromebook?
You’re probably familiar with traditional laptops that run Windows or some version of macOS as the operating system. The Chromebook is Google’s entry into the same laptop market space and it runs on Google’s own Chrome OS (operating system).
Chromebooks come pre-loaded with Google’s namesake browser (Chrome) and are super easy to use. And here’s a plus: When you fire up a Chromebook, there’s almost no boot-up time. That’s because everything is stored in the cloud, so it’s not a data-heavy operation.
If you need a new laptop but you don’t want to spend a lot of money, Chromebooks can be a great option.
“Chromebooks initially were lame, but now they’re fantastic. They’re simple, fast and cheap. $199 buys you a very good Chromebook,” Clark says. “They have decent battery life, you can get on the internet quickly, and they’re easy to travel with.”
And if you’re used to using something like Quicken to track your personal finances, you’ll find that there is a cloud sync feature that lets you still use it on a Chromebook.
How Does ‘Sandboxing’ Work on a Chromebook?
Clark has long recommended that you have a dedicated Chromebook for all financial transactions in your life.
The rationale here is simple. Because Chromebooks are designed to store everything in the cloud — not on a physical hard drive — they are almost impenetrable to viruses.
Using a dedicated Chromebook for your finances is a prime example of a concept known in computer security circles as “sandboxing.”
Sandboxing is the idea of corralling off a part of your computer into a virtual environment (or “sandbox”) where you do all your activity.
The idea is that when you’re browsing within the virtual sandbox, you are totally walled off from other parts of your computer. Anything downloaded from the internet is isolated to the sandbox. Similarly, any programs you choose to run within the sandbox (such as email programs) have no access to your files, your operating system or any other part of your computer.
Before exiting the browser or program, you simply delete the contents of the sandbox to destroy any viruses, spyware or keyloggers you may have picked up along the way.
But here’s the beautiful thing: Chromebooks do this seamlessly as part of their operation. It’s central to their operating system’s architecture.
Are Chromebooks Better Than Other Computers for Financial Safety?
Security expert Willis McDonald of Nisos talked with Clark.com and told us there’s no way to stay completely safe from criminals looking to compromise your financial accounts. But Chromebooks come pretty darn close.
“A Chromebook is not inherently more secure than other devices, but you are less likely to get infected using the Chromebook than you would, say, a Windows machine,” McDonald says. “Criminals don’t target Chromebooks as much because they’re not running on a popular operating system.”
Meanwhile, USA Today notes the Chromebook’s operating system also mitigates virus risk by disallowing the installation of traditional program or applications. And during each reboot, the Chromebook ensures software integrity and repairs any intrusions if necessary.
The install of verified security updates from Google is handled automatically by the Chromebook, too!
So the whole point is to segregate out the vulnerabilities and that’s something Chromebooks do beautifully.
Tips for Using Your Chromebook to Ensure Online Financial Safety
A Chromebook should only be used to access your bank or credit union accounts, those financial institutions’ online bill pay, and your brokerage or investment accounts.
On the question of Social Security, Clark comes down on the side of saying that it is acceptable for you to access your mySocialSecurity account from your Chromebook.
However, he does advise against using it to interact with a government organizations like the Department of Motor Vehicles.
We also get questions about if it’s safe to do your taxes online using a Chromebook. Clark does not advise this because you’re importing information like your W-2, which can be a target for tax scams.
And you should never, ever, EVER use your Chromebook for any of the following purposes:
- Surfing the web
- Online shopping
- E-mail access
- Visiting Facebook, Twitter or any other social media platform
Take These Steps When You’re Ready to Make the Switch to a Chromebook
One of the first things you’ll want to do when you get a Chromebook is create new Google account credentials specifically for your Chromebook. Clark says if you really want to make things airtight as much as you can, this is the way to do it.
McDonald, meanwhile, recommends going one step further.
“What I would advise is that you set up two-factor authentication on all your Google accounts. While it’s not foolproof, in general it’s way harder and way less common for criminals to be able to bypass multi-factor authentication. So it prevents the vast majority of criminals getting into your Google account.”
Once you have your Chromebook up and running, you should delete any financial bookmarks on your old computer and clear the history. From that point on, you should never use anything other than your Chromebook to access those accounts.
If you need to set up a new account that involves getting an email, do that on your other computer, then access the account on your Chromebook going forward. Again, you’ll want to clear your history after the account is set up.
As a reminder, you should never save passwords on your Chromebook and remember to always use two-factor authentication!