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[liberationtech] Chromebooks for Risky Situations?

Ali-Reza Anghaie ali at
Tue Feb 5 22:22:20 PST 2013

It's something we've explored as an option in the Executive Protection
space - and paired with Google two-factor it's a marked improvement over
anything most of these end-users were doing before. There is at least one
3G radio version too - more almost certainly coming at better price points.

As I've thought about it, some really disagreeable security risks of using
certain types of security related Chrome plugins (e.g. recent Mailvelope,
DOM, OpenPGP.js discussions), might be more tenable risks in a Chromebook
deployment. Obviously that doesn't fix anything "back home" but it's
another part of the risk equation.

How can projects like Privly play into it? Carrying a Tor Router along with
you or building one on-site. None of the operational matters will ever
be squarely addressed by one platform but it all can be decision-treed out

The Google ecosystem risk is real and reasonable to consider - but weighed
against other realities? And while I don't expect any vendor to fight our
Government battles for us - Google has been more ally than foe IMO.

It's a worthwhile discussion that could lead to a fork or three down the
road. -Ali

On Tue, Feb 5, 2013 at 10:29 PM, Nadim Kobeissi <nadim at> wrote:

> Dear LibTech,
> I'm frankly not sure about this idea, it may certainly be a bad one, but
> I've been using a Chromebook for almost a week now, and I've had some
> observations regarding this device. I'd like to discuss whether it's a good
> idea to hypothetically have Chromebooks used by activists, journalists,
> human rights workers and so on, as opposed to laptops with either Windows
> or Mac OS X running on top.
> First, the security and operational models are very interesting. In fact,
> I think this is probably the most secure end-user laptop OS currently on
> the mainstream market. Namely, Chromebooks use verified boot, disk
> encryption (with hardware-level tamper-resistance,) and sandboxing. This
> compounds with a transparent automatic update schedule from Google's Chrome
> team, which already has (from my experience) a truly superb reputation for
> security management. I'm looking at you, Adam Langley!
> The operating system itself is minimal. There is *much* less room for
> malware to be executed or for spyware to embed itself on the OS level. The
> difference in attack vector size between Chromebooks and Mac OS/Windows
> appears phenomenal to me. Of course, Chromebooks still have a filesystem
> and users are allowed to plug in USB drives, but due to the minimal nature
> of the operating system, its highly unusual strength of focus on security,
> and its relatively new nature, even malware delivered from these mediums
> may end up being much less common than in other platforms (Windows/Mac).
> I also feel that the minimal nature of Chromebooks leaves security
> considerations out of the way while offering an interface that is
> accessible to activists and journalists around the world. This
> accessibility is also a security feature! (I've long argued that
> accessibility should be considered a security feature.)
> Now, for the obvious (and unfortunate!) downsides: Chromebooks natively
> encourage users to store all of their data on Google, leaving the company
> with an unbalanced amount of control over these machines, and attracting
> itself as a compromise target relevant to Chromebook users. Another
> downside: No Tor. No PGP. No encryption software. Cryptocat is available
> for Chrome OS, but I can hardly say that's enough at all!
> The restricted, minimal nature of the operating system and the
> security-focused design of both the hardware and boot process are really
> appealing to me, and are the brunt of what makes me write this email.
> Should Chromebooks be recommended for activists and journalists in
> dangerous situations?
> As I've disclaimed above, this is only a theoretical discussion, please
> feel free to disagree and don't take me seriously just yet. :-)
> NK
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