Chromebooks—and all Chrome OS devices—have a lot going for them in terms of security. Installing malware on them is tricky, and wiping them to start over from scratch is a snap. It’s still wise to add another layer of privacy protection in the form of a VPN, especially if you’re using your Chromebook on a public Wi-Fi network.
Does Your Chromebook Need a VPN?
The short answer is yes, you probably need one. To explain why, we should explain briefly what a VPN is. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between your Chromebook and a server operated by a VPN company. When you pass your internet traffic through that tunnel, you ensure it cannot be spied on in transit. You need a VPN because when it’s active, anyone on the same network as you, anyone that can access that network’s router, your ISP, and sneaky intelligence agents will all be kept in the dark. Furthermore, your IP address is hidden, which means your location is, too. For more details, you should read our story, Why You Need a VPN, and How to Choose the Right One.
How to Set Up a VPN on a Chromebook
There are a couple of ways to get your Chromebook protected by a VPN. You can use a Chrome browser extension or use an Android app. Manual VPN installation is possible, but we don’t recommend doing it because the process often involves using less-secure VPN protocols
1. Use a Chrome VPN Extension
Using a Chrome browser extension is probably the easiest way to secure your web traffic. In fact, we have an entire roundup of Chrome browser extensions to help you pick the right one, if this is the way you choose to go.
Why wouldn’t you go this easier route? The problem is that Chrome VPN extensions only secure your web browser traffic. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. If you want to secure your web traffic but don’t want your VPN to screw up your video streaming, you can protect the browser and use, say, an Android app for viewing Netflix that won’t be piped through the VPN. However, this can also create confusion about what is and what isn’t secure on your device.
2. Use an Android VPN App
The most comprehensive way to secure your Chromebook’s web traffic is to use an Android VPN app on your Chromebook. Download the VPN app of your choice, log in, and switch it on. Android VPN apps appear as connection options in the network settings menu on your Chromebook.
You’ll need to be running the latest version of Chrome OS and to activate the Google Play store from the Chrome OS settings menu. Just open the Settings app, search for Google Play, and toggle it on. If you’re using a corporate Google account, however, you may not be able to activate Google Play without approval from your system administrator.
Most VPN apps for Chromebook are Android apps. Not all Android apps appear on Chrome OS as they do on your mobile devices and some apps will not work with some Chromebooks. Check out this guide to installing Android apps on your Chromebook.
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Using mobile apps on a computer might not be the first thing a consumer thinks to do, but it’s the most effective way to use some of the best VPNs we’ve reviewed, including Editors’ Choice picks such as NordVPN, ProtonVPN, and TunnelBear VPN.
A major selling point of Chromebooks is their security. With little opportunity to store or run malware, Chromebooks are a blessing to the low-cost computer market. Just restart to solve most problems and power wash your worries away.
Surveillance and online threats are the greatest potential pitfall for Chromebook owners. For now, Android VPN apps are your best option for protecting your privacy online while using a Chromebook.