Google Images is a great tool for finding any sort of digital inspiration. This tool is available for everyone. However, are Google Images safe? Some users claim that Google Images contain threat actors like malware and hidden executable code. Can you get a virus from using this tool? The answer depends on how you use it. Let’s discuss the question “are Google Images safe” in detail.
Obtaining Viruses in Google Images
When you type something and hit the search button, the search engine will return you image results called thumbnails. These aren’t the actual photos but a preview of them from the Google server. Hence, you are safe at this point since you’re dealing with Google rather than a malicious site. Your device will remain safe even if you download the thumbnail by right-clicking on it.
However, things are different when you left-click on the thumbnails. If you do so, you will be taken to a larger version of that image. At this point, you are taken away from Google to the host site that contains the images. In other words, you are redirected to a site that may be unsafe and exposes your PC to all the associated risks of opening an unknown source.
Thus, even if you don’t actually visit the host site, enlarging the image is enough to release any possible malicious payload. You might get yourself into trouble if a scammer runs the website.
How Can an Image Carry Viruses?
Theoretically, an image can’t contain a virus. JPG, PNG, and WEBP files only contain graphical data, not executable codes. Yet, an advanced malware programmer is capable of carrying out various tactics to infect your PC through an image file. Listed below are a few things they may do.
Some scammers send their photos with a link inside. That is the very same concept that phishers use to lure you into downloading something. However, most people know how to avoid a suspicious email but don’t take the same caution in Google searches. Fraudsters entice unsuspecting victims by sending out free downloadable pictures.
Double File Extension
Think of a file named beautiful.jpg.exe. While the name includes a jpg suffix, the main extension is exe. The file pretends to be a picture but the truth is, it is an executable format that can run malware on your computer.
As soon as you open the exe file, it will affect your operating system. You may not even notice it because it really displays a beautiful picture. Furthermore, your system probably displays it as a valid JPEG file.
This is among the smartest tactics by cybercriminals since your computer or your eyes cannot detect the file unless you run it through a special program. How does this happen? Stenography involves hiding information in the least important bits of the bytes that make up your image.
Yet, the hidden data can’t execute anything by itself since it is static. Another program can process or interpret this data, such as your image viewer or existing malware.
So are Google Images safe? The threats above don’t necessarily mean you should stop using Google Images. However, it is better to buy images from reputable photography websites if you need them for commercial purposes. On the other hand, Google Images is a better and cheaper solution if you need an image for personal use. Finally, you should never forget to practice cyber hygiene.