malware – Is it safe to view a file on Google Drive?

Let’s unpack this:

“… Can I safely view these types of files on a google drive (without downloading them)…”

When you view or edit a remote file, you are downloading it. You can see it only because it’s on your computer. Depending on circumstances it may only be in memory, it may be written to a temp file, it may be in chunks if the file is exceptionally large, but it’s on your computer.

“… images, mp4s, word, PowerPoints and pdf documents … nothing executable and no programs …”

Images like JPGs or videos like MP4s are not going to carry executable malware outside of torturous logic involving steg and third party executable malware. There have been some extremely rare exploits against graphic driver flaws in the past but the odds of encountering that are just about zero.

However there are a number of file types that are executable that might not seem like it and can carry malware . The old Windows “.wmf” graphic file contains an executable capability. So too might all Windows Office files like PowerPoint. Adobe PDF, while really convenient, has a very long history of many and continuing security issues with dangerous executable capabilities, that’s why there’s concerted effort industry wide to stop using PDF.

“…Can I safely view these types of files … from an uninfected laptop or is best to use a Chromebook?”

I’m guessing you are referring to using a different operating system than Windows, under the assumption of Windows only malware? Using a different operating system will help provide a buffer, but cross platform malware is not unusual in scriptable mechanisms such as MS Office and PDF’s.

How likely is it that you may encounter these types of malware I can’t say. The safest way to handle it is to use a non-persistent OS that can’t be infected past a power cycle. (Yes there are extremes of BIOS/GraphicCard/etc modifications but it’s not a significant concern.)