Can iPhones get viruses?
iPhone viruses exist, but they’re very rare. The built-in security measures protect iPhones from malware infections. They give the iPhone an upper hand in the constant iPhone vs. Android security competition.
Apple vets all apps in the official App Store, so it’s unlikely you’ll download malicious apps from there. You are only risking infecting your iPhone if you download apps from outside the App Store, which is not possible unless you jailbreak your iPhone. Regular software updates include security patches that protect your iPhone from malware, while sandboxing restricts the apps’ access to the device, adding extra protection. All of this is topped off with data encryption, making it nearly impossible for malicious software to access or modify the data on your iPhone.
But to stay safe from all types of malware, you first have to know the ways your iPhone can be infected.
How do iPhones get viruses?
iPhones might get viruses from a variety of sources, including malicious apps, links, and websites. You can inadvertently help them enter your iOS device by jailbreaking it because jailbreaking your iPhone makes it vulnerable to malware. If your iPhones’ security features are like a locked door that keeps the viruses away, then jailbreaking it is like giving the viruses a key.
For example, downloading a malicious app on your jailbroken iPhone could infect it with the AdThief malware. Once in, AdThief hijacks ad revenue and redirects it to the attacker each time you click on an ad. Another iPhone malware example, the Pegasus spyware, is triggered by opening an infected iMessage. Once installed, the Pegasus spyware collects your data (texts, emails, calls, and live conversations) and sends it to the attacker.
Here are the main ways that viruses infect jailbroken iPhones:
- Third-party apps. Most often Apple users infect their iPhones with viruses by downloading apps outside the official App Store. Unvetted apps might host malicious software that infects your device after the download. The hackers then use the malware for stealing data, spying on you, or taking over your phone.
- Malicious websites. Visiting a malicious website could lead to a virus infection. You could click a malicious link or ad that would trigger a virus download, you could be prompted to download infected files, or visiting the website could trigger an automatic malware download (rare but not impossible). We recommend scanning URLs for viruses to avoid stumbling upon an ill-meaning website and browsing the web safely.
- Malicious iMessages. Hackers sometimes send iMessages containing various types of malware, including viruses. They make these messages seem urgent and important so that you click on a malicious link or open an attachment without thinking twice. And in some cases like the Pegasus example, iMessages might host viruses that will infect your device once you open them, without even clicking on links.
If you’ve ever tampered with your iPhone and suspect it might have a virus, read on to find out the signs of an infection and what to do.
How to tell if your iPhone has a virus
If your iPhone is infected, you may notice data usage spikes, rapid battery drain, suspicious downloads, pop-up ads on Safari, and overheating. Let’s take a look at these iPhone virus signs one by one:
- Data usage spikes. If your iPhone data usage suddenly soars without an obvious reason, it could mean a virus is doing its dirty job. Sometimes viruses transmit large amounts of data from your phone to an external server, increasing data usage.
- Battery drain. Malware and viruses may use significant processing power while running in the background, which may result in your iPhone battery draining, even when you are not using your phone.
- Suspicious downloads. If you find apps on your iPhone you do not remember downloading or are no longer using it, simply delete them.
- iPhone performance issues. If your iOS apps are constantly crashing, there’s a sudden increase in pop-up ads on Safari when you’re not browsing the internet, or your iPhone’s search bar or the iMessage app are not functioning as they normally do, it could mean your iPhone is infected or has been hacked. Find out more on how to tell if your iPhone is hacked.
- Overheating. Malware often causes the processor to work harder, which generates heat. If you are not using your apps excessively and there is nothing wrong with your iPhone’s hardware, overheating could indicate a virus infection.
Sometimes you might notice multiple signs of malware at the same time. So what can you do about it?
How to get rid of a virus on your iPhone
Getting rid of iPhone viruses might not be as straightforward as you’d like, but you can take various measures to clear viruses and other types of malware from your phone. You can do a virus scan first to find out if there are any infected files on your iPhone and quarantine them or in some cases, even remove them right away.
Here is what you can do to remove a virus from your iPhone:
- Restart your iPhone. In some cases, restarting your iPhone can help disable certain types of malware. This is the first step to virus removal.
- Clear your browser history and website data. Clearing your browsing history and website data will not remove viruses but it will prevent you from getting infected with the same malware by revisiting the same malicious websites.
- Remove suspicious apps. If you find unfamiliar apps you do not remember installing on your iPhone, delete them right away. In most cases this will also remove the app’s data and the malicious code if it’s contained within the app itself.
- Check your app permissions. If you’ve been free with app permissions, go through your list of apps and revoke tracking permissions. This way the apps will not be able to access your sensitive data or iPhone features.
- Restore from an earlier backup. By restoring your iPhone from an iCloud backup predating the malware infection, you return your phone to a previous version, free of malware. But keep in mind that the data you have not backed up will be lost with all settings.
- Perform a factory reset. If none of the other solutions work and the malware persists, you can perform an iPhone factory reset. However, this should be your last resort after you’ve exhausted all other options. Here we have a dedicated blog post on how to factory reset your iPhone. Otherwise, contact Apple Support for help.
For a step-by-step guide on implementing each of these solutions, check out our article on how to get rid of malware on your iPhone. And if you suspect your computer might also be infected, find out how to deal with it in our guide on how to get rid of computer viruses. But if you’re a dedicated Mac user, this post will be more relevant to you — how to get rid of malware from your Mac.
Make sure to update your iPhone’s operating system regularly because the latest version will have the necessary security patches for iOS vulnerabilities that malware might exploit. You can turn on automatic iOS updates and forget about it. Just go to your “Settings” app > “General” > “Software update,” then tap “Automatic updates” and turn on “Download iOS updates.” Then turn on “Install iOS updates,” and you’re all set. But updating your iOS is not the only way to stay clear of malware — find out more ways below.
How to protect your iPhone from viruses and malware
First, you can protect your iPhone from viruses by refraining from risky behavior. Download apps only from the App Store and do not jailbreak your iPhone, because jailbreaking allows malicious files to bypass usual security checks. Be careful when visiting unknown or shady websites and never click on any ads or links on such websites. The same goes for links and attachments in messages and emails from unknown senders.
Next, you can take proactive steps to increase your iPhone security. Keeping your iOS up to date and installing reliable security software, such as an antivirus and a VPN, increases your chances of keeping your iPhone malware free.
An antivirus will monitor, detect, and stop many types of malware before they access your data, while a VPN will enhance your overall privacy and security online. For example, NordVPN has the Threat Protection feature that protects your iPhone from malware in a couple ways. It blocks intrusive and malicious ads before they load, helping you to avoid distractions and preventing you from clicking on them. Threat Protection also blocks malicious websites, making your browsing experience smoother and safer.
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