Can iPhones Get Viruses? What to Know About Malware on iPhones

Updated: Jun. 12, 2024

If you think iPhones are immune to viruses, think again. Experts explain how to check for and remove viruses on an iPhone.

Downloading an app or installing a new update is bound to make you question the security of your smartphone … unless you use an Apple device. One of the biggest selling points of iPhones is that they are supposedly immune to viruses and malware. According to Norton, a leading antivirus and antimalware company, iOS has long been seen as more secure than Android operating systems. And yet we can’t help but wonder: Are Apple devices truly that safe, or can iPhones get viruses too?

The fact is, that extra security may not be as foolproof as some have previously believed. When it comes to the risk of getting a virus on your iPhone, there’s one important loophole you need to know about. To get to the bottom of it, we asked two cybersecurity and digital privacy experts if iPhones can get viruses—and what tech tips they can offer to keep smartphones safe.

Read on for the details, including how to check for viruses on iPhones and how to get rid of malware on iPhones. We’ll even point you to the best antivirus protection for your iPhone.

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Can iPhones get viruses?

It turns out that iPhones can get viruses—but only if certain criteria are met, according to Robert Siciliano, a cybersecurity expert and the co-founder of Protect Now, a company that trains individuals and businesses to protect themselves from cybercrime, social media intrusion and identity theft.

That may sound bad, but there’s some really good news: “The likelihood of everyday iPhone users getting a virus is slim to none,” he says. “The iPhone’s operating system design does not facilitate a virus the same way a Windows operating system or an Android operating system does.”

Why are viruses rare for iPhones?

The thing that saves most iPhones from facing those same risks is the fact that users can download apps only from Apple’s official App Store.

“On top of that, Apple has a rigorous vetting process for the approval of third-party apps to be available for download on its App Store,” says Attila Tomaschek, a digital privacy expert who has contributed research to ProPrivacy, a site focused on online security. “iPhone apps are also sandboxed, meaning that they are isolated from other apps and from the phone’s operating system. Therefore, for everyday iPhone users, the risk of contracting malware on their device is quite low.”

So how do iPhones get viruses?

“Can iPhones get viruses?” may have been our first and most pressing question for our tech experts, but it was far from our last. After all, iPhones may be less likely to get viruses, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Naturally, we were curious as to how exactly a virus can end up on an iPhone. Siciliano and Tomaschek pointed to two main culprits.

Malicious apps

If iPhones have all this protection, how is it that they are still sometimes susceptible to viruses? Tomaschek points to shady apps.

“Perhaps the most common way smartphones can become infected with malware is through malicious apps that are typically downloaded from unofficial, third-party app stores,” he explains. “Fake, malicious apps can have the ability to automatically load malware onto a user’s device and be used to effectively commandeer the device and steal sensitive personal and financial information.”

Jailbroken devices

Here’s some good news for anyone scratching their head at the term jailbroken: If you don’t know what that means, you probably haven’t done it, and your iPhone is less likely to get a virus.

Jailbreaking an iPhone is the process of removing certain restrictions on the phone’s operating system. Users may do this to personalize their iPhones or gain greater control of their devices. But it comes with risks. Siciliano says that “iPhone viruses are, in fact, common among those who jailbreak their devices.” In other words, once you break those barriers, you open yourself (and your phone) up to all kinds of risks, including viruses.

“Users who have jailbroken their iPhones are at a considerably greater risk of having their device infected with malware,” Tomaschek says. “This is because users with jailbroken devices are free to download apps from a variety of other app stores, not only from Apple’s official App Store. Apps downloaded from unofficial app stores are not necessarily vetted for security and can often be intentionally loaded with malware.”

If you have a jailbroken device, check your iPhone privacy settings and make sure everything looks right. And if you don’t, you can breathe easy. “Everyday iPhone users typically won’t have the need to jailbreak their devices,” Tomaschek says, “so their risk of contracting malware on their device is much lower than those users who choose to jailbreak their iPhones.”

How to check for viruses on an iPhone

Have you suddenly noticed unfamiliar apps on your home screen? Are your apps continually crashing? Uh-oh. You may have a malware infection.

If your iPhone is acting strange and you suspect it has a virus, there are a few things you can check for to confirm your suspicion. (And if your jailbroken phone is acting buggy, chances are it has a virus.) Here’s what to do:

  • Look for suspicious apps. Scan your screens: Do you see any apps that you don’t recognize? That’s a red flag.
  • Check your data usage. Open the Settings app, tap “Cellular” and then scroll down to “Cellular Data” to look at your data usage. You’ll see your total usage for the period, along with the apps that are using cellular data—and how much. If your data usage is way higher than usual or doesn’t match your actual data usage, it could be a sign of a virus on your iPhone.
  • Check your phone bill. Malware can send messages to premium services, causing your monthly payment to spike. If you see an unfamiliar payment, call your service provider and ask what it’s from.
  • Look out for other warning signs. Red flags of malware include pop-ups that appear when you’re not using your browser, a quickly draining battery and an overheating phone.

How to remove viruses from an iPhone

If your iPhone is infected with a virus, there are a few things you can do to fix it. Below, you’ll find five actions experts suggest taking immediately.

Delete apps

Remove any unfamiliar or suspicious apps, as well as any you did not download. If your phone started having problems after you downloaded a specific app, delete it.

Power down

Turn your iPhone off and then back on again. It sounds simple, but it can help fix the problem.

Restore your phone

Can Iphones Get Viruses Restore Your PhoneRD.com, Getty Images

If restarting your phone doesn’t help, restore it to a previous backup. Keep trying different backups until the problem is solved. To do this, follow these simple steps:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Click on your Apple ID at the top.
  3. Tap “iCloud.”
  4. Tap “Manage Account Storage.”
  5. Tap “Backups.”
  6. Select which backup you want to use to restore your phone.

Clear your data and history

Can Iphones Get Viruses Clear Your Data And HistoryRD.com, Getty Images

Believe it or not, the simple act of clearing your browser cache and history can protect you from future malware attacks. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Tap “Safari.”
  3. Select “Clear History and Website Data.”
  4. Check the box to clear “All history.”
  5. Tap the red “Clear History” button.

Restore your phone to factory settings

Can Iphones Get Viruses Restore Your Phone To Factory SettingsRD.com, Getty Images

This last-ditch effort to get rid of malware on an iPhone takes a little planning. Before you do a factory reset on your iPhone, be sure you back up your important files. Once you’ve backed up your data, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Settings app.
  2. Tap “General.”
  3. Tap “Transfer or Reset iPhone.”
  4. Select “Erase All Content and Settings.”

How to protect your iPhone from viruses

How can you keep viruses off your iPhone? The answer is pretty simple: “No. 1, don’t jailbreak your iPhone,” Siciliano says. He advises against downloading or attempting to download software from outside of the App Store.

Tomaschek agrees. “Besides being a risky maneuver that voids any warranty and can render your iPhone damaged beyond repair, jailbreaking can decrease the overall security of your iPhone and considerably increase the device’s risk of being infected with malware,” he says.

There are a few other precautions you can take to ensure your iPhone’s safety. “Another way to protect your iPhone from malware, especially if you have a jailbroken device, is to closely examine the developer’s description along with the download numbers and user reviews associated with any app you are considering downloading,” says Tomaschek, who notes that apps with good, honest reviews and millions of downloads are less likely to be malware. “If the developer’s description contains misspellings or other grammatical errors, if the download numbers are low and if the user reviews are generally unfavorable, it is usually best to stay away and not risk downloading an app that may potentially contain malware.”

Steps to keep your iPhone safe from viruses

The best way to prevent your iPhone from getting a virus? By following this expert advice:

  • Download reliable antivirus software to protect and alert you when something isn’t right. Reputable companies include Norton, McAfee and Bitdefender.
  • Download apps only from the Apple App Store.
  • Thoroughly read an app’s description, reviews and download numbers before installing it.
  • Mark all suspicious emails as spam and do not click on any unverified links in the body of the email.
  • Keep your operating system updated. This ensures that you are protected by Apple’s latest security updates.
  • Update your apps regularly.
  • Use caution when connected to public Wi-Fi. Never shop online or use a banking app or website when you’re on public Wi-Fi.

“A little common sense can go a long way in protecting your iPhone from becoming infected with malware and in protecting your sensitive data online,” Tomaschek adds. “It is important to be aware of the risks and know what to look out for. If something looks off for any reason or if an offer seems too good to be true, then you may be dealing with a scam or a malicious piece of software that can compromise your iPhone.”

How to recognize other iPhone threats

Beyond knowing if iPhones can get viruses and how malware might end up on your device, there are a few additional threats every iPhone user should be aware of.

Excessive data collection

“The biggest threat that users face is via software downloaded through [the App Store] that is grabbing more data than the user would prefer,” Siciliano says. “And interestingly, the user often provides permission via the terms of service, approving of that additional data being taken.”

How to stay safe: To prevent this, read app reviews and pay attention to the terms of service you’re agreeing to. Siciliano says the free apps are often the biggest culprits.

Phishing scams

iPhone users also need to be careful about Apple phishing scams, Tomaschek says. “These scams often target iPhone users through email and via text message and can be used to steal sensitive personal information from the user or even inject malware onto the user’s device,” he explains.

How to stay safe: Never click on any links or download any attachments from unsolicited emails or text messages. “The links can lead to phishing sites that may superficially appear to be legitimate but are actually designed to steal your personal information, and attachments can contain malware,” Tomaschek says. “Look out for misspellings and grammatical mistakes within the email or text message, along with any other anomalies, including the sender’s email address not matching up with the company that supposedly sent the email or a web address that doesn’t exactly match up with a site’s official web address.”

All of this can indicate a phishing scam. “Your best bet is to simply delete the email entirely,” he adds. “Do not click on any links or attachments, and do not engage with the sender.”

Man-in-the-middle attacks

Another risk iPhone users need to be cognizant of is what Tomaschek refers to as a man-in-the-middle attack. “Such an attack can often occur when the user is connected to an unsecured public Wi-Fi hot spot,” he explains. “Hackers can easily intercept sensitive data traveling from a user’s device across the internet to another device or website when the network being used is not properly secured.”

How to stay safe: The best way users can protect themselves from these types of attacks is by downloading a VPN (virtual private network) app to protect their phones and keep their information safe when using public Wi-Fi.

“A VPN will fully encrypt all of your online communications by routing your connection through a secure tunnel to a server in a remote location, effectively hiding all of your activity and data transmissions from hackers or anyone else lurking on the unsecured network,” he says.

How to approach iPhone safety

At the end of the day, it all comes down to being smart about how you use your phone. “Apple does quite a bit to protect their users from various security threats, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can or should use your iPhone in a manner that completely neglects your digital security,” Tomaschek says. “Knowing what you yourself can also do to protect your digital privacy online is necessary for ensuring your iPhone stays secure and your data is properly protected.”

About the experts

  • Robert Siciliano is a cybersecurity expert and the co-founder of Protect Now, a company that provides training to secure and protect individuals and businesses from cybercrime, social media intrusion and identity theft. A former private investigator and early victim of online fraud, he developed the Cyber, Social Identity (CSI) Protection Certification program to train people to recognize security risks and stay safe online.
  • Attila Tomaschek is a digital privacy expert who has served as a researcher for ProPrivacy and managed the customer support team at Buffered VPN.

Why trust us

Reader’s Digest has published hundreds of articles on personal technology, arming readers with the knowledge to protect themselves against cybersecurity threats and internet scams as well as revealing the best tips, tricks and shortcuts for computers, cellphones, apps, texting, social media and more. For this piece, Michael Sherwood, vice president of product at antimalware company Malwarebytes, gave it a rigorous review to ensure that all information is accurate and offers the best possible advice to readers. We rely on credentialed experts with personal experience and know-how as well as primary sources including tech companies, professional organizations and academic institutions. We verify all facts and data and revisit them over time to ensure they remain accurate and up to date. Read more about our team, our contributors and our editorial policies.

Sources:

  • Robert Siciliano, cybersecurity expert and co-founder of Protect Now; interviewed March 2021
  • Attila Tomaschek, digital privacy expert; interviewed March 2021
  • Norton: “Android vs. iOS: Which is better for security?”