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

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If you think that iPhones are immune to viruses, think again. Find out how to check your iPhone for a virus.

After downloading an app or installing a new update, you’ve probably wondered, “Can iPhones get viruses?” One of the big selling points of iPhones is that they are supposedly immune to viruses and malware. According to Norton, iOS has long been seen as more secure than Android operating systems. But that extra security may not be as foolproof as some have previously believed. Read on to learn how to check your iPhone for a virus, how to get rid of malware on iPhones, and the best antivirus protection for iPhones.

Can iPhones get viruses?

It turns out that iPhones can get viruses, but only if certain criteria are met, according to Robert Siciliano, a security expert for Porch.com. “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.” But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

“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,” explains Attila Tomaschek, a digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy. “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.” If you think that’s concerning, you may want to check out how to permanently delete an app from an iPhone.

The thing that saves most iPhones from facing those same risks is the fact that apps can only be downloaded 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,” Tomaschek says. “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, if iPhones have all this protection, how is it that they are still sometimes susceptible to 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.”

Siciliano says that “iPhone viruses are, in fact, common amongst those who jailbreak their devices.” Once users break those barriers, they open themselves (and their phones) up to all kinds of risks, including viruses.

But most iPhone users have nothing to worry about, according to Tomaschek. “The good news is that it is extremely uncommon for iPhones to get viruses due to the stringent security measures Apple builds into their devices, along with the App Store security requirements for app developers. Everyday iPhone users typically won’t have the need to jailbreak their devices, so their risk of contracting malware on their device is much lower than those users’ who choose to jailbreak their iPhones.”

How to check iPhones for viruses

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. If you jailbroke your phone and it’s acting buggy, chances are it has a virus. If you notice that unfamiliar apps are appearing on your home screen or that your apps are continuously crashing, it may be a sign of malware infection. You should uninstall any apps that you don’t recognize. Also, go into Settings and take a look at your data usage. If it’s way higher than it typically is or doesn’t match up with your actual data usage, it could be a sign of a virus on your iPhone.

Also, you should be doing this already, but keep a close eye on your phone bill every month. 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 them what it’s from.

Lastly, a few other signs of malware on your iPhone are pop-ups appearing when you’re not using your browser, a battery that drains quickly, and your phone overheating.

How to get rid of malware on iPhone

If your iPhone is infected with a virus, there are a few things you can do to fix your phone.

  • Delete apps that are unfamiliar, look suspicious, or that you did not download. Or, if you noticed that the problems with your phone started when you downloaded a specific app, delete that app.
  • Turn your iPhone off and then back on. It sounds simple, but it can help fix the problem.
  • If restarting your phone doesn’t help, restore your phone to a previous backup. Keep trying different backups until the problem is solved. To do this go to Settings > Click on your Apple ID at the top > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups and select which backup you want to restore your phone to.
  • Clear your data and history. To do this go to Settings > Safari > Clear History and Website Data.
  • Restore your phone to factory settings. Before doing this make sure to back up your important files first. Go to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings.

These are the apps security experts would never have on their phones.

Virus protection for iPhone

How can users protect their iPhones from viruses? The answer to this question is pretty simple. “Number one, don’t jailbreak your iPhone,” Siciliano says. “Additionally, do not download or attempt to download software from outside of iTunes.”

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.

However, 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. “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.” And just so you know, if these apps are still on your phone, someone may be spying on you.

A few other things you can do to protect or prevent your iPhone from getting a virus:

  • Download a reliable antivirus software to protect and alert you when something isn’t right, such as Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender.
  • Only download apps from the Apple app store.
  • Thoroughly read through the app description, reviews, and the number of downloads before installing an app. If the app has good, honest reviews and millions of downloads, it’s less likely to be malware.
  • 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 WiFi. Never shop online or use a banking app or website when you’re on public WiFi. These are some other things you should never do when using public WiFi.

“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.”

Other iPhone threats

“The biggest threat that users face is via software downloaded through iTunes 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.” 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 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.

To protect yourself, you should 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.” Here are a few other red flags that you’re about to fall for a phishing email.

Man in the middle

Another risk iPhone users need to be cognizant of is what Tomaschek refers to as “man in the middle” attacks. “Such an attack can often occur when the user is connected to an unsecured public Wi-Fi hotspot,” 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.”

The best way users can protect themselves from these types of attacks is by downloading a VPN app to protect your phone when you are using public Wi-Fi. “A VPN (virtual private network) 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.

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.” Next, find out the 15 things you’re doing to your iPhone that Apple experts wouldn’t.

Sources:

Leah Campbell
Leah Campbell covers technology for Reader’s Digest as well as sites including Reviewed.com. She has a degree in developmental psychology and has written extensively on topics relating to infertility, dating, adoption and parenting. A single mother by choice after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter, Leah is also author of the book Single Infertile Female. She lives in Alaska. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin.