Can iPhones get viruses? Yes, but the risk is low — here’s how to protect yourself
- The risk of viruses on your iPhone is very low.
- To protect your iPhone from viruses, keep your iOS updated and don’t click on suspicious links.
- If you have a virus, try clearing your browser data or performing a factory reset.
- Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.
Viruses and other kinds of malicious software collectively known as malware hang like a dark cloud over the world of technology.
Security experts warn about the risk of malware on PCs and Macs, and most people run some kind of antivirus software on their desktop or laptop for protection.
But what about iPhones? Are they also at risk? Here’s what you need to know.
Can iPhones get viruses?
In short, the answer is yes, but there is very little risk.
According to Okta’s Vice President of Cybersecurity Strategy Marc Rogers, attacks on iPhones are “pretty rare and tend to be isolated to high value attacks, such as those carried out on behalf of nation states for example the pegasus malware created by NSO Group.”
Raj Samani, Chief Scientist for McAfee, agrees. He also says that attacks on iPhones are much rarer than attacks on Android devices.
Androids have a much more fertile environment for malware because there are so many versions of the OS in the wild, and it’s the carriers not Google that get to decide when or if the operating system is patched with security updates on specific model phones.
In contrast, Apple device owners update their operating system software far more frequently, and Apple doesn’t have to deal with the same amount of OS fragmentation found within the Android ecosystem.
The so-called walled garden, another term for Apple’s approach to requiring third-party apps and services to be specifically approved and vetted through the App Store, effectively prevents malware from taking control of the entire phone.
Note: The number of potential viruses that could affect an iOS-based device is minuscule compared to the tens if not hundreds of thousands of known viruses for PCs.
Yet however small, the threat of iPhone viruses is still very real. Samani says that he frequently sees examples of malware that does infect iOS devices, often delivered via email or SMS messages.
Samani considers the most serious threat that iPhones do face to be fake apps apps that pose as other, legitimate apps for nefarious purposes and phishing attacks, which trick users into giving various account information to bad actors.
Protecting your iPhone from viruses
Though the risk to the average user is quite low, there are still precautions that you can take – and, thankfully, most require little effort.
Both Samani and Rogers recommend that you avoid “jailbreaking” your phone. Jailbreaking is an unauthorized change to iOS that allows you to install apps that aren’t found in the official Apple App Store.
“Consider [and follow] the cyber hygiene measures you would apply to all platforms,” Samani says. Rogers also agrees that keeping your iPhone up to date is key.
Samani also recommends that you don’t click on suspicious links that you may receive as these could very well be phishing attempts. Rogers recommends only installing apps you trust from developers you trust.
If you feel like you may be at risk of iPhone viruses, Rogers suggests using more than one device and to “keep different personas (such as work and personal life) completely separated to reduce exposure further.”
How to check an iPhone for a virus
According to Rogers, it is difficult to give specific advice as all viruses are different. However, both Samani and Rogers did give some usual signs of malware that you can look out for, which include:
You notice a sudden increase in suspicious messages.
You notice apps installed that you did not install.
Your iPhone is running slower than usual.
Random messages appear, such as unexplained calendar appointments.
You experience unusual behavior, such as a decrease in battery life or significant unexplainable data usage increase.
However, as Rogers notes, “none of these things are definitive and all can also be caused by perfectly normal events during usage.”
Quick tip: Some apps can scan your device for viruses or help avoid malicious sites, but these should only be used from trusted and reputable vendors as they could be scams. Examples of apps by reputable vendors are Norton 360, McAfee Security, and Malwarebytes.
How to get rid of a virus on iPhone
If you suspect that your iPhone may have been infected with a virus, there are some steps that you can take in order to remove it.
“There are a multitude of security programs available, but it is important to use a reputable company and via the official app store,” Samani says. “These apps will typically offer additional features that will secure the experience such as VPNs and safe searches.”
If you believe that you got the virus after clicking on a suspicious link in Safari, clearing your browser data might remove it. Here’s how to do it:
Open the Settings app.
Tap on Safari.
Tap on Clear History and Website Data and then tap Clear History and Data.
Quick tip: Other browsers have different directions for clearing their cache. See our guide on how to clear your cache on Google Chrome. For Firefox, tap on the three horizontal bars in the bottom right, tap Settings, tap on Data Management, and select Clear Private Data.
According to Rogers, you should also try to restore your iPhone from a previous backup. If that fails, then factory reset your device and it should wipe your iPhone clean, virus-free.
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