Can iPhones Get Viruses? How to Detect & Remove a Virus or Malware & Restore Your Phone

Can iPhones get viruses? Although rare, your iPad or iPhone can be infected with malware. But you don't need a virus remover or cleaner to get rid of it; we'll go over virus protection, how to do a virus scan, iPhone virus removal, and how to reset and restore your device. So much personal data is stored on iPhones, including photos, messages, contacts, and of course every sensitive piece of information in every email account linked to your device! It's terrible to think what a hacker could accomplish with all that data. On an even creepier level, the iPhone has listening, viewing, and tracking capabilities that, if hacked, can allow your personal conversations, the view from your camera, and your GPS location to be viewed and stored. Knowing all this, I'm sure you're wondering, "Does my iPhone have a virus?" If so, how can we remove viruses from iPhones? Is there a way to prevent another breach? Let's get started learning about iPhone viruses so that we can detect, delete, and keep from getting reinfected with viruses. 

Related: 3 Ways to Protect Yourself from Mobile Fraud and Identity Theft     

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iPhone Virus Protection: How to Keep Your Phone Secure

It's easy to revel in false security and believe our iPhones can't be infected by viruses; after all, the Apple ecosystem has a great track record for safety and defense against electronic invasion of all kinds. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently stated“iPhone, iPad, and Mac are the best tools for work, offering the world’s best user experience and the strongest security." While that assertion may be true, iPhone owners need to do their part to keep their devices virus free, and not just rely on Apple to keep malware at bay. 

What Is Malware? What's a Virus? What's the Difference?

The term virus has entered the common vernacular to mean any unwanted invader of a computer or handheld device; but if we're technical, there is a difference between a virus and malware. Malware is short for malicious software and includes trojan horses, worms, and viruses. Anything that can harm your devices or steal your personal information is included in the malware category. Viruses are a specific type of malware: malicious software programs that replicate themselves by modifying software with their own code once they've invaded. If you follow the tips below, it's very unlikely that your iPhone will be invaded by a true virus or malware of any type.  

Jailbreak? Don't Do It: Protect Your iPhone from Malware & Viruses

Sometimes there's a temptation to jailbreak an iPhone so that software and apps outside of the Apple ecosystem can be uploaded. While it's an understandable urge, once you jailbreak your iPhone, you not only void your warranty but you also leave your device open to the malware it was formerly protected against. According to Paloalto Networks, 225,000 jailbreakers had their data breached and Apple ID usernames and passwords stolen by malware called KeyRaider in 2015. Some of these hacking victims had their iPhones remotely locked and held for ransom as well. Held for ransom means exactly what it sounds like; these hacked iPhone owners had to pay cyber criminals to unlock their phones. 

Once you've jailbroken your phone, you'll most likely be turned away if you bring your device to be serviced at an Apple Store. In my opinion, any convenience you may add by uploading unauthorized software and apps is far outweighed by the prospect of having to buy a new iPhone if your current device gets hacked. Beyond that, there's the potential stress of identity theft, and all the countless hours it will take to change passwords, call banks and credit card companies, and check your credit report. Just don't jailbreak, OK? 

Update iOS for the Latest Malware & Virus Protection 

It can be tempting to wait on updating your operating system; it seems like you just got comfortable with the last version! There's a very good reason to make the switch as soon as possible, though. Operating system updates are a way for Apple to introduce new features and fix bugs, but also to keep security at the highest possible level. When a security breach or even the possibility of one is detected, Apple programmers get to work tightening up the chinks in your iPhone's armor. Waiting to switch to the latest version of iOS leaves your iPhone vulnerable to malware, so update as soon as you can, every time.

Apple App Store: Avoid iPhone Malware & Viruses from Apps

One of the easiest ways to keep viruses and other malware off of your iPhone is to only purchase apps through the Apple App Store, which you're limited to anyway if you haven't jailbroken your device. Apple's App Store has historically been a secure platform for purchasing approved apps from vetted developers. That being said, there have been cases of apps being removed from the store after they were realized to be clever counterfeits, or to include compromised code. When an imposter app slips past App Store screeners, it's not only a copyright issue, but a security one. This is because once a Trojan Horse or other malware app is purchased and downloaded, hackers can access your phone in ways you might not have imagined. If your phone is infected with spyware your keystrokes can be logged, your camera and keypad hijacked, and your personal data can be stolen. The point is, even in the Apple App Store you need to keep your wits about you. Before purchasing any app:

  • Make sure the app has a professional feel: The images should be smooth and unpixelated and spelling and grammar should be correct in the descriptions.
  • Check for app reviews: Are they positive? Is there a large enough number of reviews to indicate that this is a legitimate app that customers are using successfully?
  • Do you recognize the app developer? Do they have a link to a company website you can follow to see this app as well as their other products?

Trust your intuition—sometimes an app just feels off, or maybe it's a "too good to be true" situation like a free app that would usually cost at least a few dollars. If you're still unsure, contact Apple Support with your question, and wait to download the app until your concerns have been addressed. 

Hackers can take the alternate route of infiltrating an app developer's network to steal information gleaned from app store customers. This is why, beyond making sure that you're only downloading from trusted app developers, you'll want to check your privacy settings for each app. Many apps have far more access to your iPhone than they really require to perform the function they're designed for. So turn off permissions for any unnecessary access to your device.

iPhone Malware: Avoid Suspicious Links, Phishing & Robocalls

I think we've all had the experience by now: a questionable download in an email from a friend, a robocall that urges prompt action on a past-due account, an email from your insurance company requesting that you follow a link to update your account information. Any of these might be legitimate, or they might be scammers trying to get access to your iPhone or your personal data.

If you've received an email or message on social media with a link or download that seems different than your usual conversational style or content with the sender, text or call to make sure your friend is really the one who sent that message before downloading or opening anything. If your friend's email or social media account has been hacked, it may be sending messages to their contacts without their knowledge in an attempt to spread the malware still further. Similarly, don't call numbers left in your voicemail, or follow links emailed to you, even if they seem important or official. If your credit card company or bank is trying to contact you, call the number on the back of your card or visit the usual customer service website you've used in the past and report the call or email. If it's a genuine message you'll be able to deal with the issue through customer service; if it's a fraudulent message, you've saved yourself a lot of trouble!   

iPhone Malware: Tricky Pop-ups

This falls into the category of suspicious links above, but is so sneaky that an additional warning is warranted. Sometimes a pop-up will appear on your screen that says something really official sounding—it may even seem to be from Apple! The pop-up is usually a variant of something like this, "Warning! Your iPhone has been compromised by a virus! Scan now!" There's a button to tap which will supposedly scan your iPhone for the offending virus, when in reality this is a link that will infect your device with malware. If you see something like this come up on your screen, never ever engage with the pop-up. Exit the website or app.    

Backing up Your iPhone for Data Security

Just as important as updating to new versions of iOS is getting into the habit of regularly backing up your iPhone. Whether you back up your device with iCloud, iTunes, or both, your photos, contacts, and other important data are preserved. An iCloud backup will be stored in the cloud, and an iTunes backup will save your data on your computer; having both is a double assurance that if your iPhone picks up malware, or is lost or stolen, you'll still have access to all the information it contained. Also, you can use your backups to restore your phone if necessary; we'll get to that in a bit.

Does My iPhone Have a Virus or Other Malware?

So you suspect your iPhone has picked up some malware; it's been acting a bit strangely lately. Well, maybe it does, but probably it doesn't! If you've followed the steps for virus prevention outlined above: not jailbroken your iPhone, updated iOS as soon as possible, and avoided suspicious apps, links, and downloads, then it's unlikely that malware has infected your iPhone. Just in case though, let's go over your phone's symptoms to see if malware is causing the problem.

iPhone Malware: Pop-Ups

If you're experiencing lots of pop-ups when browsing Safari on your iPhone, that's not necessarily a symptom of malware. Make sure you've blocked pop-ups in your Settings, then see if the problem diminishes. If pop-ups keep, well, popping up with the same frequency, you may have an issue.

iPhone Malware: Apps Crashing

Sometimes apps crash, but that should be a rare occurrence. If one or more of your apps are repeatedly crashing, make sure you've updated them all. If a particular app keeps crashing, try deleting and downloading it again. If one or more apps still keep crashing, maybe malware is at play after all.

iPhone Malware: Data Usage Spikes

It's a good idea to have at least a general idea of your typical data usage month over month, in the same way that it's best practice to keep track of your car's gas mileage. This is because an increase in your data usage can indicate a problem in the same way a dip in your gas mileage can. If your iPhone's data usage is suddenly spiking it may be an indicator of malware burning through data in the background of your device.

Virus Remover & Cleaner: How to Get Rid of Malware on Your iPhone 

How to Reset Your iPhone

If you're even marginally convinced that your iPhone has picked up malware, it's time to do an iCloud or an iTunes reset. This step will allow your iPhone to start over with factory settings and, hopefully, no malware.  

To reset your iPhone from an iCloud backup:

  • Open Settings.
  • Scroll down to General and tap it.

reset iphone from settingsvirus remover in settings

  • Tap Reset at the bottom of the menu.
  • Tap Erase all Content and Settings.

reset iphone to remove virusvirus cleaner reset iphone

Once your content and settings have been erased, you'll follow these directions to restore your iPhone from your iCloud backup. Make sure to restore with a backup that was made before your iPhone was compromised with malware.

To restore your iPhone from an iTunes backup:

  • Plug your iPhone into your computer using your USB cord. If iTunes doesn't automatically open when the computer detects your phone, open iTunes.
  • In iTunes, click on your device at the upper left. 

how to restore iphone

  • Next, click on Restore iPhone.

how to restore iphone

  • Follow the on-screen instructions. This will completely erase your iPhone, so make sure you have a recent backup in iTunes.
  • Once your iPhone has been restored, it will start up like a brand new phone. Follow the steps of the setup process. When it’s time to restore from a backup, use a backup of iTunes dated before your suspected virus infected your device.

Apple Support Can Help, Too 

If your iPhone is still showing malware symptoms after you've followed the steps above, it's time to contact Apple Support. If you've owned the device for less than a year and haven't done anything to void your warranty, like jailbreaking, the service may be free. If you're an Apple Care or Apple Care Plus customer, your iPhone warranty is extended, so it's always worth checking in at the Genius Bar.

Top image credit: hurricanehank / Shutterstock.com

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Leanne Hays is a Feature Web Writer at iPhone Life.  She loves reading and blogging, and is never without a book in her backpack or an audiobook on her phone. Short-term goals include finishing painting her house and starting an aquaponics farm, long-term goals include a bike tour of Italy and writing a novel.