Can iPads get viruses?

A man using an iPad to read about how to protect himself from viruses.

There are no known, common viruses that can attack an iPad, but other threats such as adware, malware and spyware exist. These typically find their way onto your iPad through fake ads, attachments from untrusted sources, phishing attempts, or other nefarious paths into your device.

Here’s some good news for Apple iPad users: Your iPad’s risk of catching a computer virus is extremely low. Here’s why.

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A computer virus is designed to self-replicate and spread to a different host — but Apple has a security measure for that. Its compartmentalized operating system — best known as iOS — is designed to isolate each app, restricting their ability to infiltrate and infect other systems.

Though it may be impossible to write a true virus for the iPad, your device may still be vulnerable to a host of other problems. Here’s a look at several of those threats and what you can do to help avoid them.

Can iPads get viruses? No, but malware is still a threat.

While there are no known, common viruses that can attack an iPad, other threats such as adware, malware and spyware exist. These typically find their way onto your iPad through fake ads, attachments from untrusted sources, phishing attempts, or other nefarious paths into your device. So while you have some control over these threats, you have to know what to look for.

iPad malware

Malware — short for malicious software — can do different things when it’s embedded onto an app. For instance, it may trick you into giving up your password or capture your credit card information.

But there are no malware programs that specifically target iPads, so finding a bad app is rare. Plus, apps can be downloaded only from the Apple App Store, which reviews each iOS app before it’s accepted. Further, the Mac OS scans the app before it opens the first time to ensure it hasn’t been modified since being shipped by the developer.

Still, it’s a good idea to be careful. Never share personal and financial information on an app unless there’s a specific reason for it.

You could also consider downloading a security app, which can help block phishing scams, ad trackers, and calls from known and suspected scammers.

iPad adware scams

This form of malware can track your browser and download history and then predict your interests. The person behind adware scams creates fake ads that target your interests and then bombards you with pop-up advertisements. You may also receive a message that says you’ve won a free gift — as long as you supply some personal information.

If you’ve seen these symptoms, then you may have adware on your iPad. But it’s easy to get rid of. This malware settles into your web cache, so simply clear your web history and data. Use these steps.

  • Open the Settings app.
  • Tap “Safari.”
  • Tap “Clear History and Website Data.”
  • Confirm by tapping “Clear.”

iPad Spyware

Spyware is a type of malware that infiltrates or damages your smartphone, tablet, or computer, often without your knowledge. Here’s what spyware can do.

  • Gather your personal information and relay it to advertisers, data firms, or external users. 
  • Track everything you do on your device, from browsing history and downloads to your keystrokes and chat-room dialogs.
  • Disguise itself as legitimate software, also known as a Trojan horse. Cybercriminals control the spyware to access sensitive information.

Although rare on iOS devices, spyware can still infect your iPad if you download a file from an untrusted source, open an infected email attachment from an unknown sender, or download pirated media.

If your device is unusually slow, unexpectedly crashes, runs out of hard drive space, or starts displaying pop-ups, you might have a form of spyware. Call Apple’s customer support directly for help.

iPad Phishing

Phishing is any attempt to trick you into giving up personal information that scammers can use to access your finances or online accounts. On an iPad, you might encounter phishing through emails and ad pop-ups.

For instance, you might get a pop-up that says your iOS has crashed or your iPad has a virus, and you’ll need to click this link or call this number to fix it. Beware: The people on the other side of the message aren’t Apple employees.

They’re scammers, and they often want you to give up details such as your credit card number, bank account number and PIN, or Social Security number. Here are a few signs that indicate a scam.

  • The message contains urgent language about a problem. The sender usually wants you to “act now.”
  • There are spelling and grammar errors throughout the message.
  • The sender wants you to confirm personal details, download an attachment, click a link, or respond with personal info.

What should you do? Quit the Safari browser, clear your cache, and reboot the iPad. You can also call an officially listed number for the company with any questions and to report potential threats.

How do iPads get malware?

Before placing a computer application in the App Store, Apple reviews each app and then provides a certificate that allows it to download, install, and run on a device. Apps with malicious code have gotten through this screening process, but it’s rare — and Apple typically finds and removes these.

Another way an iPad can become infected is through jailbreaking. That’s the process of removing software restrictions imposed on iOS and Apple products like the iPad and iPhone.

Jailbreaking enables Apple users to customize their devices and install applications, extensions, and other software applications that are not authorized by Apple. But jailbreaking and third-party apps can leave an iPad vulnerable to malware and hackers.

Avoiding unwanted programs and iPad malware

It’s rare for an iPad to become infected with malware, but that doesn’t mean your device is totally safe. Cybercriminals look for new ways to crack into devices. Here are a few precautions you can take to help keep your iPad safe.

Update your iPad software

Apple is quick to fix security holes in its operating systems, so it’s best to protect your Mac device by downloading security updates when prompted. Here’s how to download and run the latest version of the security software.

  • Open the Settings app.
  • Tap “General.”
  • Tap “Software Update.”
  • Run the update and turn on “Automatic Updates.”

Also consider backing up your iPad regularly. If malware gets in, you may need to erase all of your data and restore to the factory settings. By having a recent backup — to an external hard drive or iCloud storage, for instance —you won’t lose all of your files.

Do not jailbreak your iPad

Jailbreaking bypasses Apple’s security and opens the possibility for malware to enter the iPad through third-party apps. It’s best to leave Apple’s operating system in place if you want all the security measures that comes with it.

But if you’ve already jailbroken the device and you notice a problem with your iPad, think back to any recent downloads you’ve made. If any came from outside the App Store or from a third-party app store, it may be the source of your problem. Uninstall the app and check whether the problem persists. You can also try using a VPN while browsing the internet, which makes it harder for cybercriminals to access your connection when you’re on public Wi-Fi..

Turn on “Find My iPad”

Find My iPad is a built-in feature that uses GPS to find your device if it’s lost or stolen. It’s smart to enable this feature, before you need to use it. The ‘Mark as Lost’ feature allows you to remotely lock or erase the contents of your iPad. It can also display a custom message with your phone number so you can be contacted if someone finds your device and wants to return it to you.

If you decide to sell the iPad, first turn off the Find My iPad feature and reset to its factory default settings. It’s also a good idea to turn off Find My iPad before getting it repaired.

Here’s how to turn on this function.

  • Open the Settings app.
  • Tap your name at the top of the screen.
  • Tap “iCloud.”
  • Tap “Find My iPad.”
  • Toggle the “Find My iPad” switch to green.

If you ever need to find the iPad, open the Find My iPad app on another iOS device and sign in with your Apple ID and password. The iPad’s location will appear as soon as you sign in.

Or, you can use a non-iOS device or a desktop to visit in a browser. Click “Find iPhone,” then choose “All Devices.” The name of your iPad should appear. Click it to show the location and a menu with options.

Lock your iPad with a passcode

Set up the passcode security feature on your iPad. This makes it harder for anyone to break in if the iPad is lost or stolen. Here’s how to flip on this feature for an iPad with Face ID.

  • Open the Settings app.
  • Go to “Face ID & Passcode.”
  • Tap “Turn Passcode On.”

Secure your lock screen

Unless you’ve disabled Siri and notifications from your lock screen, anyone who picks up your iPad can use Siri to do things like check your calendar and set reminders. They can also read your notifications on the locked screen. Here’s how to disable those features.

  • Open the Settings app.
  • Tap “Touch ID & Passcode.”
  • Under “Allow Access When Locked,” turn off any functions you don’t want people to access while the screen is locked, such as Siri and “return missed calls.”

Although a virus can’t replicate and snake its way through your iPad apps, malware can find its way onto your device and could lead to mobile mayhem. Help keep your devices safe by spotting phishing attempts, using built-in security options and updating your software regularly.

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Alison Grace Johansen
  • Alison Grace Johansen
  • Freelance writer
Alison Grace Johansen is a freelance writer who covers cybersecurity and consumer topics. Her background includes law, corporate governance, and publishing.

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