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Can iPhones get viruses? Short answer: Yes

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November 2, 2021

One of the big selling points of iPhones is that they’re more secure than Android phones. It’s rare for iPhones to become infected with viruses. In fact, if you don’t tamper with your iPhone, the odds are slim that viruses will hit your smartphone.

But rare doesn't mean impossible. If you want to protect your iPhone from malicious software, it’s a good idea not to jailbreak it.

Can iPhones get viruses? 

Downloading apps from unofficial, third-party app stores is one of the main risks you can take with your smartphone. That’s because these apps often hide malicious software. When you download the apps to your phone, that malware can infect your device.

Hackers can then use this malware to take over your phone and access your personal and financial information. They can then use this information to break into your online bank accounts or access your online credit card portal, possibly causing significant financial damage.

That’s why you should only download apps from trusted sources, such as Google Play or the App Store.

If you have an iPhone, you can only download apps from the App Store. This is partly why it is so rare for iPhones to get hit with viruses: Users aren’t allowed to download apps from any source other than the App Store, and Apple vets all the apps offered there.

But there is a way for users to download apps from unofficial sources. To do this, they’ll have to jailbreak their iPhone. Jailbreaking is when you use software to modify your iPhone, allowing it to take actions that Apple never intended, including downloading apps from sources other than the App store. 

While jailbreaking your iPhone might give you more freedom in how you use your smartphone, it also opens your device to the threat of viruses.

Can iPhones get viruses from websites? 

While it's true that iPhones are more secure than smartphones that use the Android operating system, it's not true that Apple's smartphones are completely protected against viruses. While your odds of picking up a virus while surfing the web on your iPhone are low, they're not zero.

Google's Project Zero, which consists of a team of researchers looking for active online threats, published a report in 2019 exploring several malicious websites that had been attacking iPhones for at least two years prior to the report's publication.

These sites targeted 14 software vulnerabilities to attack iPhones, the report said. Seven of these vulnerabilities existed in the Safari browser, the browser that most iPhone owners use. 

The Project Zero report said that the websites were able to attack Apple operating systems from iOS 10 to iOS 12.

The malicious websites were able to install spyware on the smartphones of victims. The spyware spies on users' online activities, allowing cybercriminals to learn the passwords and authentication tokens stored in the iCloud Keychain. This gives the cybercriminals access to victims' accounts, including bank and credit card accounts if victims logged onto them from their iPhones.

The good news is that Apple developers have since plugged the holes that let attackers exploit their software. These fixes took effect with the iOS 12.1.4 operating system released in February of 2019.

But while these attacks have since been shut down, it's unclear how many users with older iPhones had already infected their phones. And it's also unclear if other attackers will be able to launch their own malicious websites that could hit iPhones.

The reason why iPhone viruses are rare 

iPhone viruses are so rare mainly because most owners can only download apps from the official App Store. This is key because infected apps are one of the more common ways for hackers to install malware on smartphones. Apple vets the apps in its App Store to make sure that they are safe. This is known as the “walled garden” approach.

Again, the only way for iPhone owners to download apps from sources other than the App Store, is to modify or jailbreak their devices. Most owners won’t do this.

At the same time, there are many more Android-based smartphones in the market. Because this market is so much larger, it’s a more tempting target for hackers. There are fewer potential victims using iPhones, so cybercriminals tend to instead focus on the Android market for their attacks.

You received a virus “warning” on your iPhone. Is it real? 

But what if you're browsing the web and a virus warning suddenly pops on your screen?  

First, don't panic. These warnings are always scams, usually designed to trick you into
clicking on a link.

Apple won't send pop-ups to your phone, even ones warning that your iPhone's been infected with a virus. If you see one of these warnings, then, resist the temptation to tap on it or call any phone numbers included in the alert. Security experts warn that you shouldn't even tap on an "X" or "close" button if one of these scam alerts includes them. 

Clicking on these ads will usually send you to a phishing site. On these sites, scammers try to trick you into giving up your personal or financial information. The site might ask you to provide your name, address, passwords to online accounts, or even your Social Security number to help protect your iPhone from a virus. If you provide this information, the criminals behind these sites can use it to access your online accounts or take out loans or credit cards in your name.        

  • If one of these fake alerts pops up on your iPhone, don't tap on the pop-up. Instead, click on the TAB icon.        
  • Tap the "X" button on the tab or swipe up to close the tab safely. This will make the scam virus alert disappear.        
  • Next, open your iPhone's Settings app. Tap the Safari option. Click on the “Clear history and website data” button. Check, too, to make sure the “Block pop-us” and “Fraudulent website warning” options are also turned on. 

How do you know if there’s a virus on your iPhone? 

Though it is rare, it is possible that malware can infect your iPhone. Fortunately, there are several warning signs you can look for to help you determine when your iPhone has a virus.        

  • Do you see apps on your iPhone that you don’t remember downloading? Strange apps suddenly appearing on your device are a good sign that your phone has been hit with malware.        
  • Has your iPhone’s data usage soared? If you notice that your iPhone is suddenly consuming more data, that’s another clue that a virus might have infected your device. 
  • Is your iPhone overheating more often? Overheating could be caused by malware running on your iPhone.        
  • Is your iPhone displaying pop-ups even when your browser is closed? This is unusual activity. Pop-ups should never appear when you’re not browsing the internet. If they are, this could be another sign that your phone has been infected with malware.

How to remove a virus from your iPhone 

If you somehow do find malware on your iPhone, you can take simple steps to remove it.        

  • Delete suspicious apps: The first step? Delete any apps from your device that you don’t remember having downloaded. If you downloaded any apps right when your phone started showing signs of malware? Delete those apps, too, just to be safe.        
  • Clear out your history: Within your iPhone’s Settings menu, click on Safari. Next, click on the “Clear history and website data” option.        
  • Turn off and restart your iPhone: Restarting your iPhone will often eliminate
    any problems your device is having.        
  • If this doesn’t work, try an earlier backup version: If you are still experiencing
    problems, you can try restoring your iPhone from an earlier backup version that might not be infected with malware.        
  • And the final solution? Restore your iPhone’s factory settings: If none of these steps solve your problem, it’s time to return your iPhone to its original factory settings. Doing this will remove all malware from your device. Be sure, though, to save a backup of your important files, too. Restoring your iPhone to its factory settings will also erase your files. To do this, go to Settings and then click on the General option. Hit “Reset all content and setttings” to restore your iPhone to its original factory settings.

How to protect your iPhone from viruses 

Because iPhones are so secure, you only need  take a few steps to protect your device from malware.        

Only download apps from the App Store: First, and most important, if you do jailbreak your iPhone, never download apps from any source other than the App Store. Apps in the App Store are vetted by Apple so that they don’t contain viruses or malware. If you download apps from another source, you are boosting the odds that you’ll actually download a program infected with malware.        

Keep your iOS updated: It’s important, too, to make sure you are using the most recent version of your iPhone’s operating system. To ensure this, open your iPhone’s Settings app and click General. Click “Software update” and make sure “Automatic updates” is turned on. This way, you won’t miss any operating system updates.        

Avoid phishing attempts: Never click on unknown links in email messages. This is the most common tool that scammers use in phishing attempts, trying to trick you into giving up personal or financial information.        

Don’t use public Wi-Fi: Never use public Wi-Fi to visit your online bank or credit card accounts, without using a VPN, short for virtual private network. It’s notoriously easy for hackers to spy on users who are relying on public Wi-Fi. These hackers might be able to snag your passwords or log-in information, gaining access to your online accounts. If you must use public Wi-Fi, only use it to for safe activities, such as checking the weather, reading news stories or skimming restaurant reviews.

Cyber threats have evolved, and so have we.

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