Can iPhones pick up malware?

In 2021, researchers detected roughly 230,000 new malware samples targeting Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, a 30% increase from 2020 (Source: Android vs. iOS: Security comparison 2024). With malware becoming more prevalent on iPhones, many users are understandably concerned about the security of their devices.

Malware is malicious software designed to access or damage a computer or mobile device without the owner’s consent. On iPhones, malware can secretly record audio or video, log keystrokes, steal banking credentials, install unwanted ads, monitor locations, or even take full control of the device.

This article will examine the key questions around iPhone malware: How does it get on devices? How likely is infection? What are some real-world cases? How can users protect themselves? What are the signs of infection? How can malware be removed? What is Apple doing to combat threats? And what does the future hold for iPhone malware?

How Malware Gets on iPhones

Malware needs some kind of vulnerability in order to infect an iPhone. The iOS operating system has strong security protections that make it difficult for malware to gain access. However, there are still potential weak points where malware could slip through.

One common way malware enters an iPhone is through downloaded apps, especially apps from untrusted third-party app stores. Apple thoroughly vets every app in the official App Store, but untrusted app stores may contain infected apps that can get around Apple’s review process. Downloading and installing these infected apps provides a pathway for the malware to access the phone.

Malware can also come through messaging apps in files, links, or attachments. For example, a hacker could send an infected PDF file via iMessage that installs malware if opened. Websites can also distribute malware, often hiding it inside infected ads. Visiting a compromised website could allow malware to be downloaded onto an iPhone without the user realizing it.

Email attachments and infected files transmitted via AirDrop offer additional vectors. Hackers can sneak malware into innocent looking files and hope an iPhone user opens it, triggering an infection. While rare, targeted attacks through email or AirDrop may successfully get malware onto iPhones.

In summary, malware needs some vulnerability to slip past iOS defenses. Carelessly downloading apps, opening unsolicited attachments, visiting suspicious links – these behaviors allow cybercriminals to potentially transmit malware to iPhones.

Likelihood of iPhone Malware

iPhones are generally less susceptible to malware infections compared to Android devices. This is largely due to Apple’s “walled garden” approach, where apps can only be installed through the official App Store after being vetted by Apple [1]. Android has a more open ecosystem, allowing apps to be installed from third-party sources, increasing malware risks.

However, iPhones are not completely immune to malware. Malware can still find its way onto iPhones through:

  • Jailbroken devices, which disable iOS protections
  • “Sideloading” untrusted apps
  • Visiting compromised websites
  • Opening malicious links sent via SMS/email

So while the likelihood is lower, users should still exercise caution as iOS malware continues to evolve and target potential vulnerabilities [2].

Real-World iPhone Malware Cases

Although iPhones are generally quite secure, there have been a few high-profile cases of real malware infiltrating Apple’s mobile devices.

One of the most well-known examples is Pegasus, a sophisticated spyware program developed by the Israeli cyber intelligence firm NSO Group. Once installed on an iPhone, Pegasus can monitor calls, texts, emails, photos, social media activity, and even turn on the microphone and camera to surveil the user. It has been used by governments and intelligence agencies to target journalists, activists, politicians, and business executives. The malware infiltrates devices by exploiting vulnerabilities in apps like iMessage.

To avoid falling victim to Pegasus or similar spyware, iPhone users should be cautious about clicking suspicious links, even from seemingly trusted contacts. Only install apps from the official Apple App Store, keep your iPhone updated with the latest software, and avoid jailbreaking your device, which disables layers of Apple’s built-in security. Using a passcode and enabling two-factor authentication can also help prevent unauthorized access.

While threats like Pegasus are rare, they highlight why it’s important for Apple to continue fortifying iOS security and for iPhone owners to practice good cyber hygiene habits.

Protecting Against iPhone Malware

While iPhones are generally quite secure, there are some steps users can take to better protect their devices against malware:

Avoid downloading apps from unknown or untrusted sources. Stick to the official Apple App Store for approved and vetted apps to reduce the risk of malware (Source:

Keep your iPhone’s iOS software updated. Apple regularly releases security patches and updates that can protect against newly discovered vulnerabilities that malware could exploit (Source:

Use a reputable antivirus or anti-malware app for iOS, such as Norton Mobile Security or Avast Mobile Security. While not foolproof, they can detect and remove many common threats (Source:

Regularly backup your iPhone data either to iCloud or locally to your computer. This ensures you have a clean backup if your device does get infected by malware (Source:

Signs of iPhone Malware

There are several telltale signs that may indicate your iPhone has been infected with malware:

Frequent pop-up ads: Malware often bombards users with intrusive ads in an attempt to generate revenue. If you notice a sudden increase in pop-up ads, even when browsing reputable sites, it could point to an infection.

Unexplained battery drainage: Malware running in the background can rapidly drain your battery as it uses system resources. If your iPhone’s battery life has suddenly decreased, it’s a red flag.

Slow performance: Malware strains your iPhone’s processing power, storage, and RAM, resulting in lag, freezes, and crashes. Monitor your device’s performance to catch malware.

High data usage: Malware often communicates with remote servers to send your data or download additional malicious code. Unexplained spikes in data usage may indicate malware.

Unknown charges: Some malware schemes charge expensive subscription fees to your account or carrier bill. Review statements closely for any unauthorized charges.

Unfamiliar apps: Carefully check your app library for any apps you don’t remember downloading. Malware may install itself as a new app.

Hot device: The extra strain on your iPhone’s processor can cause it to heat up. If your device feels hot when not in heavy use, it could point to malware.

Removing iPhone Malware

If you suspect your iPhone has been infected by malware, there are a few steps you can take to try and remove it:

First, try restarting your iPhone. Powering your device off and back on can stop some malware from continuing to run. To restart, hold down the side or top button until the power off slider appears. Slide to power off. Wait 30 seconds, then turn your iPhone back on.

You can also reset your iPhone to factory settings to wipe any malware. Go to Settings > General > Reset and choose “Erase All Content and Settings.” This will delete everything on your iPhone and restore it to default settings. Be sure to backup your data first.

Using a mobile antivirus app like Malwarebytes can detect and remove some iPhone malware. These apps scan your device and isolate threats. Malwarebytes has a free scanner that can check for and eliminate adware or spyware.

Finally, you can restore your iPhone from a backup. Connect to iTunes on a computer, select your device, then choose “Restore iPhone.” Pick the latest backup that was created before the malware infection. This will wipe your iPhone and restore your data and settings from that clean backup.

Taking these steps can often rid an iPhone of malicious software and return it to normal functioning. Prevention is ideal, but even if malware sneaks through, you can typically remove it and undo the damage.

Apple’s Malware Prevention Efforts

Apple utilizes several proactive measures to prevent malware from impacting iPhones. One key aspect is the App Store review process. All apps submitted to the App Store must go through extensive testing and code review by Apple before being approved for release. This process screens for any potential security issues, malware, or policy violations. According to Apple, “Every app is reviewed by experts who ensure each app is reliable, performs as expected, and is free of explicit and offensive material” [1].

In addition, the iPhone software and hardware are designed in a more secure manner compared to other platforms. Apps are sandboxed, unable to access data or make changes outside of their designated environment without explicit user permission. The tight integration between hardware and software also makes iPhones more resistant to malware infections [1]. These measures make it much more difficult for malware to successfully infiltrate an iPhone.

The Future of iPhone Malware

As iPhones continue to gain market share and popularity, it is likely that malware targeting these devices will increase. The discovery of major iOS security flaws like Pegasus have shown that even iPhones are vulnerable to sophisticated attacks when vulnerabilities exist. According to cybersecurity experts, the number of new malware strains designed to infect iPhones grew 400% from 2019 to 2020.

If new iOS vulnerabilities are found or introduced in the future, malware developers will likely try to exploit them to infect devices before Apple can issue fixes. Keeping iPhone software up-to-date is one of the best ways to ensure you have the latest security protections.

Some analysts predict that data-stealing or ransomware attacks on iPhones could become more common as attackers eye smartphones as valuable targets. The impact of successful iPhone malware could include loss of sensitive data like passwords or financial information, identity theft, device lockouts, and extortion.

While Apple’s tight control over iOS helps limit malware risks today, sustained effort is required to keep threats in check going forward. Users should remain cautious and use security tools that can detect emerging iPhone malware strains before they become widespread.


To recap, while iPhones are generally quite secure against malware, they are not completely immune. Malware can get on iPhones through shady third-party app stores, compromised websites, infected files sent through AirDrop, and malicious links. Though rare, there have been real-world cases of malware found on iPhones. To protect yourself, only download apps from the official App Store, keep your phone up-to-date, don’t jailbreak your device, avoid unknown links and files, and watch for signs of infection like abnormal battery drain or sluggish performance.

The main takeaway is that while iPhones have strong security measures in place, you still need to practice basic precautions to minimize your risk. Be thoughtful about what you download and what links you click. Overall, you are highly unlikely to get malware on your iPhone if you stick to trusted sources. But it’s wise to be informed about the potential risks, even if they are relatively rare.