Can you get ransomware on your phone?

Yes, ransomware attacks can target mobile devices like smartphones and tablets in addition to computers. Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts files on a device and demands a ransom payment from the victim in order to decrypt the files. While ransomware has traditionally targeted desktop computers, cybercriminals have increasingly been developing ransomware variants that can infect mobile operating systems like Android and iOS.

How ransomware gets on phones

There are a few common ways that ransomware can end up on a mobile device:

  • Unsafe websites – Visiting compromised or malicious websites that contain ransomware code designed to target mobile browsers.
  • Malicious apps – Downloading apps, especially those outside of official app stores, that contain hidden ransomware.
  • Phishing attacks – Opening infected file attachments or clicking on links in phishing emails designed to install ransomware.
  • Insecure WiFi networks – Connecting to public WiFi networks that may expose devices to ransomware.
  • SMS/messaging apps – Clicking on infected links sent via SMS text messages or messaging apps.

Attackers use social engineering tactics and prey upon unsuspecting users in order to get them to install ransomware through these vectors. With the massive growth in mobile usage, especially Android, ransomware developers have focused on ways to take advantage of the wealth of sensitive data stored on smartphones.

Major mobile ransomware variants

Some of the major strains of ransomware that have been built to target mobile platforms include:


This notorious ransomware was first seen in 2017 and caused widespread damage, including bringing down parts of Britain’s National Health Service. It primarily targeted computers but also had limited capability to infect Android devices.


First detected in 2017, Pacman ransomware masqueraded as a game app but would lock files after being installed. It affected over 20,000 Android users, mostly in Europe.


Active since at least 2018, LockerGoga is sophisticated ransomware that has impacted both Windows computers and Android devices. It is capable of permanently locking devices.

Android Defender

Despite its name suggesting a legitimate security app, Android Defender is a trojan that locks down phones with ransom demands. It has primarily targeted users in the United States.


While traditionally a Windows ransomware threat, some Android Ryuk variants have recently emerged. Believed to be tied to North Korean state-sponsored hackers, Ryuk can fully lock Android phones.

How ransomware works on phones

The techniques used by mobile ransomware are similar to those used on computers. Here are some of the ways it operates once installed on a phone:

  • Uses malicious code to scan for and encrypt target files like documents, photos, videos, etc.
  • Encrypts files using cryptographic algorithms that render files inaccessible.
  • Displays ransom notes demanding payment, often in cryptocurrency like Bitcoin.
  • Threatens permanent file loss if ransom not paid.
  • Leaves files encrypted even if ransom is paid (no guarantee of decryption).
  • Leverages app permissions to access contacts, messages, camera for extortion.
  • Prevents normal phone usage by disabling apps, phone resets, turning off device.

By hijacking a mobile device’s filesystem and rendering files unusable, ransomware aims to force victims into paying the ransom to regain access – although that is never guaranteed.

Which phones are most vulnerable to ransomware?

Android devices

Android phones and tablets are disproportionately impacted by ransomware for several key reasons:

  • Android allows apps to be installed from outside the official Google Play store, increasing risk of unverified apps.
  • Android has the biggest market share globally, making it a prime target.
  • Android has more unpatched older OS versions still in use with security flaws.
  • Some Android ransomware variants take advantage of administrative rights.

While Google has implemented better screening for the Play Store and provides security patching for newer versions of Android, many users fail to update their devices and install apps from risky third-party stores or sideloading. This leaves them highly vulnerable to ransomware infections.

iOS devices

Apple’s tight control of the iOS ecosystem makes ransomware rarer, but not impossible. Factors reducing iOS ransomware risk include:

  • Rigorous app vetting requirements for the official App Store.
  • Built-in security features like sandboxing limit app access.
  • Mandatory and timely security updates for iOS devices.
  • iOS accounts for a smaller portion of mobile users globally.

However, some successful iOS ransomware has exploited vulnerabilities in Apple’s Safari browser to lock devices during browsing sessions. iOS users accessing risky sites and links can still be caught off guard. Jailbroken iOS devices also have increased ransomware exposure.

Signs your phone has ransomware

How can you tell if your mobile device has been compromised by ransomware? There are some common signs to watch out for:

  • You suddenly cannot open files like documents, photos, videos, etc.
  • A ransom message appears informing files are encrypted and demanding payment.
  • Your home screen or desktop background image is replaced with a ransom note.
  • The phone is extremely slow, unresponsive, or crashes frequently.
  • Unfamiliar apps with generic names like “Locker” or “Encryptor” show up.
  • Your browser homepage or search engine is suddenly different.
  • If on Android, the phone switches to USB debugging mode unexpectedly.

If you notice any of these signs, your phone may be infected. Turn off the device immediately to prevent further encryption and spread of infection. You will likely need to completely wipe the phone to remove the ransomware.

How to remove ransomware from phones

Unfortunately, once ransomware has gained a foothold on your phone, it can be extremely difficult to fully remove without resetting the device:

  • Factory reset/wipe device – This clears all apps/files but removes the ransomware infection.
  • Delete suspicious apps – If you can still access settings, deleting unknown apps may stop the attack.
  • Boot into Safe Mode – This may allow removing ransomware files if still accessible.
  • Use mobile security apps – Install malware/security apps that can detect and neutralize some ransomware.
  • Update mobile OS – Install latest security patches which may fix vulnerabilities exploited by the ransomware.
  • Avoid paying ransom – There is no guarantee you’ll get decryption keys, and paying supports criminals.

Prevention is really the key against mobile ransomware, since removing established infections can be so challenging. Maintaining offline backups of important files offers protection as well.

How to prevent ransomware on phones

Here are some best practices to boost your defenses against ransomware attacks on your smartphone or tablet:

  • Enable automatic security updates and keep OS up-to-date.
  • Only download apps from trusted sources like official app stores.
  • Avoid sideloading random APK files, especially from unverified sources.
  • Install a reputable mobile security app to detect potential threats.
  • Be very cautious of emailed links/attachments and text message links.
  • When on WiFi, confirm the network is secure before accessing sensitive info.
  • Back up important files offline so you have copies in case of infection.
  • Limit app permissions so they only have what’s needed.
  • Avoid rooting/jailbreaking devices as it weakens security.

Smartphone users should be cautious about mobile cyber threats, but taking proactive security measures substantially reduces the risks. Avoiding suspicious downloads/links, keeping devices patched and secured, and maintaining backups offers multilayer protection against ransomware.

Can you get ransomware on iPhones?

Yes, ransomware attacks are absolutely possible on Apple iPhones, even though iOS is more secure than Android. iPhone ransomware examples include:

  • In 2020, ransomware called Turkey accessed iPhones via Safari security flaws.
  • Jigsaw ransomware has impacted iOS through infected sites and shady app installs.
  • Early iOS ransomware like PGPCoder locked iPhones and demanded iTunes gift cards.
  • Ransomware aimed at jailbroken iPhones can bypass Apple’s tight restrictions.
  • Hackers have repeatedly exploited iOS vulnerabilities that could enable remote ransomware installation.

While Apple’s closed ecosystem offers iPhone users more protection against malware, iOS ransomware continues to evolve. Risky browsing, phishing scams, and unsafe app sideloading/jailbreaking offer openings for iPhone ransomware infection. Keeping iOS fully updated is critical to block emerging ransomware threats targeting iPhones.

Can you get ransomware on Android phones?

Absolutely – ransomware is much more prevalent on the Android mobile platform due to Android’s large global market share and open app ecosystem. Some examples:

  • Wannacry, one of the most damaging ransomware strains, has Android variants.
  • Malicious apps masquerading as games like Pacman lock Android devices.
  • The Android Defender trojan pretends to provide security while enabling ransomware.
  • Android ransomware like DoubleLocker abuses OS features to encrypt data.
  • Security flaws in Android OS versions allow ransomware to gain system access.

Because Android allows apps from third-party stores and sideloading, ransomware reaches Android devices more easily. And with many users failing to install security updates, Android phones remain susceptible to ransomware exploiting known vulnerabilities. Keeping apps limited to Google Play and maintaining the latest Android security patches reduces the risk significantly.

Can you get ransomware from visiting websites?

Absolutely – malicious websites are one of the top ways ransomware spreads, especially via drive-by downloads. Visiting a compromised site can automatically trigger ransomware installation without any action from the user. Ransomware infection from websites can happen through:

  • Exploit kits probing for browser/plugin vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
  • Malvertising – Malicious ads that load ransomware when clicked.
  • Clickjacking – Hidden elements trick users into clicking to download ransomware.
  • Fake mobile apps that install from an infected site.
  • Fake software updates/installers with bundled ransomware.

With ransomware authors heavily utilizing compromised websites and exploit kits to find victims, steps like keeping software fully updated and avoiding suspicious sites/links provide protection. Website ransomware attacks can rapidly infect multiple devices by leveraging client-side vulnerabilities.


As mobile devices become increasingly central to both business and personal usage, they become a prime target for cyber extortion via ransomware. While not immune to ransomware, Apple’s tight regulations and update requirements provide meaningful security advantages for iOS users over Android. However, phishing scams, malicious websites, and social engineering continue to threaten smartphone users across platforms. Taking basic security precautions like avoiding suspicious downloads, keeping devices patched, limiting app permissions, and maintaining backups go a long way toward keeping sensitive data safe from encryption by ransomware attacks. Keeping anti-ransomware protection up to date across your computers and mobile devices minimizes the potential for cybercriminal extortion.