Yes, it is possible for iPhones to get infected by viruses and malware, but it is relatively rare compared to other platforms like Android or Windows. The iPhone’s closed ecosystem and Apple’s tight control over the App Store make it very difficult for malware to get installed on an iPhone.
Can you get a virus on an iPhone?
The short answer is yes, iPhones can get viruses and malware just like any other computing device. However, there are some important factors that make iPhones far more secure and resistant to malware infections than other platforms:
- Apple’s walled garden ecosystem – All third party apps must be downloaded from the official App Store which is tightly controlled by Apple. This prevents untrusted apps from being installed.
- App review process – All apps submitted to the App Store are manually reviewed by Apple to check for malware and compliance with guidelines. Apps can also be remotely removed by Apple if found to be malicious after approval.
- Sandboxing – Apps are restricted in what data and resources they can access, limiting the damage potential malware can do.
- Signed code – All executable code must be digitally signed and approved by Apple. Unsigned or modified code will not run.
- Data protections – Sensitive data like passwords are encrypted and inaccessible to other apps. Key system folders are also protected.
- App permissions – Users must consent to apps accessing contacts, photos, location and other private data. Apps cannot silently access these.
- OS updates – Frequent, ongoing updates to iOS fix security flaws and holes that could be exploited by malware.
These protections make the iPhone highly secure against traditional infection vectors like downloads or email attachments. However, targeted attacks, especially by advanced adversaries, can sometimes still compromise iPhones.
Examples of iPhone viruses and malware
Here are some examples of known iPhone malware and viruses:
- Pegasus – Developed by the NSO Group, Pegasus is spyware that can infiltrate a user’s iPhone and extract messages, emails, media and location data. It exploits undisclosed iOS vulnerabilities to install itself.
- XcodeGhost – A trojan horse that infected thousands of apps on the App Store by manipulating the Xcode development tool. It could access private data.
- KeyRaider – One of the first iPhone malware specimens seen in the wild. It hijacked App Store credentials and held apps for ransom.
- YiSpecter – Malware that abused private APIs to gain root privileges on non-jailbroken iPhones and installed other malicious apps.
- AceDeceiver – Exploited design flaws in Apple’s DRM protection to spread itself through app downloads.
Security researchers and hackers have also demonstrated iPhone malware concepts and proofs-of-concept at conferences like Black Hat. Though not active threats, these show the iPhone’s vulnerabilities.
How can iPhone viruses spread?
Here are some ways legitimate apps can turn malicious and infect iPhones with viruses:
- App Store distribution – By fooling Apple’s review process, as XcodeGhost did. Vetting is not foolproof.
- Man-in-the-middle attacks – Intercepting and modifying App Store traffic to inject malware into downloads.
- OS exploits – Using iOS vulnerabilities, bugs and design flaws to remotely hack iPhones and install malicious apps, like Pegasus spyware.
- Enterprise certificate abuse – Illicitly using enterprise developer certificates to sign malware and bypass App Store review.
- Social engineering – Tricking users into downloading compromised apps from outside the App Store by exploiting human naivety.
- USB-based – Infecting iPhones via malicious USB cables, chargers, computers or other peripherals.
- Jailbreaking – Installing unvetted apps and patches on jailbroken devices disables key iOS security protections.
Once on an iPhone, malware can also potentially spread itself via:
- iMessage/SMS – Sending links or files containing malware via messages.
- Emails – Just like on computers, infected email attachments can spread malware once downloaded.
- WiFi syncing – When syncing with a compromised computer.
- Cloud syncing – Apps with file system access can potentially sync malware to iCloud or Dropbox.
What can iPhone malware do?
iOS malware is limited in some ways by sandboxing and system protections. But it can still carry out a variety of malicious activities:
- Steal passwords, messages, emails, contacts, photos and other private data.
- Cryptocurrency theft by accessing wallet apps or mining coins in the background.
- Ransomware attacks that lock apps or data until payment is provided.
- Banking fraud by intercepting banking app traffic or phishing login credentials.
- Bricking/bricking devices by modifying system files.
- Persistently tracking location via GPS.
- Full device takeover for deeper attacks via jailbreaking.
- Using the phone in botnets for DDoS attacks and spam distribution.
The extent of damage depends on the permissions granted to the malicious app when installed. The more access given, the worse the malware can be. Jailbroken iPhones are especially vulnerable.
How to tell if your iPhone has a virus
Here are some signs that may indicate your iPhone has been infected by malware or a virus:
- Unknown apps you didn’t install appearing on your home screen or app drawer.
- Apps crashing frequently or unexpectedly.
- Higher than usual data usage and cellular/WiFi traffic.
- Sluggish performance with slowdowns and freezes.
- Battery draining faster than normal.
- Overheating even when not using resource-intensive apps.
- Pop-up ads appearing out of nowhere.
- Weird background activity when apps are closed.
- Unusual requests for app permissions.
- Texts/emails being sent without your knowledge.
- Being unable to remove suspicious apps.
You may also notice other unusual iPhone behavior like unexpected reboots. But these symptoms can also occur due to non-malware issues, so they do not guarantee there is an infection.
How to remove viruses from iPhone
If you suspect your iPhone has malware, here are some steps to remove it and clean your device:
- Delete any suspicious or unknown apps, using the App Store’s Purchased list to verify legitimacy.
- Run a scan with a reputable iPhone antivirus app like Malwarebytes or Norton Mobile Security.
- Check for unknown profiles under Settings > General > VPN & Device Management and delete them.
- Reset all settings under General > Reset. This will wipe out any weird configs.
- Back up your data and perform a factory reset to wipe the entire device.
- Update your iPhone to the latest iOS version for the newest security fixes.
- Change all your passwords from another computer, not the iPhone.
- Avoid downloading apps outside the App Store and restrict iOS profiles.
- Only connect iPhone to trusted computers and charging cables.
For severe infections, DFU mode restore via iTunes may be required for full disinfection. Never jailbreak your iPhone as it opens you up to many more risks.
How to protect your iPhone from viruses
Here are some tips to keep your iPhone malware-free:
- Only download apps from the official App Store. Avoid third-party stores, links and files.
- Keep your iOS version updated always and install security patches ASAP.
- Review app permissions carefully. Only allow what’s absolutely necessary.
- Enable two-factor authentication wherever possible.
- Install and run a reputable mobile security app to scan for threats.
- Back up your iPhone regularly in case you need to wipe it.
- Don’t jailbreak your iPhone as it disables key security defenses.
- Watch out for phishing emails, texts, calls that try and trick you.
- Set a passcode and enable Find My iPhone in case your phone is lost/stolen.
- Be cautious of public WiFi networks as they can facilitate attacks.
Practicing basic security hygiene like strong passwords and app vigilance will keep you safe from most malware threats targeting iPhones.
While iPhones are far more secure than other mobile platforms, they are not completely immune to malware. A small number of targeted virus attacks and malware incidents have affected iPhones in the past. However, the chances of the average iPhone user encountering viral infections remains extremely low. By taking basic precautions, keeping devices updated and sticking to trustworthy app sources, users can enjoy excellent protection against iPhone viruses and hacking attempts.