What happens if viruses stay on your phone?

In today’s digital age, our cell phones have become extensions of ourselves. We use them for everything from communication to banking to entertainment. With smartphones now accounting for over 50% of internet usage worldwide, it’s no wonder cybercriminals have focused their attacks on these devices. Malicious software, or malware, designed to infect phones is on the rise, with new variations emerging constantly. Viruses are one type of malware that can infect phones, often with stealth and staying power. But what actually happens if a virus is able to gain a foothold on your phone and is not quickly removed? Let’s explore some of the potential outcomes.

Infection Process

Viruses spread through malicious links, infected files, and unsecured wifi networks. Upon infection, they embed themselves deep in the phone’s operating system files where it’s difficult to detect and remove them. Viruses like to remain undetected so they can continue their dirty work. The initial point of entry varies based on the particular virus. Some examples include:

  • Clicking a link in a phishing text message
  • Visiting a compromised website
  • Opening an email attachment
  • Downloading infected apps from unofficial app stores
  • Connecting to public wifi networks

Once installed, viruses employ various techniques to avoid detection and removal. This includes disguising themselves as legitimate system files, disabling security software, and modifying system settings to allow deeper infection.

Performance Impacts

One of the first noticeable signs of a virus is reduced phone performance. As the virus consumes system resources to function and spread, you may experience slowdowns, lag, overheating, and rapid battery drain. Your phone may freeze or crash unexpectedly. The performance impact depends on the complexity of the particular virus and how well it’s able to infiltrate the phone’s inner workings.

Some examples of performance issues include:

  • Sluggish response when opening apps and files
  • Long load times for web pages and videos
  • Frequent freezing requiring forced restarts
  • Overheating requiring the phone to be shut down and cooled
  • Greatly reduced battery life spanning hours instead of days

These disruptions to normal function can range from mild to completely debilitating depending on the virus. Performance tends to degrade over time the longer the virus remains active.

Personal Data Theft

One of the biggest threats viruses pose is theft of your personal data. This includes contacts, photos, messages, logins, and financial information. Viruses often contain spyware that silently collects information in the background. It then transmits it to external sources where it can be exploited for identity theft and financial fraud.

Viruses can also secretly activate phones’ cameras and microphones to spy on users without their knowledge. They then relay audio, video, and location data back to cybercriminal servers. This represents a profound invasion of privacy.

Some examples of data viruses target include:

  • Email/text contacts and conversations
  • Social media login credentials
  • Financial app logins and account numbers
  • Password storage app data
  • Website usernames and passwords
  • Photos and videos
  • Real-time audio/video recording
  • GPS location details

Once stolen, this data can be sold on the dark web and used to compromise identities, accounts, and credit. It’s a lucrative business model for hackers.

Unexpected Charges

Many viruses contain routines specifically designed to commit mobile billing fraud. This is where victims are signed up for premium SMS services without consent, racking up exorbitant text messaging charges. These can sometimes exceed $100 per text received or sent. Cybercriminals profit from affiliate commissions and/or receive a cut of the fraudulent charges.

Variations on this scam include:

  • Premium text services
  • Ringtone and wallpaper purchases
  • Voting/polls
  • Charity donations
  • Chat services
  • IQ quizzes

These charges often appear cryptic and confusing on billing statements. Typical descriptions include vague terms like “wireless provider charges” or “cell usage charges.” This intentional obfuscation prevents victims from recognizing the illegitimate charges.

Left unchecked, these unexpected premium charges can really add up over time. It essentially turns the victim’s cell phone into a cash machine for cybercriminals.


In rare cases, some viruses intentionally try to make phones unusable through a process called bricking. The virus alters key system files required for booting up properly. When restarted, the phone gets stuck in a reboot loop, becomes unresponsive, or displays interface errors. The only recourse may be a factory reset losing all local data.

Signs of potential bricking from a virus include:

  • Endless reboot cycles
  • “Bootloader corrupted” errors
  • Interface fails to load properly
  • Total unresponsiveness

While complete bricking is uncommon, partially bricked phones can still suffer from severe performance issues and instability. This represents complete compromise and control by the virus.

Remote Control

Some of the most advanced viruses allow the attacker to remotely control the phone’s functions. Once installed, the virus establishes an encrypted connection to a command and control server operated by the hacker. From there, the phone can be used as a surveillance device under the hacker’s direction using a range of capabilities:

  • Activate/record microphone and camera
  • Log keystrokes and capture screenshots
  • Read/send/delete texts and emails
  • Alter contacts and calendar
  • Initiate calls and online transactions
  • Download additional malware
  • Modify system settings and disable security apps

This essentially provides complete access to the phone on demand. The victim may be unaware as the virus operates discreetly in the background awaiting commands. Remote access viruses represent one of the most complete compromise scenarios short of full system bricking.

Network Impacts

Left unchecked, infected phones pose risks not just to their owners but everyone else on a shared network. Viruses can scan for all connected devices and attempt to use phones as an attack vector to spread infection wider.

This can include targeting:

  • Other mobile devices on the same wifi network
  • Internet gateway routers
  • Networked PCs, laptops, tablets
  • IoT and smart home devices
  • NAS storage drives
  • Wireless printers

By compromising the router itself, hackers can monitor unencrypted network traffic for data theft. They can also change DNS settings to redirect users to phishing sites for credential theft.

These secondary infections make removal much more challenging. It also enables hackers to establish persistent backdoor access even after individual devices are cleaned up and secured.

Long-Term Impacts

If left unaddressed, viruses that stick around on phones can have consequences reaching far beyond just the initial infection. Some potential long-term impacts include:

  • Recurring theft of new logins, data, and credentials from ongoing background monitoring
  • Ongoing abusive premium charges
  • Compromise of new accounts opened after the infection
  • Reinfection of new phones using backed-up data from infected devices
  • Escalating infections spreading to other personal and workplace devices
  • Long-term remote monitoring and control capabilities
  • Use as a contributor device in wider criminal networks for more attacks

Like other chronic conditions left untreated, viruses in phones become progressively worse over time. What may start as a minor infection can slowly expand into extensive data theft, financial fraud, and complete system compromise.

Removing viruses early before major damage is done is critical. Otherwise, long-reaching impacts can be felt even after switching phones due to available attack vectors using the old compromised device.

Mitigation Strategies

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to avoid getting a virus in the first place and minimize the damage if your phone does get infected. Some key prevention tips include:

  • Avoid clicking links in messages/emails from unknown senders
  • Only install apps from reputable app stores like Google Play
  • Use secure wifi networks and avoid public hotspots
  • Install mobile security software from trustworthy cybersecurity vendors
  • Keep software updated and enable automatic updates when available
  • Backup data regularly in case a factory reset becomes necessary

If your phone exhibits unusual behavior like crashing apps or overheating, it may be compromised. Quickly take actions like:

  • Run mobile security scans to check for infections
  • Reset phone to factory conditions if needed
  • Change passwords and enable two-factor authentication where possible
  • Contact mobile provider regarding fraudulent charges
  • Remove restored backups from infected phones to avoid reinfection

While viruses and malware represent a growing threat, being proactive about mobile security best practices can significantly reduce your risks. Being alert to the warning signs of infection and responding swiftly also helps limit damages. With vigilance and protective steps, our phones can remain safe and usable for communication, work, and entertainment.


Viruses infiltrating smartphones are an increasing problem as mobile usage continues to grow. Once embedded in a phone’s operating system, viruses employ a variety of tactics to persist undetected while causing harm. Performance degradation, personal data theft, unexpected billing fraud, bricking, remote control, and spreading across networks are all real risks. Long-term impacts can be extensive if infections are not mitigated quickly. Thankfully, following security best practices can help users avoid viruses in the first place. Remaining watchful for telltale signs of infection and acting swiftly to scan, reset, and restore phones is key to limiting damages. With proper precautions, our mobile devices can continue enabling productivity and connection while keeping sensitive personal and enterprise data secure.