Can iPhones Get Viruses?

Chris Thompson

By Chris Thompson


Are you sure your iPhone is secure? It’s a common belief that iPhones are immune to viruses, but the data tells a different story.

In February 2024, a shocking 7.6% of iPhones scanned with Certo AntiSpy contained spyware or other monitoring software.

This reflects a wider trend: Kaspersky reported a 52% surge in mobile device cyberattacks in 2023 alone.

So, can iPhones get viruses? Let’s examine the truth and find out how you can protect yourself.

Think Your iPhone Has a Virus?

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Can My iPhone Get a Virus?

The short answer is yes. iPhones are susceptible to viruses.

However, iPhones do have a reputation for being more secure than other smartphone platforms, and for good reason. Apple’s “walled garden” approach, where they tightly control apps and the iPhone’s operating system itself, makes it harder for viruses to spread.

However, iPhones aren’t bulletproof, and several factors can make them vulnerable. We’ll discuss these in more detail below.

💡 Examples of iPhone Viruses

Here's a breakdown of some notable examples of iPhone malware and viruses, along with the types of threats they represented:

☢️ Pegasus: This is sophisticated spyware often used in government-backed or targeted attacks. It can steal vast amounts of data (texts, calls, and photos), activate the microphone, and more. Detection is very difficult for the average user.

☢️ XcodeGhost: This malware infected legitimate apps during their development process through a compromised version of Xcode (Apple's developer software). It allowed for data hijacking and could potentially control infected devices.

☢️ Reign: This spyware, created by QuaDream, was discovered in 2021. It primarily targeted iPhones running older iOS versions. It exploited a zero-day vulnerability and was likely delivered via invisible calendar invitations. This virus could record calls, steal data, and track the victim's location.

How iPhones Can Get Viruses

Phishing attacks

The most common way to get a virus on your iPhone is through phishing. Phishing scams might seem basic, but they’re incredibly effective because they target human psychology rather than specific software flaws.

Here’s how they can affect iPhone users:

Phishing attacks come in various forms. They might be emails pretending to be from your bank, a streaming service, or even Apple itself.

Texts might warn about a compromised account. Fake login pages can mimic legitimate websites remarkably well.

The purpose is to trick you into giving away sensitive information (like usernames, passwords, credit card numbers) or to convince you to download malicious software disguised as legitimate apps or updates.

Phishers use urgency (“Your account will be locked!”), great deals and fake prizes, or even impersonate authority figures to tap into emotions and make you act irrationally.

Examples of iPhone phishing scams

➡️ Text messages and iMessages: These scam texts or messages from the iMessage app often claim to be about package deliveries, fake contests you’ve won, or urgent issues with your bank account. They’ll try to lure you into clicking dangerous links to confirm details on a malicious website.

➡️ Apple ID scams: These emails warn of unusual activity on your account and are designed to make you panic and click a fake Apple login page.

➡️ Calendar invites: Unexpected calendar invites that contain suspicious links or attachments.

Phishing scams use deceptive tactics to achieve two main goals. They might pressure you into downloading a malicious file disguised as a legitimate update or app, which could then infect your iPhone with different types of malware.

Alternatively, they may try to trick you into entering your private information (like passwords and credit card details) onto a fake website.

💡 Types of iPhone Malware That Can Affect iPhones:

☢️ Spyware: This is designed to secretly track your location, monitor your activity, and steal personal data like passwords and banking information. A famous example is Pegasus, but more accessible ‘off-the-shelf’ spyware like mSpy and FlexiSpy are often more common

☢️ Adware: This generates unwanted pop-up ads, often making your device run slower.

☢️ Ransomware: This type of malware encrypts your files and demands a ransom payment to unlock them. While less common on iPhones, it's still a danger.

☢️ Trojans: Disguised as legitimate software, Trojans gain access to your system and can open backdoors for other malware, steal data, or take control of your device.

Viruses from third-party applications

Another way iPhones become infected with viruses is through malicious third-party apps downloaded outside the App Store.

This scenario usually applies to a jailbroken iPhone with no software restrictions.

Jailbreaking iPhones involves removing Apple’s security restrictions. This allows greater customization but also risks installing malware from untrusted sources.

If you haven’t jailbroken your iPhone and you only download apps from the official App Store, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter malware this way.

Zero-Day Exploits

A zero-day vulnerability refers to a security vulnerability that is unknown to the vendor or software maker when it is exploited.

The term “zero-day” suggests that the developers have zero days to fix the vulnerability because it’s already being exploited in the wild.

Attackers leverage these vulnerabilities to carry out their attacks before a fix or patch is available.

Zero-day exploits are rare but very dangerous.

💡 Case Study: Stagefright

An example of a zero-day exploit for mobile devices is the Stagefright vulnerability discovered on Android in 2015. Here's why it was significant:

📱 Affected systems: Nearly 95% of Android devices running versions 2.2 to 5.1 (about 1 billion devices).

⚠️ The flaw: Vulnerabilities in Android's Stagefright media library allowed malicious code execution.

✉️ Attack method: Attackers sent specially crafted MMS messages. Just receiving (not even opening) the message could trigger the exploit.

☠️ Impact: Hackers could potentially take full control of the device—steal data, use the camera/microphone, and act as if they were the user.

Signs You Might Have an iPhone Virus

Although it can be difficult to detect iPhone viruses and spyware on your own, here are a few warning signs:

📈 Surge in data usage

Spyware typically uses lots of data to send information about your phone activity to the hacker. If your data usage has increased dramatically and you don’t know why, it could be a sign of a malware infection.

🪫 Unexplained battery drain

iPhone viruses running in the background can quickly sap your battery life. If your phone battery suddenly starts dying faster than usual, it warrants investigation.

❓ Unfamiliar apps appearing on your phone

If you think someone might be spying on your phone, look for any apps you don’t remember downloading. Delete any apps that you don’t recognize.

🔥 Phone overheating

If you notice your phone getting unusually hot, this could be a sign of malware. Since the phone has to work harder to send your private data to the hacker, the extra processing can make it hotter than usual.

💥 Apps crashing unexpectedly

While not always due to malware, frequent app crashes could signal a deeper problem, possibly malicious apps interfering with the operating system or device firmware.

🚫 Stubborn pop-up ads

If you’re bombarded with pop-ups that are difficult to close, even in legitimate apps or websites, it could suggest an adware infection.

What to Do if Your iPhone Has a Virus

If your iPhone has been hacked, there are a few things you can do to regain control:

1. Run a deep virus scan

Why: Some iPhone viruses hide deep in the device’s file system in order to avoid detection and therefore cannot be detected by many antivirus apps. Certo AntiSpy is an award-winning tool designed to run a deep scan of your iPhone by connecting it to a computer.

How: Download Certo AntiSpy to your computer. Connect your iPhone using the USB cable and hit Scan. If a virus is found Certo will help you swiftly remove this from your device.

Detecting spyware on iPhone

Fig 1. Running a scan with Certo AntiSpy.

2. Update iOS

Why: Often, Apple releases iOS updates and security patches to mitigate security vulnerabilities.

How: Go to Settings > General > Software Update. If an update is available, tap download to install it.

Updated an iPhone iOS Version

Fig 2. Updating iOS on an iPhone.

3. Remove suspicious apps

Why: Some malware can be disguised as an app. Review the apps on your iPhone. If you find apps you don’t recognize or seem suspicious, research them online to check for reported issues. Anything that seems dubious should be deleted.

How: To delete an app, press and hold the app icon on your home screen and then choose Remove App.

Fig 3. Removing a suspicious app on iPhone.

4. Restart your iPhone

Why: Restarting Apple devices can remove a jailbreak and stop potentially unwanted processes running in the background.

How: Press and hold power button and volume down button until the power off slider appears. Drag the slider, then wait 30 seconds for your device to turn off. To turn your device back on, press and hold the power button until you see the Apple logo.

Fig 4. Restarting an iPhone.

5. Restore your iPhone from a previous backup

Why: If the issue persists, restoring from a backup made before the problem appeared can help.

How: Here’s a breakdown of how to restore your iPhone from a previous backup, covering the two main methods:

Method 1: Restoring from an iCloud backup

First, you’ll need to check if you have an iCloud backup:

Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups

Fig 5. Checking your iCloud backups on iPhone.

Next, erase your iPhone:

Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPhone > Erase All Content and Settings

Once erased, on the “Hello” screen, follow these setup steps.

  1. When you reach the Apps & Data screen, choose Restore from iCloud Backup.
  2. Sign in with your Apple ID associated with the desired backup.
  3. Select the most relevant backup from the list.
  4. The restoration process will begin; stay connected to Wi-Fi.

Method 2: Restoring from a computer backup (Mac or Windows)

As above, you’ll need a previous backup of your iPhone on your computer. iTunes (forWindows) or the Finder (onmacOS).

Next, connect your iPhone:

  1. Open Finder (macOS) or iTunes (Windows).
  2. Connect your iPhone to your computer using the USB cable.
  3. If asked, enter your passcode or select Trust This Computer.

Then, to start the restore process:

  1. Locate your iPhone in Finder or iTunes.
  2. Click on the Restore Backup button.
  3. Choose the most relevant backup from the list and click Restore.

Important: Keep your iPhone connected until the process is completed.

Fig 6. Restoring an iPhone backup from a computer.

6. Restore to factory settings

Why: If all else fails, a factory reset, removing all content and settings, can potentially eliminate any malware.

How: Go to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPhone > Erase All Content and Settings.

Important: This will erase everything on your iPhone so should only be used as a last resort.

Fig 7. Factory resetting an iPhone.

How Can Apple Users Protect Their iPhones?

At Certo we’ve been helping people secure their iPhones from viruses since 2015. Here are the 7 most effective ways to keep your iPhone protected from viruses:

1️⃣ Stay updated: iOS updates often include critical security patches. Keep your iPhone updated to protect yourself against the latest threats.

2️⃣ Never jailbreak your iOS device: It may be tempting to jailbreak your phone in order to bypass some of Apple’s software restrictions. However, jailbroken devices are easier for hackers to gain access to and you could be putting yourself at risk.

3️⃣ The App Store is your friend: Apple puts apps through a review process to help weed out malicious ones. To ensure your safety, rely on the App Store for most of your downloads.

4️⃣ Use a strong passcode to unlock your device: Ensure your passcode is at least 6 characters, and do not share it with anyone. For added security, activate biometrics such as fingerprint or face unlock.

5️⃣ Keep your apps updated: Just like Apple, app developers are constantly improving the security of their apps. By running the latest version of all your apps, you make it harder for hackers to exploit security weaknesses.

6️⃣ Think before you click: Be wary of links and attachments in emails, text messages, or social media, especially if you don’t recognize the sender. Hackers often use these to trick you into downloading malware.

7️⃣ Regularly scan your iPhone for security threats: Use tools such as Certo AntiSpy to fully scan your device for viruses, spyware and other cyber threats.

Final Thoughts

While iPhones are remarkably secure compared to many other devices, they’re not invincible. Hackers are always finding new ways to exploit vulnerabilities and create iPhone viruses.

By understanding how your iPhone could be compromised and following basic security measures, you drastically reduce your risk of being hacked.

Remember these key tips:

✅ Stick to the official App Store for downloads.

✅ Avoid jailbreaking your phone.

✅ Be cautious when clicking links or opening attachments.

✅ Keep your iOS updated.

If you suspect your iPhone might be compromised, don’t panic. Updating iOS, deleting suspicious apps, or performing a factory reset often solves the issue.

Consider a reputable security tool like Certo AntiSpy for the most comprehensive protection. It’s specifically designed to detect and help you remove viruses and spyware from your iPhone, offering an extra layer of security.