Can An iPad Get Infected With a Virus?

Illustration of a

Lifewire / Tim Liedtke


The Information Age has brought its fair share of headaches, including viruses, malware, trojan horses, worms, spyware, and dozens of other hacks that can expose your private information or simply infect your data. However, the iPad does a great job of combating viruses, malware, and the dark side of the internet.

If you see a message on your iPad saying you have a virus, don't panic. There are no known viruses that target the iPad. In fact, a virus may never exist for the iPad. In a technical sense, a virus is a piece of code that replicates itself by creating a copy within another piece of software on your computer. But unlike PCs that have a very open file system, iOS doesn't allow one app direct access to the files of another app, preventing any would-be virus from replicating. 

If you visit a website and see a message pop up informing you that your device is infected by a virus, you should immediately exit the website. The pop-up message is a scam hoping to scare you into installing malware on your device under the guise of helping your device become more secure.

Furthermore, you do not need to install virus protection on your iPad. Unlike a PC, where running real-time virus protection software is almost a requirement, the iPad does not need full-time protection from viruses.

An iPad Virus May Not Exist, But That Doesn't Mean You Are Out of the Danger Zone!

While it may not be possible to write a true virus for the iPad, malware can and does exist for the iPad. Malware encompasses any piece of software with bad intent, such as tricking you into giving up your passwords or other sensitive information. Malware for the iPad is relatively rare because of one major obstacle malware must overcome in order to get installed on your iPad: the App Store.

One of the great benefits of owning an iPad is that Apple checks every app that is submitted to the App Store. In fact, it takes several days for an iPad to go from a submission to a published app. It is possible to sneak malware through the app store, but this condition is rare. In these cases, the app is usually caught within a few days or a few weeks and is quickly removed from the store.

But while rare, this means you should still be vigilant, especially if an app asks for personal or financial information. It is one thing for the Amazon app to ask for this type of information and quite another when it comes from an app you'd never heard of before and downloaded on a whim while browsing the App Store.

However, even a well-known app should be treated with a certain amount of distrust. Never share your personal information, especially financial information like bank accounts and credit card numbers, unless there is a specific reason for the app to ask for it. While viruses cannot exist on an iPad, scammers have gotten around the iPad's ability to protect itself from viruses by infecting the developer's PC, injecting code before it even makes it to the App Store. While it may sound like something out of a movie, this has happened. It is rare and not something most of us should worry about, but it does demonstrate that even popular apps should never have our full trust.

Is There an Anti-Virus App for the iPad?

The iOS platform got its first official anti-virus program when VirusBarrier went on sale in the app store, but this anti-virus program is for checking files that may be uploaded to your Mac or PC. McAfee Security runs on the iPad, but it simply locks your files in a secure "vault," it doesn't detect or clean "viruses." 

Apps like VirusBarrier are preying on your fear of viruses in hopes that you will install them without reading the fine print. And in fact, Apple removed VirusBarrier for this very reason. Yes, even McAfee Security is hoping you are scared enough not to realize that there are no known viruses for the iPad and that malware is actually much more difficult to acquire on the iPad than on the PC.

But My iPad Told Me It Has a Virus!

The distinction between viruses and malware is important because a virus simply cannot replicate itself onto an iPad because it cannot access files to do so. But other forms of malware simply trick you, the user, into infecting the computer or giving up personal information.

One of the most common scams for the iPad is the iOS Crash Report and variations of it. Phishing is an attempt to trick users into giving up information. In this phishing scam, a website displays a pop-up page that informs you that iOS has crashed or the iPad has a virus then instructs you to call a number. But the people on the other end aren't Apple employees and their main goal is to trick you out of either money or information that can be used to hack into your accounts.

When you receive a message like this, the best course of action is to quit the Safari browser and reboot the iPad. If you get this message often, you may want to clear the cookies and web data stored on your device:

  1. Settings icon on iPad
  2. Scroll down the left-side menu.

  3. Tap Safari.

    Clear History and Website Data button in Safari Settings on iPad
  4. In the Safari settings, scroll down and tap Clear History and Website Data. You will need to confirm this choice. You must re-enter previously saved website passwords, but this is a small price to pay to keep your Safari browser clean and secure.

    Confirmation dialog to Clear History and Data in Safari on iPad

'Congratulations Amazon User'

If you are constantly bombarded by pop-up advertisements in the iPad's web browser that lock you into the page congratulating you for winning something, you've come across another common form of malware. The most common of these impersonates Amazon and hopes to lure you in with the promise of a free gift. Similar to the Crash Report scam, these pop-up adware scams trick you into giving up personal information.

Fight back by following the steps above to clear your web history and data. This malware exists in your web cache, which is data the Safari browser saves to help speed up a website by storing portions of it.

The Best Protection Is an Updated iPad

While it might sometimes seem annoying how often Apple pops up a message telling us a new iOS update is available, the easiest way to compromise an iPad is through exploiting security holes in the operating system. These problems are fixed quickly by Apple, but you need to keep on top of operating system updates.

When you're prompted with a message about a new operating system update, simply tap Later and then plug your iPad in before going to bed. The iPad will schedule an update for that night, but it needs to be plugged into a power source (a computer or a wall outlet) to download and run the update.

Do Not Jailbreak Your iPad

There is one big hole that can lead to possible infections of malware: jailbreaking your device. Jailbreaking is the process of removing the protections Apple has in place that restrict you from installing apps anywhere but their App Store.

Normally, an app needs a certificate to download, install, and run on your device. It gets this certificate from Apple. Jailbreaking gets around this protection and allows any app to be installed on your iPad. 

If you jailbreak your device, be extra careful about what you install on the device, because Apple hasn't tested and certified it as being free of malware.

Most of us don't jailbreak our iPad. In fact, as the iPad has gained more features, it has become less popular to jailbreak the device. Most of what can be done through apps on Cydia and other non-Apple app stores can now be done with apps downloaded through the official App Store.

So Is My iPad Safe?

Just because it is difficult for malware to get on your iPad doesn't mean your iPad is completely safe from all intrusion. Hackers are great at finding ways to either disrupt devices or to find their way inside of devices.

Here are a few things everyone should do with their iPad:

  1. Turn on Find My iPad. This tool lets you lock the iPad remotely or even erase it completely if it should ever become lost or stolen.

  2. Lock Your iPad with a passcode. While it may seem like a waste of time to input a four-digit code every time you use your iPad, it is still the best way to keep it secure.

  3. Disable Siri and notifications from your lock screen. Siri can still be accessed by default when your iPad is locked And, with Siri, anyone can do anything, from checking your calendar to setting reminders. Disable Siri on the lock screen in your iPad's settings.