Do You Need to Worry About iPhone Viruses?

Your iPhone may expose you to security risks, but viruses aren't a major worry

An illustration of a person holding a smartphone that has a virus.

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Let's start with the good news: most iPhone users don’t have to worry about their phone getting a virus. It's rare and there's really only one scenario in which an iPhone can get a virus.

While it's technically possible for iPhones (and iPod touches and iPads, since they all run the same operating system) to get viruses, the likelihood of that happening is very low. Only a few iPhone viruses have been developed, and many of those were created by security professionals for academic and research purposes and haven't been released on the internet.

Why iPhones Don't Get Viruses

Viruses are programs that are designed to do malicious things — like stealing your data or taking over your computer — and spread themselves to other computers. In order to achieve its purpose, the virus must be installed on your phone, be able to run, and also communicate with other programs to get their data or control them.

The architecture of the iOS operating system doesn't let apps do these things. Apple designed the iOS so that every app runs in its own, restricted "space." While iOS apps can communicate with each other, those options are limited. By restricting the ways apps interact with each other and with the operating system itself, Apple reduced the risk of viruses on the iPhone.

The risk is even further reduced based on how users get apps. Generally speaking, you can only install approved apps from the App Store, which means viruses can't install themselves. Plus, Apple evaluates every app in detail before it's available in the App Store to make sure that it doesn't contains viruses, among other things. With so many layers of secure, it's a pretty safe system.

What Increases the Risk of Your iPhone Getting a Virus

The only iPhone viruses that have been seen "in the wild" (meaning that they're an actual threat to iPhone owners) are worms that almost exclusively attack iPhones that have been jailbroken. So, as long as you haven't jailbroken your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, you should be safe from viruses. 

To get a sense of how much risk there is of getting an iPhone virus, check out what antivirus software is available in the App Store. Turns out, there isn't any.

All of the major antivirus companies — McAfee, Symantec, Trend Micro, etc. — have security apps available for the iPhone, but none of them have antivirus tools. Instead, they focus on helping you find lost devices, backing up your data, securing your web browsing, and protecting your privacy.

There simply aren’t any antivirus programs in the App Store (the ones that carry that name are games or tools to scan attachments for viruses that couldn't infect iOS anyway). The closest any company came to releasing one was McAfee. That antivirus company developed an internal app back in 2008, but never released it. If iPhones could get viruses in any serious way, you can be sure apps would be available.

How to Tell If Your iPhone Has a Virus

If your phone is acting strangely, it's more likely that one of your apps is just buggy and needs to be updated or deleted.

If your iPhone is jailbroken, though, it's possible (though not very likely) that you have a virus. In that case, getting rid of the virus may be tricky, but you can try the following:

Dealing With Other iPhone Security Problems

Viruses aren't the only security problems you should think about. There's theft, losing your device, and digital spying to be concerned about, too.