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How to remove a virus from an iPhone
It’s the classic fanboy fight — which is best? Apple or Android? Well, in the case of viruses and malware, the winner is most definitely Apple. Due to their closed operating system and tight security protocols on the App Store, the chances of a virus on your iPhone or iPad are extremely remote. But that doesn’t mean you can be complacent and cocky. In very specific and rare circumstances, it is possible to get a virus on your iOS device. Here is how to remove a virus from your iPhone if you think your device has been infected.
Some quick things you can do to remove a virus from your iPhone are to uninstall any suspicious apps, check your phone bill and credit card for any suspicious transactions, change your account passwords, and so forth. To be absolutely sure of removing the virus, however, it is likely that you will have to factory reset the device and delete all iCloud backups.
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How did my iPhone get a virus or hacker in the first place?
Apple has a closed system when it comes to iOS and macOS machines. They also have a very strict approval, testing, and moderation policy for the App Store. Add to that regular and fast security patches and 256-bit AES encryption, and the chances of a virus or hacker getting into your device are extremely rare.
Saying that, there are four specific scenarios where it is possible for an iPhone to get a virus.
You jailbroke your device
As early as a decade ago, jailbreaking was all the rage. Now, in 2022, it isn’t as popular. But some people still do it, and by doing so, you are putting your device at serious risk of getting a virus or a hacker.
Jailbreaking is when you remove the software locks and other restrictions on your phone. You can then make adjustments and customizations, which non-jailbroken phones can’t do. But despite giving your iPhone some cool new features, it makes it much less safe and more susceptible to a virus or hacking attack. Apple has always opposed jailbreaking for this very reason, as jailbroken phones don’t enjoy the same level of protection as their un-jailbroken counterparts.
You clicked on a suspicious link on a website or iMessage
One of the easiest and fastest ways a hacker gets a virus onto your iPhone is through an infected link which you then click on. Malware is then transferred to your phone, and they’re in.
If you have your browser’s security warnings enabled, it can often pick up when you visit a shady website. But many of us may be in a hurry doing something else and absent-mindedly click the link without thinking. These links can also come via iMessage, where hackers will send iMessages or SMS messages with links telling you you’ve won a competition. Or they will claim to be your bank, and they need you to ‘verify your account.’ Needless to say, you shouldn’t do that, but accidents do happen.
You downloaded an app that was not in the App Store
As we said, every app in the App Store is strictly tested, vetted, and approved. So the chances of a virus-infected app reaching the App Store are extremely slim. But the same doesn’t apply if you download and install an app from outside the App Store. If someone gives you an IPA file (the iOS app format) and asks you to install it, then it hasn’t been checked by Apple, and the code could contain anything. You would be taking a very massive and reckless risk installing it.
You’re the target of a government intelligence agency
The last possibility is one that likely won’t apply to 99% of the world’s population. You could be getting targeted by a government intelligence agency. In that case, all bets are off, and anything could happen. Who knows what advanced tools they have at their disposal to get into your phone? You only have to look at the Pegasus scandal to know what governments can do.
But seriously, if you find yourself being pursued by the CIA, MI6, or Mossad, then you have much bigger problems than an infected iPhone. Chuck the phone in a river, change your appearance and start running.
9 signs and symptoms of an iPhone virus or hacker
So how would you know if your iPhone had a virus or a hacker attack? Here are 16 possible signs and symptoms to look out for.
Suspicious charges on your phone bill and credit card bill
The most obvious sign that something is amiss is if you have suspicious and unaccounted-for charges on your phone bill and credit card statement. Anyone who has access to your iPhone will also have access to your Apple Pay details, as well as your SIM card. They can then start calling international locations and premium rate numbers and start a spending spree with your credit card. If you get email notifications that you have subscribed to a new app or service, then that is another tell-tale sign.
The phone is getting slower and hotter
If you notice that your phone is getting slower and hotter, then that could be a sign of malware taxing the CPU and RAM. If your device gets unnaturally hot and slows to a crawl, then it’s time to investigate further.
The battery is draining faster than normal
As well as the phone getting slow and hot, if its battery starts draining faster than usual, then that could also be a sign of something else going on behind the scenes.
Apps are appearing that you didn’t install
You should always be checking the apps that are installed on your phone. If you find one that you didn’t install, then your not-so-friendly neighborhood hacker probably did it for you. It will also most likely be riddled with malware, so if you find an app called Farcebook, then you can rest assured it’s not the official app.
It’s also a big red flag if official apps are constantly crashing. This goes back to the whole extra strain on the CPU and RAM.
Your browser settings have been changed
If you notice that your browser settings have been changed, then it really is time to send up a flare. This can include anything from your preferred search engine and browser homepage being changed, NSFW pop-ups appearing virtually non-stop, and being redirected to the wrong website (quite often a spammy and badly designed one or an adult site). Websites can also look different than normal, with fake banners and signup forms.
Texts or call records appear on your phone that was not made by you
Phone scams are on the rise, and what better way to avoid being caught than to piggyback onto your SIM card and impersonate you? But scams can appear by text too, so if you notice any strange calls in your call log or any unrecognized messages in iMessage, then it’s time to act.
Even when you’re making legitimate calls yourself, if you hear suspicious noises on the line, such as clicking or echos, then that could be a sign that you’re being listened to.
Higher than normal data usage
Another thing you should constantly monitor on your iPhone is your data usage. Even if you’re blessed to have an unlimited data plan, it’s still good to monitor how much you use each month. If your usage suddenly shoots through the roof, that indicates something is deeply amiss. Some phone companies provide a screen widget so you can see at a glance how much data you have used this month. You just need to install their app to get it.
Your iPhone settings have been changed
If anyone wants remote access to your iPhone, the obvious best way to go about it would be to change the device’s settings. So make a habit of also checking this often. If you notice anything different, consider factory resetting your device.
Your iPhone is rebooting by itself
For an attacker to put certain system changes into effect, they would need to restart the device. If your phone suddenly starts rebooting by itself, don’t shrug it off and ignore it. This could be a sign of the start of something much more sinister.
5 options to remove a virus or hacker from your iPhone
If you are convinced that your iPhone is indeed infected with malware, then it’s time to take decisive action. The longer you leave it, the more damage that malware will do to your device. Don’t waste your time restarting your device, as some sites would have you do. Instead, do these to remove the virus from your iPhone.
Tell your contacts to ignore any suspicious messages
First off, it’s likely that a hacker has probably accessed your contacts app and started impersonating you to each person listed. They would likely be asking for money or personal data. Therefore, the first thing you need to strike off the list is to get in touch with each of your contacts (using another device, obviously) and tell them that you have been hacked and that they should ignore any suspicious messages.
Maybe also subtly tell them something only you and they know to establish your bona-fides. Otherwise, how can they tell who the hacker is and who the real you is?
Turn off iCloud, Wi-Fi, and your carrier data plan
The next step is to completely disconnect yourself from the internet. Since hackers attack remotely, turning off their connection to your device is the logical next step. So disconnect your Wi-Fi and carrier data plan.
You should also disconnect iCloud because if your phone chooses to make a backup at that point, the virus will be uploaded along with the backup. It could then be transferred via iCloud to app settings on other iOS devices you own. So start cutting off all lines of attack for the virus.
Check your iPhone settings
Now go into your iPhone settings and start looking for suspicious changes. This can be changes to your network settings, configuration profiles that you didn’t install, unfamiliar apps, and apps that you installed from outside the App Store. Methodically go through each section and check to ensure your settings are the same. If not, reverse them immediately.
Check apps like the Photos app and the Files app to make sure that nothing has been deleted or altered. You should also change your iCloud password and ensure that two-factor authentication is enabled.
Check your browser settings
Next, check your browser settings. Has your search engine been changed? Are you being redirected to other websites which are clearly fake? Are lots of pop-ups appearing on the screen?
If so, you need to wipe your browser data. With Safari, you must go to the settings and remove the cache, cookies, and temporary files. Nuke the lot. With any other browser, it’s probably faster and more effective if you completely delete the browser app, delete the cache, cookies, and files in iCloud settings, and reinstall it. But be aware that your browser sync may have synced any unauthorized browser changes to other devices.
Factory-reset your device
If you’re still convinced that the virus is there, then the only remaining viable option is to factory reset your device. Some people will argue that this is the only surest possible course of action to ensure that the virus and/or hacker is gone.
Before you do, you should:
- Go into iCloud and delete all of your backups. One or more of them could be infected with the malware, so to be safe, delete them all.
- Back up your photos, videos, and files to a computer. Use the phone’s charging cable to attach the phone to the PC and transfer everything over. Do not reconnect to the internet and use cloud storage — you would merely give the hacker access to another account.
- Using another device, change the passwords to all of the accounts connected to your phone. Most likely, this will be your email, iCloud, social media, online banking, and online shopping.
- Consider removing your cards from Apple Wallet and putting a freeze on the numbers until you see if any suspicious transactions are pending.
7 ways to keep your iPhone safe from viruses and hackers in the future
Once you are 100% sure that all traces of the virus and hacker are gone, then it’s time to put some good security practices into place to stop this from happening again. You obviously don’t want to remove a virus from your iPhone ever again, and the following will reduce the chances of a repeat performance.
Change your Apple ID password
The first thing to always do is make it a habit of always changing your account passwords. I know people who are using the same password from 20 years ago. That is just insane.
Keep changing your passwords for iCloud, Gmail, social media, and many more. Turn on two-factor authentication. Make sure a backup email address is in these accounts so you are warned if the password changes. There’s nothing wrong with being extremely paranoid about this.
Avoid public Wi-Fi networks — and use a VPN if you must use one
Checking your email while standing in line at Starbucks may be convenient, but most likely, the guy sitting at the corner table is using software to collect usernames and passwords over the unprotected unencrypted Wi-Fi. It just isn’t worth using public Wi-Fi, so try to avoid it.
If you must use it, install a VPN that will reroute your internet traffic through various international servers, making it impossible for anyone to snoop on you. There are so many VPN services to choose from.
Avoid jailbreaking your iPhone
As we said previously, the biggest target you can paint on your back is by jailbreaking your iPhone and dismantling the security protections Apple provides. Jailbreaking may seem attractive to some, as it gives your phone some cool new features. But on balance, it really isn’t worth it when you consider the security implications.
At the very least, you could brick your phone and void the warranty. Stick with what Apple gives you, and don’t jailbreak.
Keep your iOS and apps up to date
This is another one that many phone users seem loath to do. It doesn’t take long to check and hit the Update All button in the App Store. Apple pushes out security patches to fill holes in their operating system, which could be exploited by a hacker to gain access to somebody’s device.
If you don’t install those patches, that’s like leaving the door open in a high-crime neighborhood and acting shocked when you get burgled.
Put a passcode on your screen to stop anybody from accessing the device
If you put your phone down and turn your back, it doesn’t take long for a stranger or an untrustworthy friend or colleague to open up your phone, rummage around, and potentially download a virus. Therefore, you must always have some kind of protection, such as a passcode, Face ID, or Touch ID. A passcode is more secure.
Don’t click any unknown email and text message links
At the beginning of the article, we said that clicking on malicious links is one of the ways to get into this kind of trouble. So from now on, make yourself a policy — do not click on any email link or text link from anyone you don’t know. Especially if it is a short URL.
If you’re asked to go to a website, manually type it into the browser yourself. If it doesn’t support HTTPS, be extremely wary. Close the browser tab right away if the site gives off any negative vibes at all.
Only install apps from the App Store
Finally, it’s fun to install smartphone apps, but confine your downloading to the App Store. That way, you can rest assured that the app you want to install has gone through rigorous checks.
As opposed to Android, iOS and macOS are both closed systems and very well designed. Apps are also closely examined and vetted before getting into the App Store.
There’s no harm in having one, and indeed there are many you can try. But if you practice some common sense, the chances of you actually getting a virus on your iPhone is extremely slim.
The chances of that are extremely slim to none. Still, never say never.