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How to remove a virus from an iPhone or Android phone

Whether they’re stealing your data, using your phone to mine cryptocurrencies, or siphoning money out of your bank account, smartphone viruses can be a nightmare. Luckily, you can discover and remove malware on both iOS and Android phones.

The word “virus” technically refers to a specific kind of malware that spreads through infected files. However, most people use “virus” to mean malware in general, so we’ll use the terms interchangeably here. 

In this article, you’ll get a complete picture of how malware ends up on your phone, what it does, how to remove it, and how to avoid it in the future. 

To start, let’s look at how to find whether your phone is infected with malware.

TL;DR

The easiest way to remove malware is using a quality antivirus. TotalAV has apps for both iOS and Android and can provide good protection against most malicious programs.
Protect yourself with TotalAV

How to protect your phone from viruses

Phone malware is just like your physical health: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Protecting yourself against malware is not too difficult for most people who aren’t high-value targets, but it takes some forethought: 

  • Consider installing a strong antivirus like TotalAV on your phone.
  • Don’t install apps from third-party app stores. 
  • Don’t jailbreak or root your phone. 
  • Keep your phone updated. If you no longer receive timely software updates, purchase a new phone.
  • Be careful and exercise caution when installing apps, browsing the web, and following instructions.

How do I know if my phone has a virus?

Before taking any drastic measures to rid yourself of malware, you should verify that your phone issues are, in fact, caused by viruses. Viruses can be tricky to find because their symptoms are similar to the symptoms of other phone issues. In general, if you have multiple issues that you can’t easily explain, you might have malware. 

1. Overheating or battery drain

Some kinds of malware mine Bitcoin, click on ads, or perform other nefarious tasks in the background that cause your phone to heat up. Aside from worse performance and battery life (covered in the next section), this processor-intensive malware can make your phone hot. 

Not all phone overheating is malware-related, but this is a fairly common symptom that you shouldn’t ignore. 

Similarly, malware such as cryptocurrency miners and worms can drain your phone’s battery.

That said, most battery drain issues aren’t caused by malware. Check Settings > Battery > Battery Health on iOS or an app like AccuBattery on Android to see if your battery has degraded. Over time, batteries start to hold less charge. This isn’t something you can reverse; it’s just how batteries work. 

Battery Health settings on Android

If your battery is quickly being drained, check which apps are using your battery, then make sure the battery hasn’t degraded. If there is no good explanation for why your battery is draining so fast, you might have malware. 

2. Unexpected ads, redirects, or pop-ups

Amazon Add on phone main screen

Malware generally exists to make money for its maker. Sometimes, this means inundating you with ads. If sites or apps that are normally ad-free or ad-light suddenly become filled with ads, pop-ups, and redirects to sketchy sites, here are some possibilities: 

  • The service has changed ownership or been compromised. 
  • Your network is injecting ads into insecure (HTTP) connections. 
  • Your phone has viruses or malware. 

Although this particular symptom is somewhat rare on iOS, it used to be quite common on Android. Most of the time—especially when a trusted app is covered by an ad—the issue is caused by malware.

3. Unwanted, suspicious new apps

Recent downloads on Android

Finding apps you don’t remember installing is a huge red flag. 

Before you start worrying about malware, check to make sure that you’re not signed into a shared iCloud or Google account. Both iOS and Android have features that can sync apps across devices, so it’s possible that you share an account with someone else and they installed the app.

To check whether you’re using Family Sharing on iPhone, go to Settings > [your name] > Family Sharing.

On Android, go to Google Play > Account > Family.

If this isn’t the case, malware is a likely explanation for the unwanted apps appearing on their own. 

4. Extreme Data Usage

Cellular Data settings on Android

Unlike legitimate apps, phone malware doesn’t care about your data plan. If an app you hardly use eats up tons of data—or worse, you get a huge phone bill from data usage but can’t find the culprit—you might have a virus. 

Can an iPhone get a virus?

Yes. Although Apple does a very good job protecting the security of iPhone users, you can still inadvertently install malware on your iPhone. Malware on iOS generally comes from one of a few places:

  • Jailbreaking. When you jailbreak your phone to install apps and tweaks that aren’t approved by Apple, you can mistakenly install malicious software as well. Jailbreaking inherently involves bypassing the iPhone’s security restrictions. 
  • Compromised networks. Although this issue isn’t technically malware, it presents similar symptoms. Pop-ups and unexpected ads on insecure sites (HTTP, not HTTPS) are symptoms of a compromised network. 
  • Stolen iCloud credentials. Again, this issue is not necessarily malware. However, if a hacker steals your Apple ID credentials, they can do all sorts of things to your devices and accounts, so it’s just as dangerous as actual malware. 
  • Security bypasses due to old software. New iOS versions nearly always include fixes for critical security issues. Historically, many iOS devices have been compromised through known vulnerabilities that were already patched in newer iOS updates. 
  • Nation-state-level hacking. Human rights activists, journalists, and other high-value targets are frequently attacked by governments and other powerful adversaries. One extremely advanced example was likely government-commissioned and could not be stopped until Apple patched the vulnerabilities. 

Can an Android phone get a virus?

Yes. Even though Google has greatly improved Android security, plenty of viruses are still out there. Here are a few of the most common places where viruses come from on Android: 

  • Third-party app stores. Users occasionally choose to get apps outside of the Google Play Store. Doing this can be dangerous, as these alternative stores aren’t subject to Google’s malware screening. 
  • Malicious Play Store apps. Although both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store occasionally contain malware, the Play Store contains more total apps and less human screening. Google quickly removes any malicious apps from the Play Store as soon as they’re discovered, but millions of people have already installed malicious apps. 
  • Rooting. Like jailbreaking on iOS, rooting an Android device gives the user more control—at the expense of security features. The same is true for custom ROMs, which give users even more complete control. 
  • Google account compromise, security bypass due to old software, and nation-state-level hacking all work just the same on Android as they do on iOS. 

How to remove a virus or other malware from an iPhone

As a result of the security features baked into iPhones, effective antivirus solutions for iOS practically do not exist. Antivirus software requires deep, unfettered access to the operating system’s internals, something that Apple is not keen to allow. 

So, here are some steps you can take to get rid of a virus and different kinds of malware on your iPhone: 

  1. Reboot your iPhone. Simple, unsophisticated viruses can be removed with a reboot. This kind of malware is known as non-persistent malware. 
  2. Connect to a different network. Network-related issues can be solved by connecting to another network or using LTE instead of Wi-Fi. This might stop additional pop-ups and ads on HTTP sites. If doing this does not fix the issue, you’ll need to try more drastic measures. 
  3. Change your iCloud password and add 2FA. Changing your iCloud password and adding two-factor authentication stops account takeovers. Be sure to also remove any unrecognized devices from your Apple ID. 
  4. Perform a complete wipe of your iPhone. If all else fails, wiping your device completely should remove any trace of malicious software from the phone itself. 

Performing a complete wipe

The most effective way to clean an iPhone of malware is to wipe it completely. However, using Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings is not enough when dealing with malware. Smart viruses may be able to survive that sort of wipe since it does not completely remove and reinstall the operating system.  

To guarantee that every piece of software on your iPhone is set up anew, perform a complete wipe like this: 

  1. Make a complete backup of your important data. Copy your photos, text messages, and other important data onto a trusted computer or another device. 
    1. iCloud Backup is normally a great way to back up your phone, but it won’t work this time. Restoring a backup from iCloud could bring back the malware as well. Instead, manually copy all the data you want to keep. 
  2. Put your device into recovery mode following Apple’s official instructions. The process differs slightly depending on which generation of iPhone you have. 
  3. Plug your phone into a trusted Mac or Windows PC. Make sure you have iTunes installed if you’re using Windows. 
  4. Choose Restore in the window that pops up. This will erase all the data on your device.
Performing Complete Wipe on iPhone
  1. Wait until your iPhone finishes installing iOS and set it up. Don’t restore from an iCloud backup—if you do, you might inadvertently bring back the virus. 
  2. Install your apps and bring back your data. Be on the lookout for anything suspicious to avoid reinstalling malware. 

How to remove a virus or other malware from an Android phone

Android works a little differently from iOS in a variety of ways. Apps have more access to the operating system, which is a double-edged sword. Android antivirus software can be legitimately effective, unlike iOS antivirus software. However, viruses can do more damage as well. 

Try these steps to fix your malware problem and remove a virus from your Android phone:

  1. Remove unrecognized apps. Unrecognized apps will often be the culprit of your malware problems.
  2. Try a different network or connection method. Sometimes, your malware-like symptoms will be caused by the network you’re connected to. If your problem is pop-ups and other similar issues, trying a different network may help to remedy them. You may also try switching between Wi-Fi and mobile data to see if that provides the fix you’re looking for.
  3. Change your Google account password and add 2FA
  4. Use a strong password and two-factor authentication on your Google account. This will neutralize possible account takeovers, stopping attackers in their tracks.
  5. Perform a complete wipe of your Android device

Wiping your phone should be taken as a last resort, but it will fix the overwhelming majority of malware issues.

Here’s how to wipe your phone effectively

  1. Make a backup of your data onto a trusted computer. Don’t rely on Google’s backup features. 
  2. Remove your Google account, lock screen passcode, and manufacturer’s account like a Samsung account (depending on your phone brand).
Settings on Android with Accounts and backup visible
  1. Factory reset your phone. This setting will be in a different location depending on your phone manufacturer.
Android reset settings

FAQ

Can smartphones get malware?

Yes. Just like computers, smartphones can get infected with malware. It can enter the system through infected apps, email attachments, and suspicious links.

Which antivirus program is the best for smartphones?

There are lots of good antivirus apps for mobile phones. If you want the best protection possible, you can download Bitdefender or Avira.

What kind of malware can a phone get?

Usually, smartphones get infected with adware, spyware, trojan horses, ransomware, and worms.

Can a factory reset remove malware?

Yes. Performing a factory reset on your phone will get rid of nearly all kinds of malware. However, there exist a few advanced kinds of infections like the xHelper Trojan that can survive a factory reset.

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Comments 26
  1. Haiku Willsten says:

    Okay, what if these steps don’t work on an iPhone because your phone keeps turning off like it’s running out of charge but it’s not? Should I go to T-Mobile to get it fixed or should I just remove all the data on it (I can’t put the data into my pc cause of the iPhone turning off problem)

    • CyberNews Team says:

      This sounds more like a hardware issue. You should take your iPhone to a certified repair shop.

  2. Rick says:

    I mistakenly clicked on a suspicious looking ad but closed the page before it could load ,can I get malware so quickly?

    • CyberNews Team says:

      Simply opening a malicious website won’t likely infect your device. More often, you’d have to download or install something which would run the malicious scripts.
      Though, it’s not uncommon that such websites might still leave you malicious cookies to show you adware. To avoid such situations, have a quick antivirus scan.

  3. martin says:

    just got my new phone, and have a couple of concerns. is free virus protection for android phone enough? i am talking about built it cache and virus removal. i am absolutely ok with buying avast or kaspersky if needed, however, if the company offers an antivirus by default it must be reliable as well?

    • CyberNews Team says:

      Modern Android OS is quite secure on its own, but it doesn’t include antivirus. So, you’ll have to look for a third-party provider.

  4. pixie says:

    Cybernews or any other who can help me, I was reading online on wattpad and my browser just sent me this message “warning virus detected android infected tap to remove it’ What should I do? If I click it will I ruin my tablet? I’ve simply never faced such a situation before.

    • CyberNews Team says:

      When browsing sketchy websites, you can occasionally encounter webpages that display fake alerts about malware infecting your device.
      They don’t really mean anything and are just quick tricks to get you to click on them.

  5. tray says:

    can an iphone get a virus from safari? i was browsing random websites and accidentally pressed popup ad. i got redirected to a website with tons of ads and my phone just turned off. now, i’m afraid that viruses will delete all my photos and docs 🙁

    • CyberNews Team says:

      It’s improbable that something that you click once in safari will delete your entire cloud storage. Use caution when browsing, and install some web filters to avoid such websites in the future.

  6. kiwipluto says:

    Whats is the best virus cleaner for android phones? Is it worth paying for avast or similar to it? I saw and tried a couple of free cleaners on the Play Store like CC cleaner, Safe Security, etc. However, CC Cleaner after downloading it, made random ads appearing on my home screen. I think it’s no good for an antivirus to do that.

    • CyberNews Team says:

      Your phone usually has access to the same services that you’re using on your other devices. So, it does make sense to add an additional security layer to protect your most important data.

  7. kay says:

    i’ve installed a free app for editing photos, and it started acting in a weird way – the battery is dying every 3 hours, it became very slow, and some of the other apps stop working randomly. i think my iphone has a virus. am i right?

    • CyberNews Team says:

      It may be either that or your phone might also be getting old. Don’t mistake every malfunction as a virus.

  8. Romanticon37 says:

    Do you know if there’s a reliable way to do a phone virus scan online? I don’t feel safe downloading more software and risk getting infected just to see if my phone is not already infected. If it’s not possbile then I might just go with a factory reset because the phone is barely usable anyway.

    • CyberNews Team says:

      Online virus scan could only be done if you uploaded a suspicious file to be scanned in someone’s servers. However, there’s no option to scan your whole storage without downloading some antivirus tool.

  9. Franz says:

    Is it possible that a virus is draining my phone battery? I got the phone like six months ago and it doesn’t last as long as it used to. I don’t think it should be like this. What’s foolproof way of checking for it and getting rid of it?

    • CyberNews Team says:

      Hi, Franz. A virus could be draining your phone battery. Still, it could also be a maximum brightness setting that you left in your display options. The best way to verify would be to go into the battery tab, and you should get a pretty detailed graph of which sources consume the most of your power. If you notice some unknown apps that drain a lot of power, you may have accidentally installed malware.

  10. Summer J. says:

    I switched from Iphones back to Android phones. Tim is charging too much and not giving enough new features. Security though – now that may be an issue. Haven’t been really up to date on what are the latest threats for Android. Do I need a virus protector for my android phone? And would a free app be enough? Might be good enough if it has a trustworthy reputation.

    • CyberNews Team says:

      Android has come a long way from the early days, this applies to security, as well. If you’re using the latest version that your phone supports, you should be in the clear. However, if you want an extra bit of protection, you can always install an antivirus app. It should block most known malicious websites, so you won’t easily download malware.

  11. MintCheese19 says:

    So last weekend I kind of went into a big old conspiracy theory rabbit hole. Not because I believe that stuff, only for entertainment value. So I went to some weird places on the internet. Some seemed unsecure. Now I noticed that my phone isn’t running as well as it did before, even though I restart it and clear cache with cookies. Now I fear the worst. Does anyone know how to get the fbi virus off my phone?

    • CyberNews Team says:

      If you’re worried that your phone might be infected, you should perform a hard reset on your device. For future reference, try to abstain from going to sketchy websites and avoid clicking unknown links.

  12. Bromonour says:

    Blasted Covid! My mom got scammed! She lives far away and I can’t go over to see what’s wrong with her phone. I do have my suspicions though. In any case do you have an article about how to remove phishing virus from android phone? Something easy to understand for someone who isn’t very tech savvy. Might have to factory reset the thing if we can’t find a solution.

    • CyberNews Team says:

      You must be confusing something because phishing is a method to lure the target. Usually via legitimately looking websites and emails. While a virus a malicious program. Regardless, if you’re worried about the infected phone, this guide should be a helpful source of information.

  13. Shayne Morrison says:

    Can you please tell me how to check for virus on samsung phone? Lately it’s been performing very poorly, lagging all the time and the battery gets drained faster than usual. I don’t know what to do anymore, it’s getting really frustrating and it’s barely been a year with this phone, really not in the mood to change it again.

    • CyberNews Team says:

      Hello, Shayne. The thing is, a virus is just one of the potential reasons why your phone might be lagging. You might be running at maximum storage capacity, keeping a lot of services turned on. Many genuine programs can be clogging up your device, which means that few resources remain to allocate for tasks, which means you’re getting a poor phone experience.
      You could try backing up your most essential data and performing a system reset. Afterward, check if the problems persist. If you’re experiencing problems a year into your purchase, this also could be a fault of a defective unit.

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