Remember the days when worrying about fending off malware from your computer was the worst-case scenario? Now you can add figuring out how to get a virus off your phone as another potential headache.
Cybercriminals release bogus apps or create fake websites in order to access your personal data on your phone, even spreading other types of viruses much like it would on your computer.
Here’s how to know if your phone may have a virus and the steps you can try to take to remove it.
What is a phone virus?
Viruses are a type of malware that can sneak into your phone. Other types of malware can include spyware and ransomware. The intent is the same—to access your personal data and use that information to commit identity fraud or theft. The malware might even try to access your phone to send SMS messages to text services that charge a fee or sell gathered personal data. Some even go so far as to hold your files hostage and demand a ransom.
Technically, phones don’t catch viruses in the same way computers do. However, a phone virus can infect and corrupt files and programs, plus wreak havoc on your phone’s overall performance.
How does malware make its way into your phone? It can be as simple as downloading and installing a malicious app from Google Play or the App Store.
That’s just one example of how a virus can make its way onto your phone. A report from the University of Cambridge found that 87% of Android users are exposed to a minimum of one critical vulnerability. Plus, 95% of Android phones can be hacked using simple text messages, according to Zimperium zLabs.
“Android phones are typically considered to be more vulnerable since they’re technically ‘open devices,’” said Liz Hamilton, director of customer service at Mobile Klinik, a phone repair company. “That means it leaves users more susceptible to downloading malicious apps by mistake.”
Another reason Android phones can be more susceptible to viruses? System updates are often delayed. But when system updates are available, it’s important to install them to fix bugs and vulnerabilities in the operating system.
That said, no software is perfect, meaning an enterprising fraudster may eventually crack even the best ones on the market.
Apple may seem like a better choice for smartphone users, but it isn’t immune to malware either. In February 2019, a group of websites were hacked and used to infect iPhones with malware.
How do I know if my phone has a virus?
Since malware programs are known to take up precious resources in order to perform, you may notice signs that your phone’s performance has changed for the worst:
- Your phone battery is used up much faster than normal.
- There are a ton of pop-up ads.
- It takes longer for apps to load.
- Your phone operates at a slower speed.
- There are apps you don’t recall downloading.
- You notice a surge in data usage.
- You’ve gotten higher phone bills.
Of course, one or two of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean you have a virus on your phone. But if you notice a combination of signs, you should be on alert that your phone may have been compromised.
How to remove a virus from your iPhone
iPhones don’t tend to get viruses, but if your phone has been jailbroken, that could increase your chances.
Here are steps you can take:
- Uninstall suspicious apps, especially third-party ones.
- Clear browsing history and data (go to Safari and clear history and website data in the Settings).
- Restart your iPhone.
- Restore to a previous backup or as a new device.
If none of the above steps work, it may be time to seek professional help by booking an appointment at an Apple Genius Bar.
How to remove a virus from your Android phone
Here are ways you can remove a virus on an Android:
- Run a virus scan. There are free options worth looking into, but paying for an anti-virus app isn’t necessarily expensive. If the software finds something malicious, it’ll provide steps on how to remove it from your phone.
- Manually uninstall apps using ‘Safe’ mode. Using your phone in “Safe” mode means all third-party apps are off. If your phone’s performance improves, then an installed app may be the culprit. Head to Settings and manually uninstall suspicious apps, then reboot your phone.
- Remove administrator access. Sometimes you’ll need to remove access to a malicious app before you can uninstall it. Go to the “Security” option in your Settings app, and either tap “Deactivate” or uncheck the box that allows the app access to your phone.
- Restore to factory settings. This will clear all data and apps you’ve installed on your phone. Don’t forget to back up your files before doing so.
How can I protect my cellphone from viruses?
While there’s no foolproof way to protect your phone 100%, there are ways to lessen your chances of a virus infection:
- Regularly update your phone software. By doing so, “You’re continuously making it harder for someone to break into your device,” Hamilton said.
- Check suspicious communications. If you’re unsure about a text message or email (especially if it contains a link), consider using a reverse phone or email search tool before responding.
- Install security software. Good malware protection software is worth the investment by giving your device another line of defense against cybercriminals.
- Use strong passwords. Use different ones for each of your accounts, or better still, use a password manager to help you store and organize them.
- Avoid using unsecured Wi-Fi connections. If you need to use public Wi-Fi, invest in a VPN. See our top VPN picks for 2020.
- Double-check apps. Install them from trusted sources like the Google Play store, but read the fine print to understand the kind of permissions you are giving the app.
It can seem like a pain to remain hypervigilant, but experts say it’s worth the trouble. “Malware has the potential to wipe out your data storage for good or send viruses to your contacts,” Hamilton said. “You’ll not only put yourself at risk, but others, too.”