How to Know If Your Phone Has a Virus & How to Remove It
Worried your phone might have a virus? It’s a valid concern, as Kaspersky detected nearly 3.5 million malicious installation packages in 2021 and found that mobile malware continues to get more sophisticated – and more dangerous. Viruses are something you should be aware of, not scared of, and you can protect yourself with some simple information. Here’s how to know if your phone has a virus and how to remove it.
Jump to: The dangers of phone viruses | How phones get viruses | How to tell if your phone has a virus: 7 warning signs | How to remove a virus from your phone | How to keep your phone virus-free | Types of phone viruses
The dangers of phone viruses
Some phone viruses are mere annoyances, but others can wreak havoc on your life. It’s worth noting that not every threat is technically a virus, which by definition is self-replicating software that infects other programs. A virus is a type of malware (a blanket term used for all malicious software), but many people use “virus” and “malware” interchangeably.
In fact, AVG says that neither Android phones nor iPhones can get viruses, but both are susceptible to malware.
No matter what you call it, malware can enable criminals to:
- View and steal your identity, personal photos and work documents
- Access your bank accounts, steal credit card numbers and make purchases in your name
- Deliver and send fake texts with malicious links
- Record phone calls, conversations and videos
- Steal your usernames and passwords
- View and track your location
Phone viruses typically work in one of two ways: by tricking you into granting permission to use your phone and app functions, or by exploiting vulnerabilities to control your phone.
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How phones get viruses
You can get malware via:
- App downloads
- Email attachments and links
- Text attachments and links
- Public WiFi networks
Criminals have devised clever ways to trick people into unwittingly installing malware. TangleBot, for example, can masquerade as a prompt to download Adobe Flash Player to view a web page. Accept the download, and you’ll install a virus.
Contrary to popular belief, iPhones are not immune to malware. While it’s true that you won’t get malware from apps on Apple’s App Store, you can still get them from other sources. In 2021, for example, Google Project Zero discovered website-based attacks that targeted iPhones. Your risk also increases if your iPhone is jailbroken.
How to tell if your phone has a virus: 7 warning signs
Sometimes, it’s obvious something is wrong with your phone. Other times, a virus could insidiously hide in the background. Here are seven warning signs your phone has a virus.
1. Unrecognized messages
If your SMS applications have messages you didn’t send, your phone is probably infected. Viruses use text messages – often with malicious links – to trick your contacts into spreading their destruction.
2. Unauthorized charges
If you don’t recognize charges to your credit card, bank account, wireless carrier bill or app store, there’s a chance a virus is the culprit.
3. Diminished performance
Slow phones, fast battery drain and apps that crash or take a long time to load can indicate a virus, but it can also be due to something else. In addition, a virus can tax your processor and cause your phone to overheat.
4. Excessive data usage
Check your data usage and compare it to your historical data to see if you’re using more than usual. A virus might be at fault if there is no other explanation.
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5. Random, persistent ads or browser redirects
If you’re seeing random pop-up advertisements or your browser redirects to an unknown browser when you search, you probably have a virus.
6. Unknown apps and files
Unknown apps and mystery files can indicate a phone virus. Review your installed apps and downloads folder for apps and files you didn’t install or download.
7. Dropped calls
In some cases, viruses can interfere with call quality or even cause dropped calls, though many other potential causes exist.
Phone virus scans
You can also use antivirus apps to scan your phone for viruses. AVG, Avast, Norton and others offer virus scanning apps for Android phones.
iPhones are trickier because iOS doesn’t allow apps to scan where viruses hide. However, you can download malware scanning software like Certo to your computer, connect your iPhone via the lightning cable and scan your iPhone.
How to remove a virus from your phone
If you suspect your phone is infected with malware, follow these steps to check it and clean it.
1. Clear your browser cache and storage
- Open the Chrome app
- Tap MORE (triple dots)
- Select HISTORY > CLEAR BROWSING DATA
- Select ALL TIME
- Check the boxes next to “Browsing history,” “Cookies and site data” and “Cached images and files”
- Tap CLEAR DATA
2. Reboot in Safe Mode
- Hold down the POWER button to bring up the power menu
- Long press POWER OFF until the Safe Mode prompt appears
- Confirm your choice to reboot in Safe Mode
3. Remove unknown apps
- Browse to SETTINGS > APPS & NOTIFICATIONS > SEE ALL APPS
- Use the drop-down menu to choose INSTALLED APPS
- Uninstall any apps you do not recognize
- Reboot your phone
4. Scan and remove viruses
- Download a trusted Android antivirus app
- Follow the instructions to scan your phone for viruses
- Allow the software to remove any identified threats
- Reboot your phone
Now, check to see if your phone is behaving normally again. If this process didn’t resolve the issue, or you’re worried the virus is hiding but not gone, you can factory reset your Android phone. Doing so will delete all data and files, including viruses. You can restore from a backup, but keep in mind your phone will get reinfected if the malware is in your backup files, so it might be better to start fresh.
- Browse to SETTINGS > SYSTEM > ADVANCED > RESET OPTIONS
- Select Erase All Data
- Select Reset Phone
- Confirm your selection
1. Clear your browsing history and website data
- Browse to SETTINGS > SAFARI
- Tap CLEAR HISTORY AND WEBSITE DATA
- Reboot your iPhone
2. Update iOS
- Browse to SETTINGS > GENERAL > SOFTWARE UPDATE
- Install any listed operating system updates
3. Remove unknown apps
- Browse to SETTINGS > GENERAL > IPHONE STORAGE
- Review installed apps and uninstall any you do not recognize
- Reboot your iPhone
4. Scan for viruses
- On your computer, download software like Certo
- Connect your iPhone to your computer via the lightning cable
- Follow the instructions to scan your iPhone and remove viruses
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If your iPhone is back to normal, you might have removed the virus. If the problem isn’t resolved or you’re worried the virus is hiding, you can factory reset your iPhone. This will remove all data, including any malware. You can restore from a backup, but keep in mind the malware could be hiding in your backup files, so you might want to start fresh.
- Browse to SETTINGS > GENERAL > TRANSFER OR RESET IPHONE
- Select Erase All Content and Settings
- Confirm your selection
How to keep your phone virus-free
Once you’re confident your phone is free from viruses, you’ll want to keep it that way. These tips can help.
1. Keep your operating system updated
Some viruses exploit vulnerabilities in operating systems, so it’s critical to keep your OS up to date. Regularly check for updates and install them as soon as they are released to patch security issues.
2. Regularly change your passwords and pins
Change your phone, app and account passwords and pins regularly – and never use the same one twice. If a virus does steal your login credentials, hopefully you’ll have changed them before your data is sold on the dark web.
3. Avoid suspicious links and attachments
Never open links or attachments you don’t trust, and keep an eye out for phishing and smishing (when a malicious email or text message looks like it came from a trusted source, such as work, a retailer or a friend). Manually enter browser URLs instead of clicking email and text links.
4. Check app permissions
Apps often ask for permissions they don’t need. For example, the latest racing game probably doesn’t need access to your photos or contacts. Only allow apps the permissions they need to operate, and only when they need them (just once or while using the app versus all the time). Here’s how to check which permissions your apps have:
- Browse to SETTINGS > APPS
- Select an app and tap PERMISSIONS
- Adjust permission settings as needed
- Repeat for other apps
Alternatively, you can change permissions based on their type (camera, contacts, phone, etc.) and automatically remove permissions for unused apps. View Google’s Android Help Center for more information.
- Browse to SETTINGS > PRIVACY
- Select a permission type
- Review which apps have access, then remove any unnecessary permissions
- Repeat for each permission type
Learn more on Apple’s iPhone User Guide.
5. Only install apps from trusted sources
Only install apps from official app stores (Google Play and the Apple App Store), never from third-party app stores or direct links. Read reviews to get a sense of issues others have had before you download a given app.
If you have an Android phone, enable Play Protect. This feature runs a safety check on all apps before you download them, monitors your phone for harmful apps, and then removes them. If you have an iPhone, the App Store automatically protects against malicious apps, so you don’t need to enable a separate service.
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6. Avoid public WiFi
Hackers can install malware via public WiFi networks, so avoid using them as much as possible. Instead, stick to your wireless carrier service when in public, then use secured networks at home or work.
7. Install a security app
Android security apps can scan for and remove viruses. iPhone security apps don’t need that functionality, but they do offer other features like malicious website detection, WiFi security scans and identity protection that can help you thwart or beat a virus infection.
Only install trusted security apps with many downloads and positive reviews, as malware can masquerade as an antivirus app.
- AVG (Android | iPhone)
- Avast (Android | iPhone)
- Bitdefender (Android | iPhone)
- Norton (Android | iPhone)
- McAfee (Android | iPhone)
- Kaspersky (Android | iPhone)
What if it wasn’t a virus?
If you’ve followed these steps and your issue is unresolved, a virus might not be the problem. Slow phones, low battery life, poor connectivity and other hardware issues can mimic virus symptoms, prove challenging to diagnose and expensive to repair.
Check out these phone repair articles to learn more about how to fix common issues. If the repair is expensive or if you’re simply concerned about security and worried a virus could be lingering on your phone, you can always factory reset it and sell it for cash to put toward a new, clean phone. See how much your phone is worth on Flipsy.
Types of phone viruses
Some of the most common types of phone malware include:
- Trojan: Disguised as a legitimate file, Trojans install malware on your phone designed to steal financial data, personal information, gaming account details and more. Trojans can also send text messages to premium numbers
- Adware: Serves pop-ups and other ads or redirects your web browser to advertisements. Adware can also track you and steal your data
- Spyware: Tracks your location, web history, app usage and records usernames, passwords and other information
- Ransomware: Encrypts your sensitive files so criminals can demand payment to unlock them
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