As desktop computers, laptops, and large-scale information systems grew in popularity, they became goldmines for stealing private and personal information. Then, as the digital age switched from desktops to mobile devices, so did hackers. Mobile data mining and virus infections joined the ranks of expansive enterprise attacks and small-scale phishing attacks.

Today, with more than 4 billion smartphone users in the world, your cell phone may be just as vulnerable as your laptop. So how do you know if your phone has a virus? Watch for telltale signs of suboptimal performance, then troubleshoot effectively to remove and protect your device from the virus.

Can Phones Get Viruses?

It’s possible for phones to get a virus. As the popularity of smartphones exploded beyond that of computers as personal devices, hackers created new ways to infect and impair them. Unlike traditional viruses which replicated themselves while running, mobile malware and viruses on mobile devices target weak points within your operating system for data mining, financial gain or network corruption.


Data-sharing capabilities are typically blocked between applications, but some apps have been scrutinized for speculations of mishandling data, making their users increasingly vulnerable to these types of attacks.

9 Signs Your Phone Has a Virus

While many viruses will simply limit the function of your phone, some are created to steal and remove data, transfer malware onto more devices or make unauthorized purchases. 

Because mobile malware can run dormant while you use your phone as usual, you may not recognize or know you have a virus immediately. Plus, some suboptimal performance issues are normal symptoms of wear on a phone. However, these symptoms can also be a sign of malicious malware at work.

These 9 signs are an indication that your phone may have a virus:

  1. Excessive data usage: Undetected viruses running in the background of your phone may significantly increase data usage.
  2. Unauthorized charges: Some forms of trojans may drive up your phone bill with in-app purchases and text charges to premium accounts which hackers can then collect on.
  3. Apps crashing: Apps may repeatedly crash if your mobile software is compromised. Before searching for a virus and assuming the worst, check that your storage isn’t full and you don’t have too many apps running at once.
  4. Unusual search engines: Many people have a primary search engine they use for search queries. If your searches are being answered by new or unrecognizable search engines, this could be a sign that your phone has been infected by a virus.
  5. Pop-ups: While some pop-ups are a normal function of advertising while browsing the web, if your browser is closed and you’re experiencing increased pop-ups you may be experiencing adware, a type of malware that’s goal is data mining.
  6. Increased battery drain: You may experience an inexplicably quick drain on your battery with the increased use of your phone’s RAM if a virus is running in the background.
  7. Unrecognizable apps: When you see unrecognizable or fake apps that were mysteriously downloaded, they may be a malicious form of malware. Trojan horses can also attach themselves to legitimate applications and cause further damage.
  8. Overheating: Malware can consume RAM and CPU quickly, causing your phone to overheat. While occasional overheating may be normal, a chronic issue could be a signal that there’s something more dangerous afoot.
  9. Fraudulent linking: Malware may gather sensitive data and also attempt to infect your contacts by sending dangerous links and attachments through texts, emails or social media messages.

Types of Mobile Viruses

The most common types of mobile viruses are adware, ransomware, spyware, trojan horses, and worms. The term “virus” is now widely used to describe almost any kind of security risk, but it is actually a specific form of malware. Legitimate applications, fake emails, infected attachments and many other digital landscapes are perfect grounds for viruses to hide.

Illustration of the parts of a virus and what they mean.

  • Adware: While some pop-ups are an expected part of marketing promotions, an influx can be a sign of adware. At best, it’s an irritation. At its worst, it can track activities and root your device to steal data.
  • Ransomware: First appearing on desktop computers, ransomware encrypts personal information so the user can’t access it. A ransom is then demanded for files to be released.
  • Spyware: Spyware is often attached to seemingly legitimate applications. It then loads itself onto your device to spy on and track your activity, location, usernames, and passwords.
  • Trojan horse: A trojan horse on your cell phone may appear as a text message. From there, trojans will send messages at a premium, often increasing your phone bill. These types of viruses can also connect themselves to legitimate-looking apps.
  • Worm: Another virus spread by texts, a worm doesn’t need user interaction to wreak havoc. Its main goal is to spread to as many devices as possible so hackers can load malware onto your phone and steal data.

How to Check for Phone Viruses

Like vulnerability assessments for large infrastructure systems, it’s important to scan your smartphone for viruses regularly. While many viruses may make your phone act differently than normal, sophisticated viruses can often go virtually undetectable to the naked eye. You can check your devices for any type of virus by:

  • Downloading and installing a security app: Just like any other download, these applications should be created by trusted sources and downloaded from verified app stores. 
  • Running a virus scan: After you have downloaded a security app, these can be used to run virus scans. Many apps will even help you resolve the issue and remove the virus.

If you fear your phone may have a virus, removing it and investing in security systems should be a priority. While it may be necessary for you to wipe and restore your device if the virus is dangerous enough, there are simpler restoration techniques.

How to Remove a Virus From an iPhone

The iPhone operating system is fairly secure, but viruses can still break through closed-coded systems, especially on jailbroken iPhones. If your iPhone does manage to become infected by a virus, there are three steps you can take to move the virus.

  1. Step 1: Clear your browsing data and history. First, select settings. Then choose your primary browser and clear its history and website data. If you regularly use any other browsers, repeat this process for them, too.
  2. Step 2: Restore a backup version of your phone. Navigate to your phone’s settings, your Apple ID, and then the iCloud. Here, you should select manage storage, then backups. Choose and restore the device to the most recent backup.
  3. Step 3: Reset your phone to its factory settings. This option should only be used as a last resort. Open your settings, choose general, find transfer or reset iPhone, and choose to erase all content and settings. Your phone will be reset to its factory settings.
    Gif explaining the third step of removing a virus from an iphone.

Resetting your iPhone to its factory settings should always be the last remedy you try. Prior to this, follow the first two steps to remove a virus, install any iOS updates, or download additional antivirus software for Mac and iOS devices to help protect your phone from hackers.

How to Remove a Virus From an Android Phone

Because of its open-source code, Android devices are vulnerable to malware attacks. Antivirus software is the most fail-safe way to protect your Android from viruses. However, there are four simple steps to remove a virus from an Android phone.


  1. Step 1: Clear the cache. Navigate to settings and select apps and notifications. Next, find Chrome. Go to its storage and select clear cache.
  2. Step 2: Reboot the device in safe mode. Press and hold the power button. When the dialogue box appears, choose reboot to safe mode. The term “safe mode” should appear in the corner of your screen after rebooting.
  3. Step 3: Find the suspicious app. Open settings. Select apps. Tap “See all apps” and enter “Installed apps” in the dropdown menu. Manually review applications installed to find any suspicious downloads. Once identified, open the app information and uninstall or force close it. After this step, you can restart your phone like normal.
  4. Step 4: Enable Play Protect. The most secure way to protect an Android against a virus is by installing antivirus, but Play Protect can be used as a secondary protection measure. To enable this built-in software, choose the Google Play Store app and open the menu under your avatar. Choose to activate Play Protect so it can scan your device for security threats.

As a last resort, you can wipe your device and reset it to its factory settings. If this is your only choice, make sure all of your important documents, pictures and information are backed up to a secondary device or the cloud.

How to Protect Yourself From A Phone Virus

As the first line of defense, antivirus software can protect your phone against malware. If all else fails, regularly backing up your phone will ensure you have a previous version to restore as a fail-safe. However, there are other steps you can take to protect your phone from a virus infection before resetting it becomes an option. 

  • Only download verified apps: Avoid third-party app stores and only download apps from verified sources like the Google Play Store or the App Store. Doing so minimizes the risk of installing dangerous apps posing as legitimate software.
  • Use secure Wi-Fi: Always use protected Wi-Fi or a VPN. Making sure your data is transferred using HTTPS and installing additional security systems deters hackers from interrupting the data flow to and from your phone.
  • Check app permissions: Before downloading an unfamiliar app or allowing it to connect with other apps in your digital sphere, read its terms and conditions. Permission to access personal information, including contacts, or change the terms without notice should never be automatic.
  • Install antivirus software: Antivirus software is the best line of defense against mobile malware. Run the software regularly and remove any threats detected.
  • Update your OS: Operating system updates often patch bugs found in its previous versions.
  • Don’t open suspicious messages: Malware can come in the form of email attachments, texts, and links. Don’t click unfamiliar links or messages, as they may be a gateway to phishing sites.
  • Don’t jailbreak your phone: Staying rooted allows necessary updates and patches to your operating system to be installed when they are released. When you jailbreak your phone, you’re vulnerable to holes found in previous versions plus the dangers open-source code can pose.
  • Keep passwords secure: Use a password generator to help vary the passwords you use for applications and devices that store your personal data.
  • Clear your history: Clearing your browser and data history can remove suspicious links that may be compelling and unfamiliar.

Some viruses on cell phones are dormant until activated, with the goal of infiltrating as much user data as possible before being detected. Antivirus software can protect your mobile devices against cyberattacks, and installing an Android VPN on your mobile device can offer additional protection from the instability of open-source codes. Stay vigilant when downloading new software to your devices, and understand the performance issues that may be associated with symptoms of mobile malware at work.

Sources: Threat Insight Report | IDG | Khalifa University | University of Cambridge | Hong Kong University