How to Get Rid of a Virus on Your Phone

Isaac Fernandez

Technology can be weird. Things crash, reload, run slowly, and start to work worse. We also know that there are bad actors out there. You might start to think, has my device been compromised?

Laptops and desktop computers, with all their firewalls and ad blockers and administrative privileges, have plenty of ways to help keep you safe and alert to threats. Phones aren’t nearly as transparent about it. 

So, you may ask, how do I know if my phone has a virus? We’ll walk you through it.

What Is a Phone Virus? 

What Is a Phone Virus?

Mobile phones don’t get viruses in quite the same way as traditional computer systems. A computer virus in your system is a specific type of malicious program. It operates just like the microscopic parasites that infect humans: once you catch one, it harmfully replicates itself using the resources of the host.

In a person, a virus uses your own cells, damaging or destroying them. In a computer, a virus rampages through the files, rewriting them into more of the virus or erasing them from existence. Fittingly for our analogy, it’s also possible for you to accidentally spread the virus yourself once you’ve got it.

To date, there is no known iOs or Android virus that operates in this way. You can’t click on a bad attachment and find the contents of your phone eradicated in minutes.

But as a catchall term for various types of malware, you can certainly get a “virus” on Android or, to a lesser extent, on iOS. 

A Few Types of Mobile Malware

Mobile phones are susceptible to many of the same threats that computers face, albeit with some phone-centric twists.

Spyware

  • This type of malware app is designed to collect your information and send it along to third parties. 
  • The spyware creator might make money off of you by selling location data and web browsing habits to advertisers. 
  • Or it can be more nefarious and grab your contacts and passwords. 

Adware

  • Adware apps, to the degree of being malware, might be less dangerous but more annoying. 
  • Rather than working quietly in the background to compromise your device, you may get ads served right onto your home or lock screen. You may experience page and app redirects. 
  • Adware on Android isn’t uncommon, but the worst examples of it are often paired with spyware.

Worms

  • A worm functions similarly to a virus, except that it self-replicates onto other devices via a network. 
  • Its purpose is to create a widespread infection, and it usually exploits gaps in network and device security. 
  • When it isn’t taking advantage of a security flaw, you may receive a worm disguised as an attachment in suspicious texts or emails.

Does My Phone Have a Virus?

Depending on the type of malware, signs of infection will vary. Adware related problems will be rather obvious, but adware also causes behind the scenes chaos like any other virus. 

These symptoms can have causes outside of a virus, but here are a few things to watch for if you grow suspicious:

  • Unexplained increase of data usage
  • Unexplained charges or higher phone bill — some mobile malware subscribes you to paid services or triggers in-app purchases for example
  • Your phone is running slow, running extra hot, draining the battery more quickly
  • Your apps are crashing, loading sluggishly, opening other pages
  • Ads or web pages spontaneously pop up while apps are minimized
  • You find an app installed you don’t remember downloading and didn’t come with the phone

How to Get Rid of a Virus on Your Phone

So, you believe malware is the cause of your mobile woes. Though it seems like fighting an invisible enemy, it’s actually pretty easy to remove malware from Android or iOS. 

Your first tools for how to get rid of a virus on your phone — Android or iOS — are the simplest ones. Make sure you’ve restarted the phone at least once after problems began. See if the issues persist. Clear your caches and history to be safe. Restart the phone again. 

If you need to get to the root of the problem, it’ll take more drastic steps.

How to Get Rid of a Virus on Android

How to remove malware from Android devices isn’t actually drastic; it’s merely more involved. 

  1. Turn off your phone and follow model-specific instructions to boot it into safe mode. It may be as easy as holding down your power button, or you may need to press a volume button as well or follow a sequence to access it. 

Safe mode runs the phone normally while disabling all third-party apps you’ve installed, so you’ll be able to tell if an app is causing the trouble.

  1. If that’s the case, uninstall the app (or apps) that you suspect. It may be something new you installed recently. It may be something recently updated (and compromised). Check the web for any new reports of malicious apps and check Play Store reviews to see if other users report similar problems.
  1. Sometimes, an app won’t have an uninstall option. You may be able to disable it instead, or you may need to revoke administrator privileges to alter it at all. Head over to “Device Administrators” under your security settings and deactivate any app that shouldn’t be in there. Now you should be able to uninstall or disable the app.

How to Get Rid of a Virus on iOS

virus alert

Don’t forget the simple steps above before jumping to these more extreme measures.

  1. Bring your phone to an Apple Store and see if they can help you resolve the problem.
  2. Restore the Apple device to an earlier version using your saved backups. You may have to look further than the most recent, depending on when you last backed up. The goal is to get to a version prior to the malware infection.
  3. Reset the device, wiping all contents. Malware cannot affect the hardware itself. Take everything off the phone and start over for a fresh start without any viruses.

How Can I Prevent “Viruses” and Malware?

  • Don’t click on strange links or attachments in emails and texts.
  • Never input sensitive information while on unsecured or unfamiliar Wi-Fi — use a VPN or switch to private network data.
  • Limit app permissions and don’t download apps with excessive permissions in the first place — an alarm clock needs access to storage, not data and your microphone and call logs.
  • If you’re going to sideload your Android or jailbreak your iPhone, do the work to vet what you install — but of course, the safest thing is not to bypass security like that.
  • Install software/app updates and security patches regularly if they’re available to you, and avoid older Android versions which are no longer supported.

Whether or not you have contracted a phone virus, you might enjoy peace of mind by running preventative security scans on your apps and files. Carriers like Verizon offer a security suite with phone scanning, and for Androids, the Google Play store can run regular app scans through Play Protect

For more complete coverage or a specific security feature like Wi-Fi scanning or file encryption and backup, you’ll want to research dedicated services. Android has plenty of antivirus options, with some of the best outlined over at Tom’s Guide. In fact, many of them even know how to remove a virus from Android for you as well, so you don’t have to bother with all the legwork (or finger work, if you will).

Comparatively, Apple antivirus software has limited functionality, but still offers many additional security benefits. McAfee Mobile Security is a top pick, along with Lookout Personal for iOS

Takeaway

Getting a phone virus isn’t easy, per se, but it may be easier than you’d expect. Luckily, how to get rid of a virus on your phone also isn’t too complicated. To protect your device in the future, practice safe usage habits, download with caution, and consider getting a mobile antivirus. We can’t guarantee you’ll never deal with malware by sticking to these rules, but you can decrease your chances significantly.

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