A common misconception is that only computers can be infected with viruses such as spyware, adware, and other types of malware. That couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, in 2021 security firm Kaspersky’s mobile antivirus software detected nearly 3.5 million malicious installation packages that installed third-party malware like viruses on iOS and Android devices.
One particular type of cybersecurity threat that’s on the rise is ransomware, which installs a type of virus that makes files unreadable or an entire device unusable until the victim pays a “ransom.” While this kind of attack is less common on mobile devices, it does happen from time to time. In the first half of 2022, Kaspersky scans detected about 6,000 ransomware installation packages, all of which affected Android phones.
With mobile viruses and other malware a common problem, it’s important to know the signs indicating your phone has a virus and what to do about it. We spoke to several security experts to find out what to look for and how to protect yourself.
Top Signs Your Phone Has a Virus
To prevent a virus from causing lasting damage to your iOS or Android phone, laptop, or tablet, as well as more serious problems like identity theft, it’s critical to detect malware as soon as possible. A good antivirus program is the best defense, as it continuously scans your device and can remove malware immediately upon detection.
In addition, your device may show certain symptoms when it’s infected. According to antivirus software maker McAfee, malware on your device causes it to work harder than it should. Your device may suddenly become sluggish or apps may not load correctly. Battery life may decrease as well.
Another potential sign of a virus is when unexpected ads pop up or phone or text messages that you never sent show up in your phone logs. A virus can also slow internet access or increase data usage.
NordVPN digital privacy expert Daniel Markuson says that a phone with a virus can also freeze, crash, or overheat. “Weird activity with apps is also a telltale sign, or users may find files, add-ons, or apps they don’t recognize,” he says.
Is Android or iOS More Vulnerable to Viruses?
Android has more than 70% of the mobile market share worldwide, so the operating system is a hot target. The experts we talked to also agree that Android phones are more vulnerable to viruses, although Android’s security has improved. Doug McKee, principal engineer and director of vulnerability research at the security firm Trellix, says attackers are often financially motivated.
Attackers are more likely to focus their efforts on Android devices over iOS devices regardless of the actual security of the device or operating system, McKee says. “Generally, the top brands like Apple, Samsung, and Google have done a better job more recently at providing adequate security and privacy, but all device users can still make mistakes and get malware,” he says.
Should iPhone users leave their guard down since iOS devices are less susceptible to malware than Android devices? That’s a bad idea, experts say. For example, security firm Norton says that while iOS might be “safer,” it’s not immune from malware.
How To Protect Your Phone From Viruses
While the threat of hackers using mobile malware is increasing, it’s very easy to protect your smartphone from viruses and other malware.
Keep your software up to date
Markuson and McKee told us that keeping your device’s software up to date can help protect it, as these updates often include security updates. Comparitech privacy advocate Paul Bischoff also recommends sticking to official app stores like Google Play and apps with plenty of good feedback.
Watch what you click
Malware infections often start with a mouse click on your computer or a tap on your phone. Experts recommend being careful with what you click on and download to avoid becoming the victim of a phishing scam. Don’t take the chance and click on a link if you don’t know it’s source.
Use antivirus software, but don’t depend on it
All the experts we spoke to recommend installing software that provides antivirus protection. Although this isn’t a guarantee your phone or other device won’t become infected, it will help detect and eliminate threats.
What To Do if Your Device Is Infected
The experts we talked to had several recommendations on how you can recover your device from a malware infection.
Get offline, reset, and restore
Bischoff suggests disconnecting from the internet as soon as you discover an infection. “If you restore from a backup, ensure that backup was created before the malware infection,” he says.
Change your passwords
McKee urges those whose devices are infected with malicious software to immediately change all passwords for accounts they regularly use on the device, but do it from another device. “If your device is compromised, you want to first manage the damage by changing your credentials to any services used on the compromised device. You reduce the risk of further compromise,” he says.
Markuson recommends smartphone users frequently back up their devices to make factory resets less painful. “Resets are very hard to do if you’ve lost those important backed-up files,” he says.
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