How to know if your phone has a virus

January 13, 2024

  • # Fraud Prevention
  • # Identity Protection
  • # Account Protection

You take great care to protect your personal and financial information. But a virus or malware on your phone can bypass even the strongest passwords and facial recognition. 

When malware — malicious software — ends up on your device, it can destroy or steal data, track activity, and push unwanted advertising content. At best, it’s annoying. At worst, it helps cyber criminals steal your money or identity. 

Protect your data by learning how to spot a virus or malware problem. Here’s how to know if your phone has a virus and what to do if it does.

Can phones get viruses?

Many devices have excellent security features that make it difficult for viruses to spread. But viruses occasionally break through these barriers. You’re especially vulnerable if you alter or jailbreak your device — meaning you delete the software it comes with and replace it with something else. The jailbreaking process might remove the software you don’t want, but it also removes the security software you do want. 

So, what do viruses do to your phone? This type of malware alters how your device works or destroys and modifies files, usually with the goal of stealing your data or money. In many cases, the virus does this behind the scenes so you don’t notice until it’s too late. 

While viruses on phones are rare, other types of malware aren’t. Spyware, trojans, and chargeware — which we’ll discuss below — have an easier time entering phones because people download them without realizing it. You might install a legitimate-looking application that’s actually a front for malware that steals sensitive data. 

5 types of phone malware and the risks they pose

Malware often aims to steal information so a criminal can access your accounts, make purchases in your name, or bribe you into making a payment or giving over more personal data. With such grave consequences, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the types of phone malware so you can take precautions. 

1. Viruses

A virus works by working its way into your phone’s code and replicating itself until it fulfills its goal — which could be deleting data, encrypting your files, or rendering your phone unusable. This doesn’t give hackers your information or money, but it could be part of a ransomware attack in which you can’t access your data until you pay a sum.

2. Spyware

Spyware tracks what you do on your phone and collects data like text messages, contact information, and login credentials. A cyber criminal can use this information to steal your identity or commit financial fraud.

3. Chargeware

Chargeware spends your money without your knowing. In most cases, you’ll download an app and agree to the terms without realizing you’re giving it permission to spend. Then, this malicious software may charge your bank cards or phone bill for subscriptions you never willingly acquired. 

4. Trojans

Trojans appear to be legitimate mobile apps, but they’re really nefarious software that steal your information. A cyber criminal can use that data to make fraudulent purchases or impersonate you.

5. Adware

Adware launches pesky marketing pop-ups while you’re browsing online or using an app. Unlike the typical embedded ads you’ll find on web pages, these ads crop up when you’re using other features on your phone or have the locked screen on. Not only are they annoying, but they may leverage personal information to target offerings or send suspicious pop-ups for items like diet pills. 

Adware isn’t always illegal. You might have opted into ads in the terms and conditions of an app without realizing it, which means you technically agreed. However, the application makes it very difficult to opt out of the adware, and in the worst-case scenario, cyber criminals use adware as a gateway for installing malware — which, in turn, steals data.

How do phones get malware?

Phones protect themselves better from malware than computers because they’re more controlled environments. Android and iPhone phones have regulated, proprietary app stores that validate applications’ safety before offering them to users like you — unlike on a computer, where you can download pretty much anything. 

Phone applications also exist in their own environments, known as sandboxes, that prevent them from interacting with other applications. If one app contains malware, it likely won’t spread to another. 

Despite these safety features, phones still get malware. Here’s how:

  • Clicks: You click on a link or attachment in an SMS message or email that seems legitimate, but it’s actually a malware download. The same can happen if you click on a suspicious ad. 

  • Downloads: You download an unverified application from outside your phone’s app store, and the software installs malware on your device. 

  • Connections: You connect your phone to an unsafe WiFi network and click on a pop-up that downloads malware. That pop-up could look like a login page or a routine software update, tricking you into clicking.

6 signs your phone has a virus or other malware

Malware doesn’t generally show its face. It’s a silent force that runs in the background of your phone — which makes it hard to detect. Spotting malware and viruses takes a watchful eye and knowledge of how symptoms present. Here’s how to know if you’ve been hacked with malware:

  1. Mysterious apps: If you find an app on your phone that you didn’t download, it could contain malware.

  2. Lots of ads: It’s one thing to see ads in your social media feeds or when browsing the web. But you may have malware if you see a barrage of ads whenever using your phone (or even when the lock screen is on). 

  3. Strange charges: If you see charges for services you don’t remember signing up for on your phone bill or bank statements, chargeware could be the culprit.

  4. A slow phone: Phones that run slowly or crash often may have malware. Keep in mind that lots of open apps or a full drive can also cause this effect, so double-check. 

  5. A quickly draining battery: There are many reasons why a phone battery might decrease rapidly — including harmless ones, like using your screen at maximum brightness. But malware could be the root of this problem because these applications run in the background of your phone, consuming energy you wouldn’t expect.

  6. Odd financial or identity activity: If you’re missing funds or noticing signs of a compromised identity, like getting credit report requests you didn’t ask for or hearing from friends that they received an odd message from you, malware could be funneling your information to criminals. 

How to remove a virus from your phone

If you suspect your phone has a virus or other malware, take these steps to remove it as soon as possible:

  1. Get antivirus software or an antivirus app to help clean up the infection on your phone. Compare your options and read reviews first to make sure you’re choosing the right one for your situation.

  2. Uninstall apps you didn’t download — even ones you’re unsure about. If you end up deleting a regular app, you can just re-download it later.

  3. Remove sensitive data from your phone, like financial information or compromising messages and photos. That way, hackers won’t be able to access as much information.

  4. If you don’t see an improvement by deleting unwanted apps or using antivirus software, perform a factory reset. Back up photos, files, and contacts first, as the reset will delete all the information on your phone. 

  5. Get protection from IronVest to protect your passwords and accounts. You’ll mitigate the fallout from a malware incident and set yourself up with stronger security.

4 best practices for protecting your phone 

The best way to deal with malware is never to get it in the first place. Here are a few best practices to protect your phone from this cyber threat:

  1. Don’t connect your phone to WiFi networks or external devices like USBs you don’t trust. 

  2. Download apps directly from the Google Play Store, the Apple App Store, and other reputable sources. If you’re unsure about an app, just don’t download it. It’s not worth the risk.

  3. Never click on links or open attachments in emails and texts from senders you don’t recognize. If a message contains grammatical errors, odd graphics, or information that doesn’t line up (like a thank-you message for a service you didn’t sign up for), be on guard. 

  4. Don’t save passwords in a digital keychain. Use biometric authentication through IronVest instead, and rest assured that only you can access your accounts via biometric facial recognition.

Gain an added layer of protection with IronVest

You can outsmart cyber criminals by staying up-to-date on the latest malware schemes and trying not to download shady software. But knowledge isn’t foolproof. You need a digital security super app to put the right measures in place for you — like IronVest.

Keep your information safe, even if you fall into a malware trap. IronVest’s biometric authentication feature keeps criminals out of your accounts, and masked emails and credit cards ensure that information phishers never see your actual data. Get IronVest today for peace of mind.

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