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A Virus on Your iPhone? Or a Tech Support Scam!

Apple Tech Support ScamA client recently asked us if it is possible to get a virus on your iPhone?  He asked because his son had received a text message saying that his phone was infected and that he should call the phone number in the message for Apple support.

The quick answer was, yes, an iPhone can get a virus, though it is not likely.  However, if his iPhone did have a virus, he would not get a text message from Apple Support to inform him.  In fact, they would have no way of knowing if his phone had a virus.  This is not a virus.  It is clearly a tech support scam.

Known Tech Support Scams

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that scam artists are taking advantage of your reasonable concerns about viruses and other threats.  The scammers call, claiming to be computer techs associated with well-known companies, and say they’ve detected viruses on your computer to trick you into giving remote access or paying for software you don’t need.  The software to “fix the problem” is worthless or available elsewhere for free, or it could actually be malware.

In a similar scam on iPhones and iPads, a fraudulent alert pops up on the potential victims’ iPhone/iPad, while the user is surfing websites with Safari, warning that iOS crashed due to visiting unwanted websites.  Posing as Apple technical support, they tell users to call their phone number to send a crash report to Apple.  If a user calls, the technician might then try to convince the user that a third-party app caused the iDevice to crash, and encourage the user to provide a credit card number to receive a fix.  Apple addressed alert popups in iOS 9 by enabling this operating system to detect if a website is showing frequent alerts such as this, and it allows users to block future alerts from that website.  If you do encounter this scam, here’s how to remove the fraudulent alert: place the iPhone into Airplane Mode, go to Settings > Safari, and click “Clear History and Website Data.”

Apple Tech Support Text Scam

The text message our client’s son received is a twist on these known scams.  In this case, the scam artists sent a text message saying “your iPhone or iPad may have ADWARE / SPYWARE VIRUS” and you should “call Apple Tech Support” at the given toll-free number “to remove the virus.”  It goes on to list the “possible network damages if [the] virus [is] not removed immediately.” (The possible damages they list as network damages have nothing to do with a computer network.) Further, it says “seeing these pop-up’s means that you have a virus installed on your Apple Device” and “it’s strongly advised that you call the number above and get your Apple Device (iPhone or iPad) fixed before you continue using your internet, especially for shopping.” (“This wasn’t a pop-up; it was a text message.  Plural of pop-ups doesn’t have an apostrophe.  And what makes it “your internet”?)  Besides the fact that Apple would not send you a message telling you that you have a virus on your device (and they wouldn’t even know if you had a virus), the wording of this text message is not technically accurate and it is grammatically incorrect.

Googling the phone number in the text message reveals that this number is associated with three websites, each a tech support company that indicates on the site that they provide “third party technical support for Software.”  So, the phone number is definitely NOT Apple.  The Google search shows that this phone number has “been reported” and “has popped up as an Apple Support Number associated with malware.”  In other words, don’t call the number in the text message and ignore the text message’s warnings!!  It is just a scam.

How to tell if your iPhone has a virus

Apple has strong security, which is why users ask if they even can get a virus on Apple devices. However, in recent years, iPhone users have been jailbreaking their mobile devices – modifying them to bypass iOS restrictions – and installing apps from sites other than the Apple Store, thus opening up their Apple mobile devices to malware

If you have jailbroken your device and installed apps from sites other than the Apple App Store, you could have a virus.  Virus-infected Apps that were downloaded from unofficial sites are usually unstable and crash, or hang, or exhibit other odd behavior.

If you have not jailbroken your device, and you haven’t installed apps from unofficial sites, it is unlikely that you have a virus on your iPhone, but not impossible.  (Read our upcoming blog post to learn about Apple malware.)

What to do if you think your iPhone has a virus

If you think your iPhone might be infected with malware, you need to remove the programs that might have been compromised and replace them with new copies.  To do this:

  1. Back up your device to iCloud to save your personal data
  2. Wipe your device (Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings)
  3. Re-start your device to start over with factory settings
  4. Restore your backed up data from iCloud
  5. Download any additional apps from the Apple App Store
  6. Re-install your email and re-set any application settings

What you can do to avoid getting an iPhone virus

Apple warns users against jailbreaking their Apple devices which violates their terms of service and opens their phones up to attackers.

Do not jailbreak your iPhone or iPad.  Only install apps from the official App Store, and pay attention to any warnings as you download apps.  Install iOS 9 on your device (if you haven’t already); it is the most secure mobile operating system available.  Be sure to install all official Apple updates on your iPhone; the updates are released for your security!

If you are a Big Idea Tech client, you can call us with questions regarding wiping, restoring and setting up your Apple (or Android or Windows) device.  Our team will be happy to assist you.