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Smartphones & gadgets

How to know if your phone or tablet has a virus or malware

It used to be confined to desktops and laptops. But now, more than ever, mobile gadgets are being targeted with viruses, trojans, malware, spyware, ransomware, and adware. Just about any type of “ware” cybercrooks can think of.

Android gadgets, in particular, are more vulnerable to these kinds of attacks because users can set them up to install third-party apps directly from the internet and not vetted by the Google Play Store.

Apple vs. Google – Is one safer than the other?

This one’s kind of a no-brainer. You can’t throw a rock at without hitting multiple stories about problems on the Google Play Store.

It’s not pretty. According to a recent report, Android devices are still the most common to be targeted by malware, making up 47.15%. Windows/PCs came in second at 35.82%. Then there are iPhones, which made up less than one percent. If you look at click-fraud apps alone, there was a 100% increase just last year in the Google Play Store according to their own report.

Although Android gadgets continue to be the reigning primary targets, this doesn’t mean Apple gadgets are completely safe from attacks. Although uncommon compared to Android malware, hackers also constantly search for holes and exploits to infiltrate iOS gadgets.

Just this year, certain iPhone apps were found to be linked to a malware server. Apple issues security updates to close holes as they are discovered but this illustrates that iPhones and iPads are not immune to malware attacks.

There’s also this practice on iOS gadgets known as “jailbreaking.” This bypasses Apple’s virtually sandboxed system to open up your iPhone or iPad to apps and functions that are not normally allowed. Jailbreaking is really a form of hacking your iOS gadget to make it more open and customizable – yep, like Android.

What do viruses do to your phone or tablet?

Now that we’ve established that both Android and Apple phones and tablets can be hit by a virus or malware, are there tell-tale signs that will clue you in that your gadget is indeed infected?

Typically, profit-oriented infections like spyware, adware, clickware, or premium SMS scams are stealthy since these want to milk your gadget for revenue for as long as they can.

So aside from the obvious signs of ransomware and lockware, how can you tell that there’s something malicious lurking on your gadget?

Here are clues you need to watch out for to suspect that your gadget is infected with some form of malware (both Android and iOS, jailbroken or not).

Surge in data usage

One of the first things to check is your monthly data usage. This is generally located on your statement from your cell phone service provider or when you view your mobile account details online. Compare the amount of data used to data usage from the prior months and if you notice sudden spikes in your data even though you haven’t really changed your usage patterns, then chances are you are infected.

Adware infected phones usually perform unsolicited clicks in the background to generate profit for cybercriminals. All of these stealthy tactics use up bandwidth and the unauthorized data they consume should be fairly easy to spot.

Unexplained charges

One other sure sign that your Android gadget is infected is by incurring unusual charges on your cell phone bill under the “SMS” category. This happens when your gadget is infected with malware that sends text messages to premium-rate numbers and charges you.

Sudden pop-ups

If you’re starting to get annoying pop-up ads and notifications, unwanted reminders and nagging “system” warnings that just won’t go away, then your phone may have been compromised. Malware can also add bookmarks that you don’t want, website shortcuts to your home screen that you didn’t create and spammy messages that entice you to click through.

Apart from slowing down your phone and eating away at your data, these intrusive notifications can also install more malware on your phone.

Unwanted apps

This may not be a problem for iOS, but it can be for Android and jailbroken iPhones and iPads. Keep an eye out for apps that you don’t remember installing. Trojan malware, especially the adware, are known for automatically downloading further malicious apps without your knowledge. Also, cybercriminals try to mimic and clone legitimate apps to trick users into installing them but switch them out with malware via automatic app updates.

Battery drain

As you can imagine, all this unauthorized background activity not only takes a toll on your data usage, it can impact your battery life, as well. These battery-sucking viruses may be disguised in third-party apps and unreliable downloads, and once you install the program onto your phone, you’ll start to see the drain almost instantly.

If you start noticing drastic reductions in your battery life and your phone is heating up even when idle, it might be infected with a virus.

Steps you can take to remove an Android virus

If you feel that your Android phone is not operating as it should and you suspect that a virus may have infected it, here are tips that can help you clean up its act.

Remove questionable apps

To review and remove questionable apps, go to Settings >> then Apps or Application Manager. Look through the list and keep an eye out for anything that’s odd or unfamiliar. Tap the questionable app you want to get rid of and this will open up the App Info screen. First, remove the app’s data cache by hitting “Clear Cache.” Next, delete the app’s data by tapping “Clear Data.” Once these steps are done, click on the “Uninstall” button to remove the app.

Some malicious apps may have administrator access and these are trickier to remove but there are ways.  First, enter your Android phone’s Safe Mode. In most Android gadgets, this requires holding the power button until the “Power Off” or “Power Option” menu appears. Simply tap and hold on this menu until the option to reboot in Safe Mode appears then hit OK.


Once your phone is in Safe Mode, go back to Apps or Application Manager and uninstall any stubborn apps that can’t be removed otherwise. Some malicious apps also have managed to install themselves with administrator status so you will need to clear these permissions too.

Go to Settings >> Security >> Device administrators then find the app that you cannot uninstall normally, uncheck the box, choose “Deactivate” on the next screen >> select OK then return to Apps or Application Manager to uninstall.

After uninstalling your questionable apps, restart your Android phone.

Bonus: How to restore an Apple iPhone or iPad

If your iOS device just doesn’t feel right to you, you can always reset or restore it. Especially with the unpredictability of jailbroken iPhones and iPads, sometimes restoring them to their non-jailbroken state will be your only recourse.

Please know that jailbroken or not, a quirky app is not a sure sign of a malware infection. However, if you have run apps from third-party app stores or risky websites, and they have not functioned as expected, then I recommend you err on the side of caution.

If you do suspect your iPad or iPhone may be infected with malware, don’t panic! Instead, just follow these instructions to wipe your gadget clean and start over with factory settings.

  1. Use iCloud to backup your device and all personal data on it.
  2. Go to Settings >> General >> Reset.
  3. Tap “Erase All Content and Settings” to clear all apps and data from the device.
  4. Restart your iOS device and set it up again.
  5. Sign into iCloud when you set up your iOS device and restore your backed up data.
  6. If needed, download your apps again from the App Store.

You can also attach your iPhone or iPad to your Mac and use the “Restore iPhone/iPad” button in iTunes to factory-reset the device. The key to these steps is they clear out all programs on your iOS device, which may have been compromised, and replace them with fresh copies. Your data and files should all be preserved, though you might lose some application settings.

If you suspect that restoring your phone to factory settings didn’t do the trick, then feel free to take the phone to Apple’s Genius Bar. They will try their best to figure out the issue for you.

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