Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

You don’t need an antivirus for your iPhone or iPad. In fact, any “antivirus” apps you see advertised for iPhones aren’t even antivirus software. They’re just “security” programs that can’t actually protect you from malware.

There Are No Real Antivirus Apps for iPhone

A traditional antivirus application for Windows or macOS has full access to your operating system and uses that access to scan your applications and files to ensure no malware is running.

Any apps you install on your iPhone run in a sandbox that limits what they can do. An app can only access data that you give it permission to access. In other words, no app on your iPhone can snoop on what you do in your online banking app. They could access your photos, for example—but only if you give them permission to access your photos.

On Apple’s iOS operating system, any “security” apps you install are forced to run in the same sandbox as all your other apps. They can’t even see a list of apps you’ve installed from the App Store, much less scan anything on your device for malware. Even if you had an app named “Dangerous Virus” installed on your iPhone, these iPhone security apps wouldn’t be able to see it.

That’s why there isn’t a single example we’ve ever seen of an iPhone security app blocking a piece of malware from infecting an iPhone. If one existed, we’re sure these iPhone security app makers would trumpet it—but they don’t, because they can’t.

Sure, iPhones do sometimes have security flaws, like Spectre. But these problems can only be solved through quick security updates, and having a security app installed won’t do anything to protect you. Just keep your iPhone updated with the latest versions of iOS.

How Your iPhone Already Protects You

Find My iPhone options in iPhone Settings. Safari privacy settings on an iPhone.

Your iPhone already has a bunch of security features integrated. It can only install apps from Apple’s App Store, and Apple checks these apps for malware and other bad things before they’re added to the Store. If malware is found in an App Store app later, Apple can remove it from the Store and have your iPhone immediately delete the app for your safety.

iPhones have a built-in “Find My iPhone” feature that works through iCloud, letting you remotely locate, lock, or erase a lost or stolen iPhone. You don’t need a special security app with “anti-theft” features. To check if Find My iPhone is enabled, head to Settings, tap your name at the top of the screen, and then tap iCloud > Find My iPhone.

The Safari browser on your iPhone has a “fraudulent website warning” feature, also known as an anti-phishing filter. If you end up on a website designed to trick you into giving up personal information—maybe it’s a fake website impersonating your bank’s online banking page—you’ll see a warning. To check if this feature is enabled, head to Settings > Safari and looking for the “Fraudulent website warning” option under Privacy & Security.

What Do Those Mobile Security Apps Do?

Avira app on an iPhone. McAfee Mobile Security running on an iPhone.

Considering these apps can’t function as antivirus software, you might wonder what exactly they do. Well, their names are a clue: These programs are named things like “Avira Mobile Security,” “McAfee Mobile Security,” “Norton Mobile Security,” and “Lookout Mobile Security.” Apple clearly won’t let these apps use the word “antivirus” in their names.

iPhone security apps often include features that don’t help protect against malware, like antitheft features that let you remotely locate your phone—just like iCloud. Some include “media vault” tools that can hide photos on your phone with a password. Others include password managers, call blockers, and VPNs, which you can get in other apps. Some apps may offer a “secure browser” with their own phishing filter, but those work similarly to the one already built into Safari.

Some of these apps have identity theft warnings that connect to an online service that warns you if your data has been leaked. But you can use a service like Have I Been Pwned? to get leak notifications sent to your email address without these apps. Credit Karma offers free breach notifications in addition to free credit report information, too.

These apps do perform some security-related functions, which is why Apple allows them into the App Store. But they aren’t “antivirus” or “antimalware” apps, and they aren’t necessary.

RELATED: How to Check if Your Password Has Been Stolen

Don’t Jailbreak Your iPhone

All of the above advice assumes you’re not jailbreaking your iPhone. Jailbreaking lets apps on your iPhone run outside of the normal security sandbox. It also lets you install apps from outside the App Store, which means those apps aren’t checked for malicious behavior by Apple.

Like Apple, we recommend against jailbreaking your iPhone. Apple also goes out of its way to fight jailbreaking, and the company has made it more and more difficult over time.

Assuming you were using a jailbroken iPhone, it could theoretically make sense to use some sort of antivirus program. With the normal sandbox broken down, antivirus programs could theoretically scan for malware you might have installed after jailbreaking your phone. However, such antimalware apps would require a definition file of bad apps to function.

We’re not aware of any antivirus apps for jailbroken iPhones, although it would be possible to create them.

We’ll say it again: You don’t need antivirus software for your iPhone. In fact, there’s no such thing as antivirus software for iPhones and iPads. It doesn’t even exist.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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