Antivirus or virus protection apps do not exist in the iOS or iPadOS environments, at least not since Apple removed all apps with the words “antivirus” or “virus protection” in their title (via 9to5Mac). The reason for this is twofold. For starters, antivirus software cannot scan iPhones and iPads. Second, their titles are deceptive because they only provide redundant “security” features that are already built into iOS, rather than virus protection.
Apple keeps things tight, so the lack of virus protection apps is intentional. Layers of native security protect modern iPhones (via Apple). Not only from viruses but also from other types of malicious attacks.
Your personal data is secure because access to it is strictly limited and monitored. Finally, Apple releases frequent updates and security patches that protect your iPhone without third-party antivirus software.
So no, your iPhone does not require a virus protection app. However, in the following sections, we will delve deeper into how Apple designed iPhones iOS to be this secure and why antivirus apps cannot function in that environment.
The first line of defense is to restrict the user’s and apps’ access. Unlike Android, which has little to no opposition to sideloading apps from the internet, Apple’s iOS is heavily fortified. Someone can only install Apps from the App Store (unless you jailbreak your device, which is a rare occurrence). Because the official catalog is rigorously vetted, approved, and monitored, the risk of infection from an app — which is primarily how phones gain viruses and other malware — is already extremely low.
Then there’s the architecture of iOS, the iPhones operating system. The Sandboxing model is used by modern smartphones, such as the iPhone and Android. It is a straightforward and elegant approach to security and privacy.
Every app on the iPhone (native or third-party) is effectively isolated or “sandboxed” into a separate process. Apps that have been sandboxed cannot read or interact with other apps without permission (via Apple). They do not have access to system resources (phone, camera, GPS, and so on) until you give them permission. If you’ve ever noticed apps requesting permissions with pop-up prompts, it’s because of application sandboxing.
Consider a malicious app infiltrating your iPhone. It cannot cause any harm because it is sandboxes and in the dark. Because they did not grant it access, it cannot harvest any data (your phone, messages, emails, or payment information) or replicate itself like a virus, effectively neutralizing the threat (via Google).
Because of sandboxing, antivirus and security apps do not work on iPhones. Antivirus apps, like other apps, cannot read or access other apps on the phone (via Reader’s Digest). Antivirus apps require elevated admin privileges to deep scan apps and user data — which can be granted on a PC — but the iOS design prevents antivirus apps from seeing or scanning other apps.
While popular antivirus solutions such as AG, Avast, McAfee, Kaspersky, and others are available on the App Store, it marketed them as “security” apps. They mimic features that are already available in iOS, such as a cloud-based photo vault, phone tracking and wiping, and a “secure” browser.
They already backed your photos and data up on your iPhone. In addition, if the phone is stolen or lost, the Find My Phone feature can remotely track and wipe it. Safari includes built-in protection that filters and blocks potentially harmful links. Some mobile security apps also include a VPN, which is the one service that isn’t native to the iPhone (via AVG). However, if you require it, a dedicated VPN app rather than an add-on is preferable.
Despite the extremely low chances, iPhones are vulnerable to malware. Although viruses are uncommon, trojans and spyware can compromise vulnerable iPhone and iPad devices. The vulnerabilities are frequently zero-day — that is; they are ones that the manufacturer has not yet patched. Pegasus is iPhone spyware that can read messages, access cameras, monitor calls, track location, and perform other functions. Apple eventually patched the flaw, but not before it infected thousands of phones (via The Guardian).
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The end-user has little control over zero-day attacks like Pegasus. Apple finds and fixes them regularly, so you only need to keep your iPhone updated. Naturally, antivirus apps provide no protection against bugs and vulnerabilities on the operating system level.
Jailbreaking your iPhone puts you at risk as well. It gives the user root or admin privileges, allowing them to sideload apps that have not been officially approved for the App Store. Malware can infiltrate your iPhone by hiding in unapproved, sideloaded apps (via MacWorld). This procedure also violates Apple’s end-user license agreement.