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iPhones - Are They Susceptible to Viruses?

written by: Daniel Barros•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 2/4/2011

Is your iPhone safe from the looming threat of viruses around every corner? With internet-enabled devices receiving more and more support in terms of virus protection and defense, how far away is the iPhone from these same updates? Read on inside.

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    When Worlds Collide

    As a writer for both the computer security and iPhone channels, there is one question that readers want to know above all else now that the iPhone has reached mass-market penetration. That question is “can the iPhone contract a virus?”

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    In Theory

    Yes, in theory, an iPhone could get a virus. For those wondering how this could be, the answer is rather simple. A virus is a program that infiltrates your PC (or your Mac, for those who think you’re immune) and exploits security holes resulting in a number of problems as well as hijacking your computer entirely.

    A virus has to be downloaded in one form or another, so those that are at the greatest risk are those people who have jailbroken their iPhones. The reason is that you’re now downloading in uncharted territory – for the most part, the apps are clean, but unlike the official app store, there’s no way to be sure that the phone isn’t silently turning against you.

    The reality is that unlike businesses, hackers like leaving no stone unturned. If there’s a chance that a hacker can program a virus for the iPhone that somehow makes it worth his while, it’s not going to be long before there’s an iPhone virus.

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    In Practice

    Luckily for iPhone owners, there are some limitations and impracticalities that make programming viruses for the phone less than viable. For starters, the iPhone is unable to do much in terms of background processes, so if you upload a virus to the phone that requires stealth, the person will end up realizing what’s going on due to speed issues.

    Secondly, the iPhone is an underpowered machine when compared to the millions of PCs out there in the wild just waiting to be taken over by a clever hacker. A virus for the iPhone would require much more dedication and energy as opposed to one for a PC or Mac. The virus must be programmed in a very specific way and then the problem becomes uploading it to the phone itself – unless you manage to tack the virus onto a song or application, chances are not a lot of people are going to be exposed.

    While there have been some reports of an iPhone virus recently, it’s mostly just people playing around with their phones and exploring the seedy underbelly of the Cydia repositories. Overall, your chance of getting a virus on the iPhone without a jailbreak is next to zero, and even with the jailbreak, the number is incredibly low. I do believe we will one day start seeing viruses programmed specifically for the iPhone and the iPod touch, but that time is still far away, and with an ever more elaborate and secure firmware, Apple isn’t leaving it up to chance.