Can iPads get viruses? Here's what you need to know

AppleThere’s almost no risk of your iPad catching a virus.
  • The risk of viruses on an iPad is virtually zero, but the device is not completely invulnerable.
  • There are quick precautions you can take to protect your device. These include turning on automatic updates for your iPad and following the same safe computing practices you do on your PC, such as using strong passwords.
  • iPad users should be on guard from all kinds of security risks, not just viruses.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Spend any time at all around a traditional desktop computer or laptop, and you’ll hear dire warnings about the risks of viruses and other malware. But there’s much less talk about viruses for iOS devices like the iPad or iPhone. Why is that? Is there an actual risk?

In general, there’s no risk

In general, there’s essentially no risk of viruses (and other malware) for the iPad. “There is so little risk as to be none,” said Marc Rogers, executive director of cybersecurity at Okta. Rogers was the white hat hacker who first hacked Apple’s Touch ID, and went on to be a technical advisor for the TV show, “Mr. Robot.”

Why is the risk so low? Dionisio Zumerle, senior director at research firm Gartner, explained that the iPad’s operating system is designed from the ground up to be compartmentalized and isolated, robbing malware of most of the techniques used by hackers to infiltrate traditional computers.

“iOS retains a lot of control. For example, users don’t have administrator privileges,” Zumerle told Business Insider. “Applications are isolated from each other and are restricted in how they talk to the operating system. And they’re filtered before going into the App Store.”

Precautions like those make it hard for malware attacks to take place. “Evidence of this is that a zero-day exploit that can give full remote access to an iPad is worth $US2 million today,” Zumerle said.

But your iPad is not invulnerable

Experts have documented about four dozen examples of malware that target iOS devices like the iPad, which means it’s not completely invulnerable. However, that number pales in comparison to the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of viruses for PCs.

That said, beware of messages that your iPad has a virus. There’s a good chance that this is “adware” – a message in your iPad’s Safari browser that is designed to look like a virus advisory, but in reality is simply trying to lure you to a web site to buy some sort of purported anti-virus software.

You can ignore this message, but if it persists, you should clear Safari’s cache.

1. Open the Settings app.

2. Tap “Safari.”

3. Tap “Clear History and Website Data,” then confirm you want to do this by tapping “Clear.”

Ipad 1Dave Johnson/Business InsiderClearing your browser cache can sometimes clear your iPad of malicious online behaviour.

Take sensible precautions

Though the risk to everyday users is quite low, you should still take sensible precautions – and thankfully, it requires almost no effort.

The single best defence against malware is to keep your iPad updated to the latest version, as well as to keep apps updated as well. To make sure you’re got the most current OS update installed, do this:

1. Open the Settings app and tap “General.”

2. Tap “Software Update.”

3. Make sure “Automatic Updates” is turned on.

Ipad 2Dave Johnson/Business InsiderBe sure you always have Automatic Updates turned on so you get critical fixes from Apple as soon as possible.

4. If there is an update available, install it. If there’s no update available, it will say that your software is up to date.

Also, be sure that your apps are set to update automatically as well.

1. Open the Settings app.

2. Tap “iTunes & App Store.”

3. In Automatic Downloads, make sure “Updates” is turned on.

Ipad 3Dave Johnson/Business InsiderIf there are issues with specific apps on your iPad, try seeing if there’s an update available for it. If you have automatic updates for apps turned on, you won’t need to worry about this.

In addition, you should follow the same best practices on your iPad that you do on your desktop computer to avoid malware. That includes setting strong passwords on all of your websites, apps, and services, and using a password keeper app to keep track of them.

Also, only install apps from the App Store (don’t use developer tools to install apps from other sources), and don’t click on unknown links in email.

The future of iOS malware

Of course, Apple will continue to update iOS as hackers explore and try to exploit newly found vulnerabilities. Steve Grobman, chief technical officer at device-to-cloud cybersecurity company McAfee, said you should also be aware of other risks, like social exploits – in which criminals pose as a business to get you to reveal passwords and other personal information.

“Malware is just one of many security concerns for mobile devices. iOS had a significant Bluetooth vulnerability in 2018,” Grobman told Business Insider. “Cybercriminals have even set up rogue Wi-fi networks in public places. Viruses are just one way in.”

If you take simple precautions and stay vigilant, you should be safe.

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