Why Apple iPhones Don't Need Antivirus Software

You've been conditioned to believe every device needs antivirus software, but that rule isn't true for Apple's iPhones and iPads. Over the years, security companies have claimed to offer products that support the iPhone, but Apple made it so you don't need them.

Credit: Leszek Kobusinski / Shutterstock.comCredit: Leszek Kobusinski / Shutterstock.com

Why? Apple says it "designed the iOS platform with security at its core." That's more than just a simple platitude, While iPhones and iPads aren't completely fool-proof devices — especially when jailbroken — the iOS platform sandboxes apps inside of a user partition that limits access to the system.

Keep iOS Updated

While you may read stories about iPhone security and privacy, such as a backdoor flaw in its Wi-Fi chip and how an iCloud account can hold a device hostage, third party solutions can't touch those issues. Apple guards the iPhone's security measures so closely that the most you can do is install iOS updates, which include security fixes.

Of course, don't feel the need to do so immediately, as some updates are less stable than others. Unless you're a high profile user and the target of online attacks, you can probably wait a week or two after the most recent update comes out.

iOS Doesn't Let Antivirus Work

In order to understand why you don't need antivirus software for your iOS device, it's important to understand how those programs function on devices that run other operating systems. Rich Mogull, analyst & CEO of the Securosis, security firm tells us that in order for antivirus software to work, it needs hooks into the operating system that — when available — "also create potential vulnerabilities."

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Mogull explained that these hooks provide "very deep access to monitor what's going on and detect malware," and can lead to situations where the antivirus software "becomes the target of the attack." iOS doesn't allow for the possibility to latch such hooks into its system, thanks to a design that deeply separates the apps from the rest of the system, a process commonly known as sandboxing.

Credit: Denys Prykhodov / Shutterstock.comCredit: Denys Prykhodov / Shutterstock.com

That strong fence between apps and operating system has currently proven a successful design choice, as Mogull told us that "history shows this is far better" and that "it stops malicious software before it can ever get a foothold."

This way, no apps you download or websites you visit have a chance at cracking the digital safe that contains fingerprint information used by iPhone Touch ID sensors, or steal photos off of your device. Sure, you could accidentally click on permissions that let an app access those photos, but no app can access data without asking.

So, for the time being, iOS is proving that its architecture is strong enough to not need antivirus software, which may have been the reason why Apple removed a number of antivirus apps from the App Store in March 2015. Sure, Mac, PC and Android platforms practically require antivirus software, but that's because those operating systems bear a more open design.

And what of the iOS Security Apps?

A lot of apps, Avira Mobile Security included, provide device-wipe options to help you avoid your device getting compromised if it were to be lost or fall into the wrong hands. You don't need to download this either, as it's obviated by Apple's Find My iPhone, which requires iOS 8.

The McAfee Private Photo Vault, Backup, Mobile Security app offers users a way to lock photos behind a six-digit PIN, but many iOS users already use a password to lock their devices. You can get an app like this if you want a second level of security, but we're not sure why you'd need it, aside from hiding things from anyone that knows your unlock code.

Apps including Webroot SecureWeb Browser offer protection against malicious websites, promising to save you from phishing attacks. While that sounds like a great feature, Safari on iOS offers a Fraudulent Website Warning feature that is enabled by default. Also, phishing attacks are so prevalent that by now you shouldn't need an app to remind you not to click on questionable links or type your username and password into suspicious-looking websites.

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  • jlaw3x7
    If a device is jailbroken, the attack surface has already been dramatically widened. Thinking that one can stop malicious software before it gets a foothold is a fallacy given the device is already in a compromised state. Some might assume that only knowledgeable users (which can avoid such threats) jailbreak their devices, but a review of enthusiast forums would quickly reveal the inaccuracy of that line of thinking. Even so, we are all human and make mistakes. A jailbroken device needs to be protected from malicious software and mobile security software can provide a valuable solution for these devices.