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How to Remove Viruses & Malware from Smartphones in 2023

Updated on: September 23, 2023
Fact Checked by Hazel Shaw
Sam Boyd Sam Boyd
Updated on: September 23, 2023

Short on time? Here’s how to remove viruses & malware from smartphones in 2023:

  • 1. Install an Antivirus & Run a Scan — Download a trustworthy antivirus program like Norton and run a full scan.
  • 2. Remove Viruses & Malware — When the scan has finished, go through every detected file and remove any threats.
  • 3. Stay Protected — Use a trustworthy and reliable internet security package to protect your device from future threats. I particularly like Norton, which had 100% malware detection rates in my tests. It also has excellent additional features, including web protection, Wi-Fi security alerts, an app advisor, SMS spam filters, a password manager, and more. Norton also includes a 14-day free trial on mobile and a 60-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it out before making a purchase.

Removing viruses and malware from your smartphone is easy. However, the steps differ slightly depending on whether you’re using Android or iOS.

If you’ve downloaded malware onto your Android device, you need to get a mobile antivirus app (such as Norton) and run a full system scan to remove it. But if you’re using iOS, you don’t need to worry about malware.

That said, having an antivirus app on your iOS device is still important — especially if it’s jailbroken. While iOS has a reputation for being more secure compared to other operating systems, you still need to protect it from threats such as data theft, phishing websites, and smishing attacks. You also need to maintain good security when using public Wi-Fi networks.

This guide will show you how to protect your device and restore it if it’s been compromised by malware. It’ll also offer you some extra smartphone security tips that you need to know in 2023.


What Kinds of Malware Affect Mobile Devices?

Note: If you just want to remove malware, you can skip straight to our removal guide.

Several types of malware can affect your mobile device. They most often get onto your device when you’ve downloaded malicious apps or visited untrustworthy websites. Phone malware can include:

  • Viruses — Delete your data, steal your information, and make purchases without your permission.
  • Ransomware — Locks your device until you pay a ransom.
  • Spyware — Monitors your data usage and sends it to fraudsters so that they can steal your online accounts and identity.
  • Botnets — Uses your mobile to send fraudulent emails and launch cyberattacks against others.
  • Rootkits — Gives hackers remote access to your device so they can steal personal data or modify your operating system.
  • Adware — Generates revenue for hackers by constantly displaying unwanted advertisements on your device.
  • Potentially unwanted applications (PUAs) — Can steal your data and spread other forms of malware.

You can also have your personal data stolen after visiting phishing websites. That’s why it’s super important to install an antivirus like Norton, which comes with web protection that can stop you from accessing dangerous sites.


How to Remove Malware & Prevent Security Issues on Your Smartphone (Step-By-Step Guide)

If you think your phone has been infected with malware, follow the 3 steps below to remove threats and stay safe going forward. The simplest way to get rid of malware and prevent future security issues on your smartphone is to download antivirus software like Norton. Once you’ve downloaded Norton, run a full system scan, remove all malware, and keep it installed on your device so you can stay protected from future threats.

But even with an antivirus running, you should still be cautious when using the internet. Don’t tap on links you don’t recognize, don’t download apps from outside the Google Play or Apple App stores, and don’t give your details to people you don’t trust.

Step 1. Install a Mobile Antivirus App and Identify Any Malware or Cybersecurity Threats

Download and install a trustworthy antivirus app. Norton is my favorite for mobile because it comes with several excellent features:

  • Malware scanner (Android only) — Scans your Android device for malware threats and quarantines any it finds.
  • Web protection — Stops you from accessing malicious websites that steal your data and personal information.
  • App Advisor (Android only) — Alerts you to dangerous apps before you download them.
  • Virtual private network (VPN) — Protects your privacy online by hiding your IP address behind a virtual one.
  • Password manager (separate app) — Uses 256-bit AES encryption to store your passwords in an unbreakable vault, so hackers can’t steal them and you never have to remember them.
  • And more…

If you’re an Android user, run a full scan of your device once you’ve installed an antivirus app. It’s really important that you let the scan run to completion, as this will ensure that any malicious apps or files are quarantined. Once your antivirus has redirected you to your infected file list, you can proceed to step 2.

If you’re an iOS user, you can skip straight to step 3 since your iOS device isn’t at risk of malware. Apple launches all third-party apps in a sandbox mode, so even if a malicious app did get onto your iOS device, it wouldn’t be able to cause any damage.


Step 2. Remove Any Malware and Fix Other Security Issues

Your antivirus will have quarantined any suspicious files on your device after finishing the full system scan. These suspicious files are moved to a secure quarantine folder where you can review them before you delete them. Go through your antivirus’s quarantine folder before making any deletions because sometimes antiviruses quarantine false positives — flagged files that aren’t actually malware.

If you’re an advanced user, you’ll recognize false positives. However, if you’re less tech-savvy, check with your antivirus provider’s customer support team if there are any files in quarantine that you’re not sure about deleting.

Either way, restart your phone and rerun the full system scan once you’ve removed all the malware from your Android device. Keep repeating this process until you can scan your device without any suspicious files appearing in your phone’s quarantine folder. When you reach this stage, you can proceed to step 3.


Step 3. Keep Your Devices Protected From Other Threats

Now that you’ve removed all of the malware from your Android phone (or protected your iOS device using an antivirus program like Norton), you need to take precautions to prevent more malware or security threats.

  • Keep your antivirus running. Having your antivirus running in the background lessens the risk of downloading more malware and protects you from phishing websites, smishing attacks, data theft, and more.
  • Keep your smartphone up-to-date. If your smartphone is using old firmware or outdated apps, it’s vulnerable to exploit attacks. When developers find vulnerabilities in software, they patch them through software updates.
  • To update your Android device:
  1. Open Settings.
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the menu and tap System & updates (on some versions of Android, the button is just called System).
  3. Tap Software update.
  • To update your iOS device:
  1. Tap Settings.
  2. Tap General.
  3. Tap Software update.
  • Enable real-time protection. A good antivirus will include real-time protection that constantly monitors and scans files to stop them from causing damage to your device.
  • Use phishing protection. Phishing protection recognizes dangerous websites and stops you visiting them, so cybercriminals can’t steal your data using deceptive sites.
  • Make sure your antivirus includes ransomware protection. The best antivirus apps can protect your apps and files from being locked by ransomware. Norton and McAfee all successfully blocked simulated ransomware attacks in my tests.
  • Only download files from official storefronts. The Apple App and Google Play stores verify apps before they’re published to their storefronts, so you’re unlikely to download anything malicious. For an extra layer of protection, Norton has an App Advisor for Android that alerts you if anything suspicious has made its way to the Google Play store. You can also safely download Android apps from Amazon’s app store.
  • Secure your Wi-Fi Network and IoT devices. Your wireless network and internet of things (IoT) devices should be secured by a strong password. If someone can access your IoT device or home network, they can access the information stored on that network or device. Password managers such as 1Password generate strong passwords and encrypt and store them so hackers can’t steal them.


Best Antiviruses for Smartphones in 2023

Quick summary of the best antiviruses for smartphones in 2023:

  • 🥇1. Norton — Overall best smartphone antivirus in 2023.
  • 🥈2. Bitdefender — Best for lightweight scanning + real-time protection.
  • 🥉3. TotalAV — Best antivirus for beginner users.
  • Bonus. McAfee — Impressive web protections for Android and iOS.

🥇 1. Norton — Overall Best Smartphone Antivirus in 2023

🥇 1. Norton — Overall Best Smartphone Antivirus in 2023

Norton offers great protections for Android and iOS. Its malware scanner has perfect detection rates, and it only took a few minutes to find all the malware samples on my Android device, which included ransomware, spyware, adware, and more.

Norton also has:

  • App Advisor (Android only).
  • Web protection.
  • Dark web monitoring.
  • Privacy reports (iOS).
  • VPN (virtual private network).
  • SMS filtering.
  • And more…

Norton’s web protection works well. I visited known phishing websites on both my Android and iOS devices, and Norton was able to block every single website.

I also appreciate Norton’s Android-exclusive App Advisor. When I visited the Google Play Store, it let me know which apps were safe before I downloaded them.

🥇 1. Norton — Overall Best Smartphone Antivirus in 2023

Norton’s VPN is really good, too. It disguises your IP address behind a virtual one, making it impossible for cybercriminals to track your data. It also provides you with access to over 2,000 servers in 30+ countries, has no data limits (unlike competitors such as Bitdefender), and offers decent connection speeds.

Norton Mobile Security can cover one Android or iOS device for $14.99 / year. But if you have multiple devices and operating systems to cover, you should choose Norton 360 Deluxe. For $49.99 / year, it covers up to 5 devices and adds parental controls and 50 GB of cloud storage. Norton’s plans come with a generous 60-day money-back guarantee.


Read the full Norton review here

🥈 2. Bitdefender — Lightweight Malware Protection + Advanced App Scanning

🥈 2. Bitdefender — Lightweight Malware Protection + Advanced App Scanning

Bitdefender is excellent at removing malware, including viruses, ransomware, spyware, adware, and more. Its cloud-based scanning engine is powered by machine learning and can quickly detect and eliminate threats. During my testing, the scanner removed all malware from my Android phone in just a few minutes, and it didn’t slow down my device’s performance at all.

🥈 2. Bitdefender — Lightweight Malware Protection + Advanced App Scanning

Bitdefender’s features for smartphones include:

  • App Anomaly Detection (Android only).
  • App lock (Android only).
  • Web protection.
  • Anti-theft protection (Android only).
  • Data breach monitoring.
  • VPN.
  • Scam alert.
  • And more…

I was particularly impressed with the App Anomaly Detection feature. Like Norton’s App Advisor, it scans new apps before you download them, but it also goes one step further and continuously monitors all of your apps’ activities. I really like having this layer of real-time protection, as fake apps can sometimes bypass an initial scan or begin to act maliciously long after you have downloaded them.

I really like Bitdefender’s VPN, too. It’s powered by a well-regarded VPN provider — Hotspot Shield. I had really good speeds when browsing and watching videos on my phone. Unfortunately, most plans are limited to 200 MB per day and 1 server location. For unlimited data and 50+ server locations, you’ll need to upgrade to Bitdefender’s most expensive antivirus plan, Premium Security.

Finally, Bitdefender’s scam alert feature scans your Android or iOS device for emails and text messages containing phishing links and automatically moves them to your junk folders. It worked well when I tested it with my iPhone — it scanned over 600 events in less than a minute and successfully alerted me to the suspicious items.

Bitdefender’s Mobile Security costs $14.99 / year and covers 1 iOS or Android device. This is a pretty good value, but if you also want antivirus protection for PC and Mac, I recommend one of Bitdefender’s antivirus suites. Bitdefender Total Security ($35.99 / year) covers up to 5 devices, while Premium Security ($49.99 / year) covers 10 devices and includes the unlimited VPN. All Bitdefender plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.


Read the full Bitdefender review here >

🥉 3. TotalAV — Best Antivirus for Beginner Users

🥉 3. TotalAV — Best Antivirus for Beginner Users

TotalAV comes with excellent malware protection inside an intuitive and beginner-friendly package. It found every malware sample on my Huawei P30 Lite, and it only took a few minutes to complete a full system scan. While the scan was running, I didn’t experience any slowdown. However, I noticed a higher battery drain than I did with Norton or McAfee.

TotalAV also includes:

  • Anti-phishing protection.
  • App locker (Android only).
  • System tune-up tools.
  • Secure in-app browser.
  • VPN.
  • And more…

🥉 3. TotalAV — Best Antivirus for Beginner Users

I particularly like TotalAV’s system tune-up tools. The tune-up tools look for cached files, duplicate photos, and more. I saved over 1,000 MB of space on both my Android and iOS phones.

TotalAV’s VPN is also really good — in fact it’s my favorite antivirus-bundled VPN of 2023. It offers fast speeds, works with all the popular streaming sites, and unlike Norton’s VPN, you can use it for torrenting too without needing to be on dedicated servers.

TotalAV Mobile Security offers coverage for a single mobile device and costs $19.00 / year. However, if you have multiple devices to cover I recommend TotalAV Total Security, which costs $49.00 / year and includes all TotalAV’s features and coverage for up to 6 devices across all the main operating systems. All TotalAV plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.


Read the full TotalAV review here

Bonus. McAfee — Impressive Web Protection for Android and iOS

Bonus. McAfee — Impressive Web Protection for Android and iOS

McAfee is an excellent antivirus app for Android and iOS that offers perfect malware detection rates. It consistently found 100% of malware samples on my Android device.

McAfee also includes:

  • Anti-phishing protection.
  • Secure VPN (virtual private network).
  • Wi-Fi scanner.
  • And more…

McAfee’s web protections are great. I visited over a dozen phishing websites on my Android and iOS devices, and McAfee blocked most of them. However, it did miss a couple of sites that Norton’s anti-phishing protection flagged.

I also appreciate how McAfee provides users with an overall protection score. It gives you a score between 0–1000 based on whether your malware protection is switched on, if your VPN is running, if the anti-phishing protection is switched on, and more. This makes it easy for beginners to know if they need to take action to improve their security.

Bonus. McAfee — Impressive Web Protection for Android and iOS

I like McAfee’s Wi-Fi network scanner, too, which scans for issues on your Wi-Fi network, such as a weak password or vulnerabilities to SSL attacks. When I temporarily removed the password from my Wi-Fi network, McAfee alerted me to my lack of a password in less than 5 minutes — which is impressive!

McAfee Mobile Security costs $39.99 / year and offers coverage on a single Android or iOS device. If you want to cover more devices, I recommend Total Protection Premium, which costs $54.99 / year and offers coverage on unlimited devices, so you can protect your Android and iOS phone and any Windows or Mac computers in your household, too. Each plan includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.

McAfee’s plans vary depending on your location. They may have different names, include different features, or have different subscription lengths.


Read the full McAfee review here

What to Do If Malware Has Blocked Your Smartphone (& You Can’t Run an Antivirus Scan)

If malware has blocked your smartphone, you have a couple of options. If you’re using Android, you need to boot your device into safe mode, and either delete any recently installed apps, or factory reset your device.

If you’re using iOS, you can connect your phone to a Mac or Windows PC and restore it via Finder or iTunes.

Click on the relevant option below:

Restore a Blocked Android Device

To access a blocked Android, you first need to boot your phone into safe mode. The steps to do this vary depending on your phone’s model:

  1. With your phone powered off, press and hold the power and volume-down buttons. Your phone will either boot into a recovery menu, or directly into safe mode. If it doesn’t, try this step again, but hold the power and volume-up buttons instead.

Note: If both methods fail, check online (or in your phone’s manual) for specific instructions on how to boot into safe mode.

If your phone boots into a recovery menu, you can use the volume keys to navigate. Navigate to Safe mode, and press the power button to boot your phone into safe mode.

  1. With safe mode running, navigate into your phone’s settings. Tap Apps twice, then scroll through your list of installed apps. Uninstall any suspicious apps by tapping on them and then tapping Uninstall.
  2. Try rebooting your phone normally to see if it starts. If it does, you should run a malware scan by following our above steps.

If your phone still doesn’t start, you need to factory reset your device. Follow step 1 above to boot your phone back into safe mode, then follow the steps below:

Back up your data:

  1. Tap Settings.
  2. Tap Google.
  3. Tap Backup.
  4. Tap Back up now.

Note: If you want to back up photos and videos, ensure “Photos & videos” is set to On.

Reset your device:

  1. Tap Settings.
  2. Tap System & updates.
  3. Tap Reset.
  4. Tap Reset phone.
  5. When asked to confirm, tap Reset phone again.
  6. Wait for the device to reset to its factory default settings.

Once you’ve done this, you can restore your recent backup. Follow the on-screen steps after the factory reset to restore it. When finished, it’s a good idea to install an antivirus program like Norton so this doesn’t happen again.

You can now move on to our other smartphone security recommendations.

Restore a Blocked iOS Device

Accessing a blocked iOS device is easy. To access a blocked iOS device, you need to turn your iPhone off, and connect it via USB to your Windows or Mac computer. Once you’ve done this, follow these steps:

  1. Open Finder (Mac) or iTunes (Windows).
  2. Put your iPhone into DFU mode. The steps to do this vary depending on your model. The following works with the latest iPhone models:
    1. Quickly press the volume-up button.
    2. Quickly press the volume-down button.
    3. Hold down the side button. When your iPhone’s screen turns off, hold down the volume down button while still holding the side button.
    4. Wait about 5 seconds, then let go of the side button only (if you see the Apple logo appear, you held the side button down for too long).
    5. Nothing will happen, but Finder or iTunes will detect the device in DFU mode.

Note: If this doesn’t work, look up your iPhone by its model number online (e.g. iPhone 6) and follow instructions on booting into DFU mode while your phone is connected to a computer.

  1. Finder/iTunes will automatically detect something is wrong with your phone, and you’ll be given the option to restore it. However, be aware that doing so will delete all of your data.

Note: Unless you backed up all of your data to iCloud prior to your phone being bricked, the only way to recover your data before restoring your iPhone is to use third-party apps like EaseUS MobiSaver. These apps can scan your iPhone from your computer, and allow you to restore files that you can’t access — but there’s no guarantee they’ll work. That said, you can download apps like EaseUS MobiSaver on a free trial so there’s no risk in trying them out.

Either way, once your iPhone is restored, you should be able to restart it normally. When you’ve done this, install a mobile antivirus such as Norton to prevent malware from blocking your phone in future.

Other Smartphone Security Recommendations

You should have followed our above security recommendations by now, and your Android or iOS device should be free from viruses and other malware. However, there are a few more security recommendations you should consider:

  • Install a password manager (such as 1Password).
  • Install a secure VPN (such as ExpressVPN).
  • Enable two-factor authentication (such as biometric login).
  • Optimize your phone’s privacy settings.

Installing a password manager (such as 1Password) allows you to store your passwords in a secure vault. You can also store personal data, such as financial information, passport numbers, and driver’s licenses. Password managers store this data using 256-bit AES encryption, meaning hackers can’t steal your data. They also generate and remember super strong passwords, which are impossible to crack using botnets like Mirai.

You should also consider using a good virtual private network (VPN), such as ExpressVPN. VPNs give you a virtual IP address so cybercriminals can’t see your location. The best VPNs also have servers in many countries, which let you access geo-restricted sites or your home Netflix catalog while traveling abroad.

Activate two-factor authentication (2FA) to bolster your device and account security. This method requires a secondary identification method, like an email or phone number. Advanced 2FA also allows you to protect your accounts with an authenticator app like Authy or a physical USB key such as YubiKey.

To enable 2FA on Android, follow these steps:

  1. Open your Google Account.
  2. Tap Security.
  3. Tap Signing into Google.
  4. Tap 2-Step Verification.
  5. Tap Get started.
  6. Follow the on-screen instructions.

On iOS:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Tap your account name.
  3. Tap Password & Security.
  4. Tap Turn on Two-Factor Authentication.
  5. Follow the on-screen instructions.

You should also check your phone’s privacy settings.

On Android:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Tap Privacy.
  3. Adjust what data individual apps can access.

If you’re on iOS:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Tap Privacy & Security.
  3. Tap App Privacy Report.

This will give you a report detailing all your iOS apps’ current permissions, making it easy to make changes that promote your security. With Norton 360 Deluxe, the Privacy Monitor will also give you a list of data brokers selling your personally identifying information (PII) and request your removal from any database.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can malware infect a smartphone?

Yes, malware can infect a smartphone. Android phones are susceptible to malicious apps containing viruses, ransomware, spyware, and more. iOS phones are at less risk than Android, but you can still visit websites that steal your data, including your financial information and passwords.

That’s why it’s important to have a good antivirus app running. Norton is a great choice — it has tons of features for iOS and Android that can keep your device protected in 2023.

Can malware be installed on Android?

Yes, hackers can install malware on your Android device, which can cause various problems, such as slowing your device down, compromising your data, and even stopping your device from working. Most of this malware is accidentally installed when you download malicious .APK files from outside the Google Play Store, but you can also download compromised files from your email or by visiting dangerous websites.

You should never open any emails you don’t trust or download apps from outside the Google Play Store. However, if you’re tech-savvy and want to download third-party apps, remember to always have a good antivirus app, such as Norton, running in the background.

Can malware be installed on iOS?

You can’t get malware on iOS, but that doesn’t mean iOS users are completely safe. You can still visit dangerous websites, be victim to network attacks, have your data stolen, or have your online accounts breached.

Since iOS devices can’t get malware and Apple doesn’t allow security apps to perform virus scans, iOS antiviruses don’t include a malware scanner. However, antivirus apps on iOS come with various other features that protect your device from security threats. For example, Norton Mobile Security comes with excellent web protections and dark web monitoring, which alerts you if it finds any of your personal information on the dark web.

What happens if you get malware on your phone?

If you get malware on your phone, various things can happen. Your phone may run more slowly than usual, you may be issued annoying ads, or you may have apps you don’t recognize appear on your home screen. Cybercriminals may also be stealing your data — which can include your financial information, social insurance number, and more.

Therefore, if you get malware on your smartphone, you should remove it immediately. Follow our above steps which will take you through how to remove malware from smartphones using an antivirus program such as Norton.

How do you prevent mobile malware?

To prevent mobile malware, you need to adopt proactive security measures. For example, install a reputable antivirus application and only download apps from trusted sources. Additionally, exercise caution when clicking on links or opening attachments from unknown senders, and keep your device’s operating system and applications up to date. You can follow our above steps for a more in-depth guide on how to do this — but honestly, it comes down to just being vigilant and careful online once you’ve got a good antivirus program installed.

Best Antiviruses For Removing Viruses & Malware From Smartphones — Final Score:

Overall Score
Best Deal
save 56%
save 64%
save 84%
save 63%
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About the Author
Sam Boyd
Sam Boyd
QA Editor
Updated on: September 23, 2023

About the Author

Sam Boyd is a QA Editor at SafetyDetectives. He has years of experience writing, reviewing, editing, and optimizing blog articles, and he has researched and tested hundreds of cybersecurity products since joining the SafetyDetectives team. When he isn’t exploring the latest cybersecurity products, he enjoys chilling out with video games, watching sports, and exploring new parts of the world with his family.