Over the course of several months, I have regularly used my iPhone's default browser for high-risk activities, namely viewing pornography. I have also failed to diligently update iOS (still running iOS 8.1 as I write this). I have not jailbroken my phone, and to date I have not encountered any symptoms actively suggesting a malware infection (such as aggressive popups injected on mundane pages, etc), but from what little I have read on iOS malware, this kind of browsing behavior coupled with outdated system software has likely rendered my device quite vulnerable to attack.

I use my phone for professional activities (communicating with coworkers, clients, etc), so these vulnerabilities are unacceptable and could result in personal embarrassment or worse if unchecked access to my texts, messaging apps, or phone client were to be obtained.

To resolve this issue, I plan to update the system OS, reset the phone to factory defaults, and set up the phone from scratch with files I have backed up to my Apple ID.

Is this process likely to remove any malware that could currently reside on the system, or is purchasing a new iDevice and Apple ID necessary to avoid a rootkit-style persistent program?

  • 1
    If you use a device for professional activities, I would highly suggest avoiding any risky activities on that device; security-wise as well as socially. One day you'll forget to close out of a risky tab and accidentally broadcast to coworkers something they weren't expecting to hear/see (not to mention the concerns you have brought up).
    – d0nut
    Jan 25, 2017 at 5:35
  • If you are suspicious you can always restore your iPhone by putting it in DFU mode (Google it) and connecting it to iTunes. Even if there was malware on it it's really unlikely to persist as it would require compromising the bootloader (something that hasn't been done recently - I think the last exploit was around the iPhone 4). Jan 25, 2017 at 10:49

1 Answer 1


It's relatively unlikely that your phone has been infected with a persistent rootkit type malware, even if you've been viewing porn, but technically it's possible. It's also really unlikely that any malware which you had been infected with would be directly associated with your Apple ID - in general, only user generated data is preserved, while apps are pulled from the current version available on the App Store (much to the frustration of people who wanted to keep an old feature when upgrading their phone).

However, it would be possible that some malware that you had picked up now had obtained your Apple ID credentials, allowing it to access your data. In that case, you're a bit late to stop anything - could have pulled your texts/messages and be preparing to send them to co-workers now.

Your plan seems sensible, but I'd add in changing your Apple ID password, ideally from a different device, and making sure you never enter it in the current OS you're running (e.g. set the OS update running, and once that's done, but before logging in, change your Apple ID password from another device, so your fresh install only ever sees the new one). That way, assuming that your password had been compromised, but no access had been made, your data should be safe. It's probably also worth cleaning your stored data of anything you don't want associated with your account before syncing with the fresh install.

Once you're running a fresh install, make sure you regularly apply OS updates, even if they're a bit of a pain - there are good security reasons to do so, even if Apple tends to promote the new emojis as more important reasons!

Other basic advice would be to ensure that any passwords and usernames used on sites are distinct from your Apple ID ones - and from each other. It's depressingly common for accounts to be compromised following password leaks at unrelated sites, where people have used the same passwords in multiple places. If you're worried about reputational damage from pornography, don't forget that any email addresses you might have used to sign up to sites would also be exposed should a site be compromised - the biggest example of that would be the Ashley Madison breach from a couple of years ago.

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