The top 5 Antivirus Apps for iPhone

Writing about iPhone antivirus apps is a bit like writing about Santa Claus. Santa Claus doesn’t actually exist, but you can find folks dressed up as Santa Claus in shopping malls (during the holidays). By analogy, iOS antivirus apps don’t exist, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find many of them in Apple’s App Store.

Unlike desktop operating systems, iOS sandboxes the apps installed on the system. Sandboxing apps means that they have limited permissions and can only interact with device resources as allowed by the sandbox. Antivirus apps need extended permissions to scan your device for viruses and malware properly, which isn’t possible on a sandboxed platform like iOS.

Sandboxing prevents antivirus software from running effectively on the device, but it’s also a security feature. Because an installed app’s permissions are limited, so is the damage it can do if it’s buggy or malicious.

So if antivirus apps don’t exist for iPhones, how can you find so many in the App Store? It’s because antivirus vendors have released “mobile privacy and security” apps for iOS, and they’ve (understandably) used the brand power of their desktop products to bring attention to their mobile counterparts.

These apps typically include things like ads and malware blockers, password managers, parental controls, VPNs, WiFi scanners, and private browsers. These can all be useful, to be sure, but they’re not proper antivirus programs. Nonetheless, in this post, we’ll provide an overview of the top five iPhone “antivirus” apps available today.

TotalAV

TotalAV is one of the more complete “antivirus” iPhone apps. While it doesn’t include a proper virus scanner (for the reasons mentioned above), it provides a nice suite of useful features – some of which are more useful than others.

With TotalAV’s mobile app, you get:

  • A device security scanner/optimizer (free)
  • A VPN (paid)
  • Data breach monitoring (free)
  • A QR Code checker (free)
  • A malicious sites/malware blocker (paid)
  • A photos/videos/contacts duplicate remover (free)

iPhone Antivirus - TotalAV - 1
The most useful features in the app are the VPN, which works well and is relatively fast, and the malicious sites/malware blocker. Understandably, to use those two features, you will need to subscribe to a paid plan. And, if you’re specifically looking for a VPN and a malware blocker, you can easily do better than TotalAV’s offering.

Many of the features included here are going to be fluff. Things like the device security scanner/optimizer will simply check if you’re using a passcode and if your device is running the latest OS. These are things you can check yourself without needing an app to do it for you.

The QR code checker could be somewhat useful. Still, you can probably mitigate the risks malicious QR codes pose by using a little common sense (like searching for the website rather than scanning the code if you have any reason to be suspicious).

The data breach monitoring service will run a quick scan based on your email and alert you if your email appears in any identified breaches. It seems to work well, but if you’re serious about breach monitoring, you might benefit more from a comprehensive offering such as Incogni.

iPhone Antivirus - TotalAV 2

The malicious sites/malware blocker could prove pretty useful, but it’s a paid feature.

iPhone Antivirus - TotalAV 3

Then, we have the duplicate remover for photos, videos, and contacts, which works well. But if you’re looking for an antivirus app, you’re probably not thinking about a duplicates-finder. But hey, it’s there – and you can use it for free.


Norton 360 Antivirus & Security

iPhone Antivirus - Norton 1

Another player in the mobile “antivirus” space is Norton with its Norton 360 app. Again, there is no actual antivirus to be found here. Instead, we get:

  • A WiFi security checker
  • A device security scanner/optimizer
  • A malicious site/malware blocker
  • An SMS spam filter
  • A suspicious calendar invite scanner

Again, labeling an app as an antivirus and not providing any virus-scanning functionality is a bit weird. Instead, we get “auxiliary” security features.

The WiFi security checker informs you whether the WiFi network you’re connecting to uses encryption or is an open network. You can already get that information through iOS’s WiFi settings.

iPhone Antivirus - Norton 2

The device security scanner will tell you whether or not your device has Touch ID, Face ID, or a passcode set and whether or not your OS is up to date. That’s hardly ground-breaking.

iPhone Antivirus - Norton 3

The malicious site/malware blocker, called Internet Security, works by creating a dummy VPN. All filtering happens locally, and your data isn’t sent to a third-party server. Enabling a VPN is the only way to apply web filtering system-wide on an iOS device. This works very well. And, given that it’s free to use, we can’t really complain.

iPhone Antivirus - Norton 4
You can probably get better protection by signing up for a reputable VPN service that’ll block malware and encrypt your connection—though that won’t be free.

The SMS spam filter has already been built into iOS. Enabling Norton’s feature simply means that your device will use Norton’s filtering list to block unknown/unwanted SMS messages. This could be useful.

iPhone Antivirus - Norton 6

And finally, the suspicious calendar invite scanner is, in my view, of limited use. It’s one of those features that you really don’t need if you exercise a bit of common sense. You shouldn’t be adding unknown events to your calendar, right? Right.

iPhone Antivirus - Norton 5

McAfee Security: Privacy & VPN

First, let me just give a nod to McAfee for not including “antivirus” or “AV” in its app’s name. Again, this app won’t scan your iPhone for viruses (nor does it imply that it will).

iPhone Antivirus - McAfee 1

What we get with McAfee’s mobile app is:

  • A device security scanner/optimizer
  • A VPN
  • A WiFi scanner
  • A Social media privacy manager
  • Data breach monitoring

Many of these “antivirus” apps’ features overlap with one another.

As above, the device security scanner/optimizer checks that you have a passcode or biometrics set up to unlock your device. It will also check if you’re on the latest OS version.

McAfee’s VPN can be pretty useful. However, if you need a VPN more than anything else, I would not recommend getting this one. While it is fast and isn’t subject to IP leaks, McAfee collects massive amounts of data on its VPN users, so it won’t be a privacy-enhancing tool.

The WiFi scanner will essentially check whether or not encryption is enabled on the WiFi networks to which you attempt to connect.

The social media privacy manager prompts you to log into your social media accounts and provides tips on privacy settings you should enable. It can be useful, but it isn’t anything to write home about.

Finally, its data breach monitoring service will alert you if your email address is found to have been breached. You can add more data types to the service after the initial setup. Again, this is something you can do for free on your own through a service like HaveIBeenPwned.

iPhone Antivirus - McAfee 2

VPN & Antivirus by Kaspersky

The next “antivirus” mobile app on our roster is from Kaspersky. This one provides quite a few features. It includes:

  • A VPN
  • Anti-phishing protection
  • An anti-banner Safari extension
  • An ads and tracker blocker (Safari extension)
  • A smart home monitor
  • An automatic data leak checker
  • Social privacy management
  • A WiFi scanner
  • A password manager (separate install)
  • QR code checker

iPhone Antivirus - Kaspersky
Now that’s a lot. Let’s go through the list.

Kaspersky’s VPN works well but will have the same issues as the other “antivirus” apps’ VPNs. That is, it will be very basic, with few settings exposed to users. Also, there’s practically no information on the protocol and encryption algorithms used. Plus, if you’re looking for reliable and private VPN service, you’ll be much better served by pretty much any established and dedicated VPN provider out there. But Kaspersky’s VPN works well enough.

Anti-phishing protection is equivalent to what’s built into most browsers today by default, so I’m not sure how useful it will be.

Ads, malware, and banner blocking in Safari are great. The only thing is that you can find many other options that do the same thing for free.

Kaspersky’s smart home monitor is just a WiFi scanner with a fancy name. Its smart home monitor will scan your WiFi network and list all connected clients for you to review. If you see a device connected to your WiFi that isn’t yours, your WiFi network may have been breached. Calling this a “smart home monitor” is stretching things just a little bit…

The data leak checker runs automatically for the email you used to register with Kaspersky. It can only check email addresses. You cannot add other types of PII to the leak checker. Within the app’s data leak checker, you can manually enter any other email address to run a data leak check on it.

Social media privacy management is exactly as above: it will prompt you to log into your social media accounts and provide you with privacy tips and instructions.

Its WiFi scanner is likely to be the same thing as its smart home monitor, but it displays different information. Instead of listing the devices found on the WiFi network, it will tell you if it has encryption enabled or whether it’s an open network. You can set Kaspersky’s VPN to automatically connect when on open networks.

Kaspersky also kind of bundles a password manager with its mobile “antivirus.” It’s a separate app that you need to install. Clicking on the password manager tile within the app will simply take you to the app store to download the app. It’s also a paid app— the free version only allows you to store up to five passwords.

This is silly for a few reasons. First, Kaspersky could forgo its free tier; five passwords is a ridiculously tiny amount of passwords that won’t be useful to anyone. Second, when you purchase VPN & Antivirus by Kaspersky, it claims to include a password manager. It doesn’t. It’s a separate download that will cost you extra to get any usefulness out of it.

Finally, its QR code checker works exactly like TotalAV’s and will alert you if it links to anything malicious. It’s nice to have, but it isn’t critical.

Avira Security

iPhone Antivirus - Avira
Next up is Avira and its Avira Security app. This is another one that is packed with features. It includes:

  • Web protection
  • An iOS updater
  • Contacts backup
  • A call blocker
  • A VPN
  • Identity protection
  • A privacy manager
  • A password manager
  • A photos cleaner
  • A device analyzer

Let’s look at each one a bit closer.

Web protection is an ads and tracker blocker for Safari. To use it, you need to enable it in Safari’s settings under Extensions.

Avira’s iOS update simply checks whether your device is running the latest version of iOS and prompts you to update if it is not. It’s not exactly rocket science.

Contacts backup simply allows you to backup your contacts to your Dropbox. Accessing the contacts backup tile in the app redirects you to Dropbox to log in and set up the backup.

The call blocker might be one of the better features here. To use the feature, you need to enable it in the Phone app’s settings (in the iOS Settings app) under Call Blocking & Identification. From there, you can toggle Avira Security on, and Avira will identify and filter your calls.

Like most other apps in this category, Avira Security also has a VPN. And its VPN is like all the others in this post: it works well, but it’s not so private, and there’s little to no information about it (protocol, encryption, etc.). At the risk of repeating myself, if you’re looking for a VPN, purchase a subscription from a well-established and dedicated VPN provider.

Avira’s identity protection will check to see if your email address (and only your email address – no other PII can be added) has been breached.

The privacy manager is a bit of an odd one. It keeps your Siri searches private by installing a profile (.mobileconfig) on your phone. Apple Configurator (Apple’s native MDM app) allows you to create profiles that contain a host of device settings (some of which are only available via profiles) to install on iOS devices. This profile turns off server-side logging of Siri commands.

iPhone Antivirus - Avira - Call Blocker
Avira’s password manager is a separate app that needs to be downloaded from the App Store. However, contrary to Kaspersky, your Avira Security subscription does include the password manager subscription at no extra cost.

Avira’s photo cleaner is a duplicate finder, and its device analyzer will simply check to see if you have either a passcode, Touch ID, or Face ID enabled and whether or not you’re on the latest OS.

Are mobile “antivirus” apps worth it?

It depends on how much use you feel you’d get out of the features they provide – none of which are virus scanning or removal.

Most of the time you’d be better off going with either a more reputable provider in the privacy and security space (i.e., an established and dedicated VPN provider example) or with a standalone application that does just that and does it well. In particular, the bundled VPN services in these apps tend to be extremely basic and stripped-down VPNs for which even elementary technical details, such as the VPN protocol and encryption algorithm, are scarce (and they collect a lot of user data).

Also, to access all of the listed features, you’ll have to pay anywhere from 10 to 30 dollars a month. And, you guessed it: the most valuable features tend to be paid. So no, they’re not worth it—especially if you’re actually looking for an antivirus.

You can do better than these “antivirus” bundles with a bit of common sense and software dedicated to what you’re looking for rather than a “jack-of-all-trades” app that throws features at you in the hopes that you’ll confuse quantity for quality.