iOS 13 marked a level in the evolution of Apple’s mobile operating-system. In the past of iOS, Apple – and Steve Jobs, particularly – felt that files were a distraction. In an interview in 2005, Jobs asked, "exactly why is the file system the face from the OS? Wouldn't it be better if there was a better way to find stuff?" He followed up, "eventually, the file system management is just destined to be an application for pros and consumers aren't gonna need to use it."

Things changed in 2021, with iOS 11, which introduced the Files app. This wasn’t something to make the file system with an iOS device visible to users, but rather to serve like a hub for the various cloud services people use to store files. It displays files which are stored with an iPhone or iPad – in certain apps – however it mainly allows users to download and work with files from the cloud.

There is an additional way to add files to iOS devices: iTunes File Sharing enables you to add files to a particular apps via iTunes. You are able to sync files to an app-specific Documents folder in this manner, and people files are just offered by those apps.

iOS 13 adds external drive support to those mobile devices. You can access files on the USB thumb drive, SD card, or hard disk, assuming you have the right dongle and/or connector. You can also make use of a Downloads folder and manage local storage on your iOS device, creating folders, and dealing with files while viewing a restricted part of the file system. Along with the Files app, you are able to connect with a network server to gain access to files as well. These features usher in new power to work with files, but also new risks.

Malware on iOS

There has not been any serious malware affecting iOS. There have been infected apps, for example XcodeGhost, which steal data, and there has been malware that has affected jailbroken iOS devices , but nothing has been created that has infected iOS or files on iPhones or iPads. There has been vulnerabilities that allowed people to access iOS devices via FaceTime and Bluetooth, however these are network attacks, and don’t depend on files being copied or downloaded for an iPhone or iPad.

iOS has robust sandboxing; this limits which files and which parts of the file system apps can access. It prevents antivirus and anti-malware software from examining the devices in search of malware. Due to this sandboxing, it is very hard for files to affect apps or iOS itself, but because the ability to add files to iOS devices increases, it's possible that there is going to be tries to create malware to focus on iOS. Additionally, files that you add to your iPhone or iPad could have malware that, while not affecting iOS, may affect another operating-system that you copy those files. If you add files to your iPad, then put them on a cloud server to later access on your computer, those files could compromise that computer.

Antivirus Software on iOS

Apple allowed antivirus software on iOS for some time, and Intego made VirusBarrier iOS, however in 2021, the company eliminated that entire category of apps in the App Store. VirusBarrier iOS allowed users to scan files that they received as email attachments, for example, and alerted them when the files were infected. This helped protect people to whom they forwarded files, or perhaps their own Macs and PCs at home or at work.

With these new abilities to move files back and forth from iOS devices, it’s time for Apple to permit software companies to create true antivirus software for iOS. At a minimum, an iOS antivirus should be able to scan files in all of the places where users can also add or download files, but it might be best when the software could access the entire file system, to ensure that the devices are free from malware. Ideally, it should also be able to scan RAM, because threats that attack devices via network vulnerabilities can hide their code in RAM.

Naturally, Apple shouldn’t open this access up to just anyone; they ought to carefully vet antivirus software on iOS, and vendors should have to prove that they are established and reputable. And this software should undergo a far more stringent approval process than other apps.

It’s clear that Steve Jobs’ vision of iOS devices without files hasn’t exercised; many users, not just "pros," need use of files: to get them, adjust them, send them, and store them. But with this new file access comes new risks, and it’s here we are at Apple to recognize this, and permit security vendors to assist users ensure that they are protected from malicious files.