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The
illusion that Macs are invulnerable to malicious software is just that, an
illusion. Yes, Windows and Android are more popular as targets, but Macs suffer
malware attacks too, even ransomware attacks. You need antivirus protection on your macOS devices, though you don’t
necessarily have to pay for it. Avira Free Antivirus for Mac doesn’t cost a
penny, and it earns decent scores in tests by the independent labs.

When
you launch Avira’s installer, it downloads the latest code and malware
signatures. The main window features a simple menu down the left, most of which
echoes the similar menu in Avira Antivirus Pro. The rest of the window features plenty of
whitespace around three components: a round icon that reflects your security
status, a button to run a full or quick scan, and a target that you can drag
files or folders onto for a quick scan. It’s a simple, reassuring layout.

Scanning and Scheduling

On the
MacBook Air I use for testing, the quick scan took just a bit under two minutes,
and the full scan took 28 minutes. That’s good, considering that the average
among current products for a full scan is 39 minutes.

Scheduled
scanning is enabled by default, once per week. You can schedule more quick or
full scans, on a daily or weekly basis.

Clicking
Modules in the left-side menu displays the status of four security modules:
Real-Time Protection, Protection Cloud, Firewall, and USB Scanner (the last is
reserved for the Pro edition of this product). Seeing the label Firewall, you
might get the impression that Avira includes a firewall component, like Intego Mac Internet Security X9, McAfee, and Norton. However, this component
simply controls the built-in macOS firewall component.

Pricing and OS Support

There’s
a big range of prices for Mac-based antivirus support. At the high end, Intego
lists at $99.99 per year to protect three Macs, and Norton 360 Deluxe (for Mac) asks $99.99 per year for five cross-platform
licenses. Granted, these two are security suites, going way beyond the features
offered by a simple antivirus utility.

The
most common pricing plan among products we’ve reviewed is $39.99 per year for
one license and $59.99 for three. As for Avira, you don’t pay a thing. Like Sophos Home (for Mac), it’s totally free.

You do
need a modern operating system to use this antivirus. Like Norton and Trend
Micro, Avira requires macOS High Sierra (10.13) or better. If you’re stuck
using an old operating system for some reason, you may need to consider a
different Mac antivirus. Intego support runs back to Mountain Lion (10.8),
Webroot works on Lion (10.7) or better, and ClamXAV (for Mac) goes all the way back to Snow Leopard (10.6).

Malware Protection Lab Scores Down

When
evaluating Windows antivirus utilities for malware protection, I use a wide range of tests that I’ve coded and
re-coded over the years. I don’t have anything similar for the macOS platform,
as my many hand-coded testing tools and my coding skills are both Windows-only.
For Mac antivirus, I necessarily rely heavily on the independent testing labs
to know which products are the most capable. Fortunately, most of the tested
products earn good scores.

Lab Test Results Chart - Avira

Two of
the independent antivirus testing labs I follow report on macOS products, and
both have Avira on their test roster. AV-Comparatives certifies Avira for malware protection, with 99.8
percent protection against macOS malware, down from 100 percent at my last
review. Slightly over half the products earned 100 percent. Like Avast,
Bitdefender, Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac, and most tested products, Avira detected 100
percent of the Windows malware used in testing. Of course, these samples
couldn’t affect a Mac, but removing them prevents the Mac from becoming a
carrier.

The
experts at AV-Test
Institute
rate antivirus utilities on three criteria: how
well they protect against malware, how little they impact performance, and how
carefully they avoid interfering with usability by flagging valid programs as
malicious. With six points available for Protection, Performance, and Usability,
the maximum score is 18.

Here,
too, Avira’s scores are down from their previous values. Avira took six points
for Usability and 5.5 for Performance in the latest test. However, in the
all-important Protection category it just managed 4 points this time around,
for a total of 15.5. All but one of the other tested products earned a perfect
18 points. Avast, AVG, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac took 18 points in this test and also earned 100
percent from AV-Comparatives.

Scan Complete

You may
notice that there aren’t any results in the table for Sophos, ESET Cyber Security (for Mac), McAfee, and a few others. These products earned
high marks in past test reports, but the labs don’t always test the same set of
products, and the latest reports didn’t include them.

I ran
my own simple test of Avira’s ability to detect Windows malware, challenging it
to clean up a USB drive containing the samples from my Windows-centered testing.
It finished quickly, eliminating 87 percent of the samples, including every
single ransomware sample. That’s better than most of the products I’ve tested
in this way, though Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (for Mac) caught 100 percent of the Windows samples and ESET
managed 93 percent.

Protection Against Phishing and Malicious Sites

Phishing
pages are frauds that attempt to steal your login credentials by imitating
sensitive websites. It’s pretty easy to craft a fake bank site and fool people
into giving away their passwords. Plenty of users don’t have any real clue about
how to spot
a phishing scam
. Certainly, creating a phishing page is vastly easier than
writing a Trojan to actively steal those passwords.

Malware
programs are also platform-specific, while phishing works on any platform. If
you’re foolish enough to log into, say, a fake PayPal page on the browser built
into your smart fridge, you lose your credentials just the same as if you
entered them in a browser on your Mac. Preventing access to such pages, or to pages
containing malicious code, can be the first line of defense for an antivirus
tool, whether it’s Mac or Windows antivirus.

Avira
Free Antivirus does not in itself protect against malicious or fraudulent URLs,
but it does give users easy access to Avira’s Browser Safety extensions for
Chrome and Firefox. Sorry, Mac purists; there’s no extension for Safari. I
installed the Chrome extension and proceeded to test Avira’s browser-based
protection.

Phishing Results Chart - Avira

For
this test, I gather the newest phishing URLs I can find, including ones that
haven’t yet been analyzed and blacklisted. I use one of my hand-coded tools to
launch each URL and record results in three browsers, Chrome, Firefox, and Edge,
each protected by the browser’s own built-in protection. As for the Mac product
under test, my analysis tool works strictly on Windows, so I test by hand on
the Mac. I ran this test simultaneously with my test of Avira Free Security on Windows.

For
testing purposes, I discard any URL that doesn’t load properly in any of the
browsers, and any URL that doesn’t actively attempt to capture login
credentials. Analyzing the confirmed phishing pages, I found that Avira’s
detection rate came at 93 percent, as it did under Windows. It makes sense that
the scores match since both used the same Chrome extension.

Avira’s
phishing protection has been steadily improving. It earned 66 percent when last
tested, and 47 percent the time before. The current 93 percent brings it into
the top half, score-wise. Even so, others have scored still higher. Kaspersky
and Trend Micro came in with a perfect 100 percent, while Bitdefender and McAfee AntiVirus Plus (for Mac) earned 99 and 98 percent respectively.

Phishing Detected

As it
does on Windows, Browser Safety also actively blocks ads and prevents
advertisers and others from tracking you. A small numeric overlay on the
toolbar button lets you know how many trackers it found on the current page.
You can click for more detail, but you don’t get the option to fine-tune what it
blocks the way you do with Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and others.

Should You Go Pro?

At the
bottom of the main screen’s left-side menu is a highlighted item titled
“Get Pro.” Clicking it gets you a laundry list of the virtues of the
Pro edition. These include scanning removable devices and full-scale phone
support. But the list also includes features that exist in the free edition,
such as quarantine management, safe browsing, and an activity log.

As far
as I can see, the added benefits don’t seem to merit the price. Personal tech
support is nice—free users only get FAQs and community support forums—but not
$44.99 per year nice. I didn’t see a reason to review the Pro edition
separately.

Free and Simple

Many
Mac users have experienced years of hearing the mantra, “PCs get viruses; Macs
don’t.” Even if they now admit that’s not the case, they still may resent
having to pay for antivirus. Avira Free Antivirus for Mac does a decent job at
no cost. Its lab scores are down a bit, but we expect them to go back up. You might
also look at Sophos Home (for Mac). Admittedly, it doesn’t boast any current
lab test results, but it does well in our hands-on testing.

If you
have a little cash to splash on antivirus for your Mac, there are several
choices. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac both
earned top scores from both labs. Only one lab recently evaluated Norton 360
Deluxe (for Mac), but it took the maximum score. Bitdefender includes such
advanced features as ransomware protection for your documents and backups.
Kaspersky is a full suite, with components including parental control and
network protection. With Norton 360 you get five cross-platform licenses and
five no-limits VPN licenses. These three are our Editors’ Choice products for
Mac antivirus.

Avira Free Antivirus for Mac Specs

On-Demand Malware Scan Yes
On-Access Malware Scan Yes
Website Rating No
Malicious URL Blocking Yes
Phishing Protection Yes
Behavior-Based Detection No
Vulnerability Scan No
Firewall No

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