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Even Macs Need Antivirus Protection

The myth that Macs don’t suffer malware attacks has been thoroughly busted, though not every Mac user has gotten the message. These days, Windows may even be the safer platform, according to the newest report from Malwarebytes. Building on telemetry data from the company’s malware-fighting products, the report finds that detections per macOS endpoint more than doubled from 2018 to 2019, from 4.8 to 11.0. That puts Mac infections well ahead of the 2019 Windows average of 5.8 per endpoint. Are you one of those diehard believers in Mac invulnerability? Don’t be the next victim. Read our reviews and choose the Mac antivirus that best suits your needs.

As with Windows antivirus tools, the most common price is just under $40 per year for a single license. ProtectWorks is unusual in that a single $29.95 payment lets you protect all the Macs in your household, with no subscription needed. McAfee goes beyond that, with a $59.99 per year subscription that protects all your Macs, PCs, Android, and iOS devices. With Sophos Home Premium, $60 per year lets you install and remotely manage protection on 10 Macs or PCs. At the high end, you pay $99.99 per year for a three-license subscription to Intego Mac Internet Security X9 or Airo Antivirus for Mac.

When macOS Mojave came out, it advanced security in various ways, including tracker blocking in Safari, a password manager, and a tighter rein on AppleScript. MacOS Catalina piled on more security features, with enhanced control over data-access permissions, weak password warnings, a strengthened anti-malware gatekeeper, and more. Still, nothing we’ve seen suggests that upgrading to Catalina will obviate the need for an antivirus utility.

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Free Mac Antivirus Protection

There’s another angle to the variation in Mac antivirus pricing. How about paying nothing at all? Avast Security (for Mac), AVG AntiVirus for Mac, Avira Free Antivirus for Mac, and Sophos Home Free (for Mac) are totally free for personal use, although Sophos technically limits you to three devices, macOS or Windows. AVG also offers free antivirus for Mac, but until its phishing protection improves, we can’t recommend it. The best commercial products offer more protection but if you can’t afford the best, at least install a free antivirus.

What’s Not Here

Eight commercial macOS antivirus products that earned 3.5 stars or better appears in the list at top. Another nine managed a decent three-star rating, but there isn’t room for all of those. I chose to favor three products that originated on the Mac platform, Airo Antivirus for Mac, ClamXAV, and Intego Mac Internet Security.

Avast Security Pro (for Mac), ESET Cyber Security (for Mac), Malwarebytes for Mac Premium, and Vipre Advanced Security (for Mac) also earned three stars. These four didn’t make it into the chart. If you’re using a Windows security product from one of these companies, it might make sense to do the same on your Macs.

Malware Protection Lab Certifications

When you go to select a new washer, refrigerator, or other appliance, chances are good you research it first. User reviews can be helpful, as long as you discard the very best and very worst of them. But actual test results published by an independent lab give you more reliable information. Two large labs include macOS antivirus products in their testing, but the slate of products for testing is variable. When we first rounded up Mac antivirus products, we only seleted those with at least one certification, but at present, many of them don’t appear in either lab’s test results.

The researchers at AV-Test Institute evaluate Mac antivirus products on three criteria: protection, performance, and usability. A product can earn up to six points for each. Protection against malware protection is essential, of course, as is a low impact on performance. A high usability score reflects a small number of false positives, legitimate programs and websites identified as dangerous. In the latest report, all but two products achieved a perfect 18 points, all six points for all three criteria.

Lab Test Results Chart

In the macOS malware test by AV-Comparatives, most charted products scored 100 percent. This lab, too, included a test using malware aimed at Windows. Yes, these samples can’t affect a computer running macOS, but they could conceivably escape to Windows machines on the network. Scores in the Windows malware test ranged from zero to 100 percent, which is quite a span.

Results in macOS-specific tests have a much smaller point spread than in tests of Windows antivirus utilities. It’s good that many products in the chart received at least one certification for Mac protection, and even better that some received two certifications.

Hands-On Phishing Protection Testing

When we test malware protection on Windows, we use live malware inside an isolated virtual machine. We’ve coded a number of analysis tools over the years to help with this testing. Little of that testing regimen carries over to the Mac.

Phishing, however, isn’t platform-specific, and neither is our antiphishing test. Phishing websites imitate secure sites, everything from banks and finance sites to gaming and dating sites. If you enter your credentials at the fake login page, you’ve given the phisher access to your account. And it doesn’t matter if you are browsing on a PC, a Mac, or an internet-aware sewing machine.

Almost all the products in the chart below include protection against malicious and fraudulent sites. With ClamXAV and Intego, this just isn’t an included feature. Malwarebytes and ProtectWorks also lack an antiphishing component.

Phishing Results Chart

The wily malefactors who create phishing sites are in the business of deception, and they constantly change and update their techniques, hoping to evade detection. If one fraudulent site gets blacklisted or shut down by the authorities, they simply pop up with a new one. That being the case, we try to use the very newest phishing URLs for testing, scraping them from phishing-focused websites.

We launch each URL simultaneously in four browsers. One is Safari or Chrome on the Mac, protected by the Mac antivirus that’s under test. The other three use the protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge. Discarding any that don’t fit the phishing profile, and any that don’t load correctly in all four browsers, we report the product’s detection rate as well as the difference between its detection rate and that of the other three test systems.

Most of the products in this roundup beat the combined average of the three browsers. Kaspersky and Trend Micro top the list with 100 percent detection, while Bitdefender’s score of 99 percent comes close behind. All three of these winners scored precisely the same when tested under Windows.

Ransomware Protection

The scourge of ransomware is on the rise. While ransomware attacks are more common on Windows devices, Macs have suffered as well. Of course, any antivirus utility should handle ransomware just as it handles spyware, Trojans, viruses, and other malware types. But since the consequences of missing a ransomware attack are so great, some security products add components with the sole purpose of preventing ransomware attacks.

We’ve observed a wide variety of ransomware protection techniques on Windows. These include blocking unauthorized access to user documents, detecting ransomware based on its activity, and recovering encrypted files from backup. Of the products listed here, Bitdefender and Trend Micro offer a ransomware component that blocks unauthorized modification of protected documents.

As with Bitdefender’s Windows edition, the Safe Files feature prevents all unauthorized access to your documents. On a Mac, it also protects your Time Machine backups. Trend Micro offers multiple layers of Windows ransomware protection. Folder Shield, which, like Safe Files, prevents unauthorized document access, is the only layer that made its way to the macOS edition.

Sophos Home Premium includes the same CryptoGuard behavior-based ransomware protection found in its Windows equivalent. Our Windows test sytsems are virtual machines, so we feel free to release real-world ransomware for testing. We just roll back the virtual machine to a clean snapshot after testing. We don’t have the option to do that on the physical Mac testbed, so we just have to figure that since it worked on Windows, it probably works on macOS.

Spyware Protection

Any kind of malware problem is unpleasant, but spyware may be the most unnerving. Imagine some creeper secretly peeking at you through your Mac’s webcam! Other types of spying include logging keystrokes to capture your passwords, sending Trojans to steal your personal data, and watching your online activities to build a profile. As with ransomware protection, we’ve observed more features specifically devoted to spyware protection on Windows-based security products than on the Mac, but a few products in this collection do pay special attention to spyware.

Under Windows, Kaspersky’s Safe Money feature opens sensitive sites in a secure browser that’s hardened against outside interference. The Safe Money feature on the Mac doesn’t do that, but it does check URLs to make sure you’re on a legitimate secure site. Kaspersky offers an onscreen keyboard, so you can enter passwords with no chance of capture by a keylogger. Its webcam protection isn’t as configurable as it is on Windows, but you can use it to disable your Mac’s webcam whenever you’re not using it. It even includes the ability to block advertisers and others from tracking your online activities. If spyware is your bugaboo, you’ll like Kaspersky.

Sophos Home Premium offers protection for the webcam and microphone that’s more substantial than Kaspersky’s. You get a notification any time an untrusted program attempts to access either; you can allow access or stop the program. There’s also an option to whitelist a program, so you don’t get a popup every time you use your off-brand video chat tool.

Bonus Features

Many antivirus tools on Windows pack in a ton of bonus features, packing in everything from tune-up utilities to VPNs. That behavior seems less common on the macOS side, though Norton now includes a VPN with no bandwidth limits. Even so, some vendors don’t have a standalone Mac antivirus, opting instead to offer a full security suite as the baseline level of protection, and a few others include suite-like bonus features in the basic antivirus.

A typical personal firewall component blocks attacks coming in from the internet and also manages network permissions for programs installed on your Mac. Intego, McAfee, and Norton each include a firewall component, while Kaspersky’s Network Protection comes close.

Parental control is another common suite component. With Sophos (free or premium) and Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac, a content filter can block access to websites matching unwanted categories. Kaspersky goes beyond that, with content filtering, screen time limits, and control over apps used. An additional $14.99 per year unlocks all the features of the powerful Kaspersky Safe Kids.

Protect Your Mac

Many of the products covered in this roundup earned certification from at least one independent testing lab; some managed two certifications. There really are no bad choices here, as far as basic antivirus protection goes. Even so, a few products stood out. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac not only achieved certification from both labs, it earned the maximum score in every test, and took the top antiphishing score. Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac also earned high scores. It offers a full suite of Mac security tools, at the same price competitors charge for basic antivirus protection. Norton 360 Deluxe (for Mac) is also a suite, and its features include a no-limits VPN. These three are our Editors’ Choice winners for Mac antivirus protection.

However, these aren’t the only choices.  Look over our reviews, pick the product that suits you best, and get your Mac protected. Once you’ve done that, you should also consider installing a Mac VPN. While an antivirus protects you, your devices, and your data locally, a VPN extends that protection to your online activities, protecting both your security and your privacy.

Editors’ Note: We are aware of the allegations of Kaspersky’s inappropriate ties to the Russian government. Until we see some actual proof of these allegations, we will treat them as unproven, and continue to recommend Kaspersky’s security products as long as their performance continues to merit our endorsement.

Where To Buy

  • Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac

    Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac

    Pros: Excellent scores from two independent testing labs.
    Excellent score in our antiphishing test.
    Full parental control system.
    Network protection.
    Privacy protection.
    Useful bonus tools.

    Cons: Poor score in our Windows malware detection test.
    Parental content filter foiled by secure anonymizing proxy.

    Bottom Line: Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac excels in independent lab tests, and it goes far beyond mere antivirus, offering protection against network attacks, parental control, privacy protection, and many other useful features.

    Read Review

  • Symantec Norton Security Deluxe (for Mac)

    Symantec Norton Security Deluxe (for Mac)

    Pros: Includes no-limits VPN. Top scores from one independent testing lab. Fast scan. Firewall blocks exploit attacks. Cleans up unneeded files.

    Cons: Limited detection of Windows malware.

    Bottom Line: Norton 360 Deluxe delivers lab-certified Mac antivirus protection along with a two-way firewall, a password manager, and a full-powered VPN.

    Read Review

  • Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac

    Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac

    Pros: Excellent independent lab scores.
    Continuous protection.
    Scans for Windows malware too.
    Fast, unobtrusive scans.
    Strong phishing protection.OS X notifications.
    Safe Web browsing.

    Cons: Expensive.
    Less-than-stunning malicious site protection.
    Lacks firewall tools.
    No parental control tools.

    Bottom Line: Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac provides fast, simple, and secure protection for your Apple computer, but it has fewer features than same-price competitors.

    Read Review

  • Clario

    Clario

    Pros: Unusual human-centric interface
    Available for macOS, Android, and iOS
    Speedy scan for malware
    Detects malicious and fraudulent pages
    Includes basic VPN
    24/7/365 live chat support

    Cons: Mobile editions lack most features
    Online protection is Chrome-only
    No certification from independent labs
    So-so phishing test score

    Bottom Line: Clario puts the focus on the user’s needs, not on its own antivirus technology, and it offers always-on live chat help. This newcomer is one to watch, though there’s no Windows client yet.

    Read Review

  • F-Secure Safe (for Mac)

    F-Secure Safe (for Mac)

    Pros: Very good scores from two testing labs.
    Simple cross-platform parental control.
    Quick full scan.

    Cons: Expensive at high numbers of licenses.
    So-so phishing protection.

    Bottom Line: F-Secure Safe for Mac gets high marks from two independent antivirus testing labs.
    It offers simple multi-device parental control, but it can’t match the rich feature collections of the best Mac antivirus tools.

  • Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac

    Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac

    Pros: Safe Web browsing.
    Parental control features.
    Antivirus.
    Social networking privacy scanner.

    Cons: No firewall.

    Bottom Line: Trend Micro brings antivirus, safe browsing, privacy scanning, and content filtering tools to your Mac.

    Read Review

  • Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (for Mac)

    Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (for Mac)

    Pros: Fast full scan.
    Certified by one antivirus lab.
    Good detection of Windows malware.
    Marks dangerous links in search results.

    Cons: Poor score in antiphishing test.
    Repeatable crash in testing.

    Bottom Line: While it may not be the best protection against phishing websites, Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (for Mac) is by far the fastest Mac antivirus scanner we’ve seen.

    Read Review

  • Airo Antivirus for Mac

    Airo Antivirus for Mac

    Pros: Top scores from one independent testing lab.
    Speedy full scan.
    Attractive, lightweight user interface.

    Cons: Phishing protection not yet working.

    Bottom Line: Newcomer Airo Antivirus for Mac earns top scores from one testing lab and has a refreshing Mac-centric interface, but some of its components aren’t yet ready.

    Read Review

  • ClamXAV (for Mac)

    ClamXAV (for Mac)

    Pros: Lab-certified for Mac malware protection.
    Scans for malware on demand, on access, and on schedule.
    Straightforward user interface.

    Cons: No filtering of malicious or fraudulent websites.

    Bottom Line: ClamXAV wraps the venerable, open source ClamAntiVirus engine in a straightforward user interface.
    It’s lab-certified to protect your Mac, but doesn’t go beyond the basics.

  • Intego Mac Internet Security X9

    Intego Mac Internet Security X9

    Pros: Certified by two labs for Mac malware protection.
    Includes full-featured firewall.
    Detects Mac, Windows, and Linux malware.

    Cons: Poor detection of Windows malware.
    No protection against malicious or fraudulent websites.

    Bottom Line: Intego Mac Internet Security X9 scores well in lab tests using Mac malware, and it offers firewall protection.
    But it fails against Windows malware and lacks protection against dangerous URLs.


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