19 November 2019
Antivirus for Mac. If you’re a first-time or casual Mac user, there’s a good chance those three words have never crossed your mind. After all, Macs don’t get viruses, right? They’re secure and not at all susceptible to malware or malicious attacks.
Seasoned Mac users will tell you otherwise. The threat of Mac malware is a growing one as savvy cybercriminals catch on to the increasing popularity of the device.
Naturally, Windows devices are still their bread and butter, but Apple machines are being targeted more and more. So, if you’re serious about protecting your data, you can’t simply rely on the Mac’s built-in security features alone.
In this article, you'll learn:
We’ve given each of the antivirus software below a rating out of 5.
To arrive at our score, we compared the popularity and the average user rating of various antivirus software on MacUpdate with AV test results by the Independent IT Security Institute.
So, without further ado...
For a free antivirus software, Avast certainly goes above and beyond with a long list of features.
Real-time protection and on-demand scans keep things running smoothly, while you can even target specific folders, files or drives if you suspect they might be compromised. The best bit? You can schedule scans to run automatically.
What’s more, a Web Shield makes you aware of malicious websites, blocks dangerous email attachments, and stops dodgy downloads in their tracks. However, its malware protection has been described as “mediocre”.
Sometimes companies can go a bit crazy with their features, to the point where you might question whether or not you’d actually use them all. Avira isn’t one of those companies.
They’ve kept things simple - their focus is on keeping your Mac malware-free.
That means there’s no network scanning or web filtering (although you can install the free Avira Browser Safety add-on), but that doesn’t make this Mac antivirus any less impressive.
With a real-time scanner and a scheduler that lets you pick and choose when to check your system, you can be confident that threats are identified quickly and efficiently.
A neat feature with Avira is the fact that it leans on its Windows expertise to ID PC-related malware, meaning you won’t accidentally share malicious files with your PC-user friends and colleagues.
It’s a plain and straightforward interface, and the activity log doesn’t update in real-time, but as a free Mac antivirus, you really can’t go wrong.
A good value for money, Bitdefender stands out as a real quality antivirus software. The features list is long without being overwhelming, and it does its job without a whole lot of fuss.
When it comes to protection, performance and usability, Bitdefender Antivirus shows up really well, while its Safe Files feature keeps ransomware at bay. And similar to Avira, it has its own browser plug-in to keep you safe while surfing the net.
The downside? It’s not as fast as some of the others on this list, and for software designed to prevent adware, it serves its own pop-ups to flog special offers from Bitdefender.
VG antivirus for Mac is free, so we can forgive the lack of special features, and we can almost overlook the high background impact on your system. So why is it ranking so highly?
Simple - its impressive malware-detection capabilities. AVG might be among the best you can get for Mac without shelling out for a subscription.
Add to that the fact that the interface is helpful and easy to use, and that its virus database is kept up-to-date automatically, you can feel confident that AVG will keep your Mac malware-free.
1. Intego Mac Internet Security X9
Intego is one of the more expensive Mac antivirus on the market today, but once you look under the hood, you can understand why.
Its features list is comprehensive, it’s fast, easy to use, and it boasts a very impressive clean-up rate. You even get a firewall thrown in for good measure.
Those on a budget might instinctively skip past it, but you can take up the offer of a free trial to try before you buy - and that will probably convince you!
Intego scored the best for protection and usability when put through its paces by AV-Test, which speaks volumes for the quality and reliability of this software.
The numbers suggest that, yes, Macs do indeed require antivirus.
This is because there’s a growing threat of malware specifically designed to target Apple devices. A March 2018 report pinpointed a 270 percent increase in Mac malware.
And the same company highlighted a further growth in Mac malware in 2019, with 16 million instances reported in April alone (four times more than the previous record).
Meanwhile, of the ten most popular cyber attacks in the first quarter of 2019, Mac malware took up two spots.
The most significant change is the popularity of Macs. More consumers are buying them, and because of this, more cybercriminals are targeting them.
On top of that, there are newer, more sophisticated threats putting user data (and bank balances) at risk. Phishing attacks, adware, and malware designed to access cryptocurrency accounts should put Mac users on high alert.
If you’re interested in learning more, Macworld has a complete list of Mac viruses, malware and security flaws.
Sort of. The Mac OS is built on Unix, and Unix boasts a number of inbuilt security features.
But the protection doesn’t end there. Apple has also taken its own steps to make the Mac a tough nut to crack for cyber crooks with the following features:
Gatekeeper stops software from running on your Mac without your approval if it hasn’t been digitally approved by Apple.
It’s one of the most significant security features on macOS, and if you’ve ever tried to download and use unsigned software, you’ve probably encountered it. An error message pops up to tell you that the app “can’t be opened because it is from an unidentified developer.”
This is Gatekeeper at work. It’s a system designed to stop malicious software from sneaking through. Of course, not all unsigned software is dangerous, and you can control Gatekeeper in your System Preferences (under Security & Privacy).
The malware scanning tool is called Xprotect, and it works away in the background without any need for user intervention. In contrast to the antivirus software listed below, the updates happen in the background too, meaning it won’t slow down your Mac while it does its thing.
So, if you try to download and open a contaminated file, you’ll receive a warning that the file will damage your computer. It will also reference the type of malware it’s found in the file, and encourage you to delete the file immediately.
The Malware Removal Tool is an Apple application that’s hidden away and not intended for users to launch. It works in the background in a reactive manner, identifying and removing malware that’s already been installed. It can only be executed on system start-up.
So, in theory, downloading malware onto a Mac should be virtually impossible.
With its anti-malware protection, macOS should check every file before you open it against a list of known malware, and it should stop you from opening any application from a developer that doesn’t have Apple’s approval.
But the world of computer viruses and malware is an ever-changing one. To effectively protect against the damage they cause, the software must be kept continually up-to-date.
The reliability of Gatekeeper has been called into question with examples of unsigned apps bypassing it completely, while Apple is either ready to abandon Xprotect, or they’re just not prepared to give it the necessary level of attention.
At one point it went almost 4 months without an update (an eternity in computer security terms), and when it was recently updated, it was with a bump to the minimum required version of Flash, and nothing else.
Meanwhile, where MRT is concerned, like Xprotect it’s simply not being updated as often as it should be. There have been examples of malware families being added to MRT some 12 months after they’ve first been identified.
This sort of hands-off approach won’t bring comfort to Mac users who are worried about the damage malware can bring.
Despite being lax with the updates to Xprotect and MRT, Apple has been proactive in other areas of Mac security, including:
It’s clear that Apple has taken some notable steps over the years to safeguard the Mac with its in-built protection.
However, if you’re storing sensitive data on your Mac, or multiple family members use it, or it’s part of a wider network, these steps just won’t be enough.
With Mac malware on the rise, one misstep online could render your device unusable - and the cost of fixing a virus-ridden Mac is a hassle no one wants to think about.
What are the qualities of a good antivirus? Speed? Performance? Usability?
While those are all important, focusing on those areas alone only scratches the surface. When sizing up the best antivirus software for you, you need to consider how it goes about the business of identifying and eliminating threats, and the types of premium features that matter most to you. Let’s take a look.
First of all, you need to know the difference between on-demand protection, and always-on protection.
On-demand, as the name suggests, examines your files one by one during a predetermined scan, or when you choose to start a scan. This is where speed and performance can matter, as some on-demand scans can hog your Mac’s CPU while taking hours to thoroughly search your system.
Always-on, meanswhile, protects your device around the clock. If you download something dodgy, or some malware arrives via an email, always-on protection should quickly detect it and either copy it to a safe folder (known as ‘quarantining’) for you to take action later, or delete the file straight away.
Some antivirus software will only work on-demand, while most paid-for software will provide both on-demand and always-on protection.
Beyond straightforward malware and virus detection, many antivirus apps offer premium tools to guard against growing threats from increasingly savvy cybercriminals. One such threat is ransomware.
Ransomware infects a computer, encrypting a user’s files (often personal, sensitive, or sentimental information) and then demands a fee to decrypt them.
Anti-ransomware tools can protect against this type of threat by blocking apps from writing to a user’s home folders (photos, documents, etc.) unless the app is pre-approved.
Browsing the web can bring with it a different set of threats. Indiscriminate users (often youth and teenagers) visit adult websites and click dodgy links, download files, or give up personal information.
Antivirus software can help police web browsing activity via plugins or extensions, designed to stop such behavior.
A number of antivirus apps also offer the use of a virtual private network (VPN). These are particularly useful when using an open, unsafe WiFi connection in a hotel, airport, or cafe. VPNs protect your internet connection by encrypting it.
The final factor to consider when choosing antivirus software for your Mac is of course price.
Typically, antivirus apps can be purchased on a subscription basis, and you’re usually encouraged to pay for the year with a discount when compared to signing up for a monthly subscription.
The good news is, most paid-for antivirus software provide you with a number of licenses to use on multiple devices, meaning all computers within your household can be protected for one yearly payment.
Free vs Paid. The debate rages on. But the fact of the matter is, you will almost always get more from the paid version of a product - and antivirus software is no different.
Free antivirus products will protect your device against threats, but on a much smaller scale. If you have multiple devices on one network, you leave yourself open to attack. This is because cyberattackers have more users and more devices to target.
Paid antivirus software can provide you with the premium tools and features to keep all of your users and devices safe.
Do you really need antivirus for Mac? Well, that depends on you and your circumstances.
If you’re careful when browsing the web, vigilant when dealing with emails from strangers, and keep everything backed up, your Mac should tick along without too much to worry about.
After all, it’s built with security in mind.
However, malware can make a mess of a Mac pretty quickly, and if you’re not the only person using the device in your household, it would be smart to keep your bases covered.
The time it can take to retrieve key data and get your Mac running smoothly again after a malware attack certainly makes antivirus software a worthwhile investment.
For less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day, you have peace of mind that you and your family can browse safely online every day of the year.
Head of Community at MacUpdate
Marta Turnbull is a MacUpdate OG and has written about technology, marketing and brand creativity for over 10 years. She splits her time between Michigan and Ukraine.
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