Even Macs Need Antivirus Protection
You surely remember the TV ads with the sniffling, virus-infested PC and the healthy Mac. Macs don’t get viruses! That ad was always bogus, though for quite some time the likelihood of an attack was lower for Mac users. However, the latest report from Malwarebytes indicates that Macs became more vulnerable than PCs last year. According to the report, malware detections per macOS endpoint more than doubled between 2018 and 2019, bringing the Mac detection rate to almost twice the rate for Windows PCs. We saw no such jump in 2020, but detections didn’t go down. If you don't have antivirus on your Macs, you're living in the past. Check our reviews now and pick the Mac antivirus that suits your needs best—don’t wait!!
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.
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
Seven commercial macOS antivirus products that earned 3.5 stars or better appears in the list at top. Another eight 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. ProtectWorks is also Mac-focused, but there just wasn't room.
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, all those in the chart below had 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. Several products achieved a perfect 18 points, all six points for all three criteria.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.