You might have heard that Macs don’t get viruses. Well, we’re here to tell you that while Macs may not get viruses as often as Windows machines, they can still get infected. Above all, you shouldn’t simply eschew protection because you have gone for MacOS over Windows.
Of course, there are a host of other threats on the internet beyond viruses. Nowadays, users should be concerned about ransomware, phishing attacks, and fraud protection. Fortunately, good antivirus programs offer protection from all of these threats.
Let’s take a look into the best antivirus (and general security) software for MacOS devices.
- Avast Premium Security for Mac
- Bitdefender Premium Security
- Norton 360 Security
- McAfee Total Security
- AVG Ultimate
We'll also be answering some of the most important questions about antivirus software for Macs.
What Is The Best Antivirus for Mac?
In our opinion, the best antivirus solution you can choose for Macs is Avast’s Security for Mac.
In testing, Avast has shown itself to be pretty close to a flawless antivirus program, with fantastic threat detection against malware and viruses. It’s simple to use, has clear, user-friendly messaging, and does what you need to keep a Mac safe.
What’s more, at $49.99 per year for ten devices, Avast is relatively cheap compared to its competitors – although any of the programs on our list are cheaper than getting hacked and having your details stolen.
If your business needs an antivirus solution, it's definitely worth taking a look at our Best Antivirus for Business guide, as well.
Per year, unless stated otherwise
No. of devices covered
Avast Premium Security for Mac
Bitdefender Premium Security for Mac
Norton 360 Deluxe
McAfee Total Protection
$6.49 per month
Everyone in need of Mac security
Anyone after some nice extra features with their Mac malware protection
Anyone after super-strong protection for a single device
Anyone after a file shredder
Those after a malware protection program with strong app and file protection
Avast Premium Security for Mac
Avast’s Premium Security for Mac is the best all-round offering for Mac on the market. Prices start from $39.99 per year for a single Mac, while pricing for ten devices costs $49.99 per year.
Avast will protect you from viruses, malware, ransomware, and spoofed websites. Plus, you’ll be able to protect your passwords and any smart home devices connected to your home network.
All told, it’s the best all-round solution for everyone looking to protect their Macs, as well as any other devices you might have.
- Easy to use
- Protects everything on your home network
- Rival providers can offer more features
Bitdefender Premium Security
Like Avast’s offering, Bitdefender’s Premium Security will cover ten devices – including Macs – from a range of online threats.
However, Bitdefender’s offering is significantly pricier. In fact, it costs $89.99 – more than twice the price of Avast Premium Security.
So, what do you get in return for that hefty outlay? Again, you get protection from the most common threats online. But with Bitdefender, you also get a built-in VPN, and advanced parental controls to help keep your children safe.
What’s more, Bitdefender is slightly less taxing on your system than Avast. However, most modern Macs won’t encounter too many performance problems.
- Loads of nice extra features including a VPN
- Won't drain your performance
- Pretty pricey
- Extra features can add complexity
Norton 360 Standard
Norton Life Lock, or simply Norton as it was once known, has been in the antivirus game for years. Its Mac solution, Norton 360 Standard, costs $39.99 per year but only offers protection for one device.
However, you do get a good range of features for that high price. Like all the other providers on this list, you get real-time threat protection from malware and ransomware. Plus, Norton 360 Standard will also protect your private and financial information when you’re online. Like Bitdefender, Norton also gives you a secure VPN.
But there’s more. Norton promises to monitor the dark web to check if any of your personal information has ended up there from a data breach. It also rolls in a password manager, which creates and stores strong passwords for all your accounts – plus it can also store your credit card information and other credentials. You also get a 10GB cloud backup to protect against hard drive failures, stolen devices, or even ransomware attacks – after all, none of your documents can be locked by hackers if they’re all stored in the cloud.
Finally, Norton also has a feature called “SafeCam”, which will notify you if cybercriminals are trying to use your webcam and block them.
While all these features make Norton 360 Standard seem like incredible value for money, in reality, most people probably already have access to the extra features through different providers. Macs and iOS devices can access iCloud to store documents and passwords, for example, and VPNs can be had for cheaper with other providers. Plus, if you are really concerned about people accessing your webcam, you can always put some tape over it.
- Brings all the cloud-based security features you need into one program
- Only secures one device
- Its likely that users will already have many of the extra features
McAfee Total Protection
Another venerable name in the antivirus industry, McAfee offers its Total Protection software for up to ten devices for $39.99.
Again, it offers specific and tailored protection for MacOS-specific viruses and malware, while also chucking in a range of nice extras to round out your online security.
For example, McAfee gives you a customizable firewall to help protect your Mac from any file-based threats. It also keeps track of your details to see if they appear on the dark web, and can store your passwords and other credentials. McAfee Total Protection also gives you a VPN, and can spot spoof sites. You’ll also get a file shredder, which will completely erase files to ensure no traces are left behind – MacOS doesn’t do this by default when you delete a file.
- Competitive pricing
- Loads of features including a file shredder
- Doesn't protect your entire network
AVG Ultimate will protect up to ten devices, including your Mac, for $6.49 per month. That works out to $77.88 per year, putting it at the pricier end of the providers on the list.
Again, you get full protection from MacOS threats online, and a range of nice extras. For example, it offers a “Do Not Disturb” mode, which blocks all incoming pop-up and app notifications so you can focus on whatever you’re doing. It can wall off files from ransomware attacks, for example, and protect your webcam from hackers. It also offers a data shredder, like McAfee’s solution.
If we’re honest, AVG’s solution is far from bad, but many of the features – such as the Password Protection, which prevents “blocked apps” from reading, changing, or deleting passwords – simply don’t apply to MacOS devices, given the strict control Apple imposes on its App Store.
Avast offers improved protection, more suited to Macs, for less.
- Wide feature set
- Not all features are useful
Do I Need Free or Paid-For Antivirus for Mac?
Free antivirus software will never be as effective as a paid-for solution – it’s as simple as that.
However, having a free antivirus software package for your Mac is better than nothing at all, even considering MacOS machines’ reputation for security.
You might find that free antivirus software doesn’t quite have the full feature set of a paid-for solution. While all of the paid-for options above are proactive in securing your machine, free solutions might only perform regular or even manual scans, and detect problems that are already on your Mac. This, of course, is like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted – you won’t let any more horses out, but your prized thoroughbred might already be roaming free on the wide open (and dangerous) prairie that is the internet.
What’s more, you won’t get any of the nice extras with a free solution that you do with a paid-for option. There’ll be no password managers, no VPNs, and they might not even protect you from all of the online nasties that could infect your machine.
Still, let’s take a closer look at the free options that we would consider worth your time.
Avast Free Mac Security
Compared to the paid-for solution, Avast’s Free Mac Security should still keep you pretty safe and secure online.
You’ll get anti-malware, ransomware, and virus protection, as well as web and email shields which protect you from shady attached files and spoof websites, and the ability to scan your entire home network to spot unsecured devices. However, you won’t get proactive wifi intruder detection or file encryption.
- Covers the basics of online security
- Has some nice extra features
- No proactive wifi intruder detection
Avira Free Antivirus for Mac
Avira’s free option doesn’t include loads of features. Instead, it simply focuses on keeping your Mac free from Malware.
It has a real-time scanner which checks any and all files on your system to pick up threats. The scanner can also be automated to work on a regular basis. Plus, it scans for PC malware to ensure that you’re not sending on compromised files.
And that’s about it – a simple, lightweight, and effective option for free Mac security.
- Offers real-time malware scanning - unusual for free programs
- Straightforward design without unnecessary features
- If you clamour for extra features, you won't find them here
Bitdefender Virus Scanner for Mac
First things first, Bitdefender’s free solution doesn’t give you real-time protection or web filtering – that’s a big miss.
Instead, it offers regular scanning of your system to check whether there are any viruses or malware on your Mac. It’s not as good as other systems in our list, but it is a decent lightweight option if you don’t spend that much time online, or are already pretty savvy when it comes to internet safety.
- Very low impact on performance and storage
- No real-time protection
- No web filtering
Malwarebytes for Mac
Again, Malwarebytes' free solution doesn’t offer real-time protection. Instead, you’ll get super-fast scans – Malwarebytes claims it can completely scan a typical Mac system for all the internet-borne nasties in less than 15 seconds.
What’s more, Malwarebytes' app is tiny. The company claims it’s the size of three digital music files, though it doesn’t state exactly how big that is.
- Can scan an entire system remarkably quickly
- Doesn't take up too much room on you disc
- No real-time protection
Sophos Home for Mac
While Malwarebytes and Bitdefender offer the bare minimum in their free versions, Sophos offers a more complete option to entice users in.
For example, it offers real-time protection, as well as on-demand system scanning. It will also block access to dangerous sites, and even gives you parental controls to keep your kids safe.
You can even cover three Mac or Windows devices with a single account, as well as managing them from a central web console.
So, what’s the catch? Erm, none. It’s a very good free system.
- Offers proper real-time scanning for free
- Covers three devices for free
- Offers parental controls and site-blocking
- None, really
Mac Antivirus: What’s the Effect on Performance?
Antivirus software will always slow your machine down. Even if you’re running the latest Mac Pro with a 28-core Intel Xeon chip and 1.5 terabytes of RAM, antivirus software will still impact the speed of your system.
Of course, there’s a big difference between actual speed impacts and perceptible speed impacts. If you have one of the latest Macs or MacBooks, you’ll barely notice any significant speed drops if you use any of the products on this page.
However, one of the big advantages of Macs is that you can hold onto them for years. So, if you’re using an older model, will you notice a performance drop? Potentially. But, frankly, we’d expect a machine to really be on its last legs before you experience any sizable effects – antivirus software is a lot more resource-efficient than it used to be.
Mac Antivirus: Do I Really Need it?
Oh yes. The days of Macs not getting viruses are long gone – Windows might remain a more popular target for viruses, but Macs are still susceptible.
Concerningly, though, Malwarebyte estimates that the amount of malware on Macs is outpacing PCs for the first time ever.
In fact, there was a 400% increase in threats on Mac devices from 2018 to 2019.
Now, to be clear, Windows devices are still more prone to traditional malware – but Macs have big problems when it comes to adware, and what Malwarebytes calls “potentially unwanted programs.”
Adware normally redirects users to sites with ads or pop-ups in front of their intended destination. This isn’t necessarily dangerous, but it can be very, very annoying, and some track your activity – making it a privacy issue.
Unwanted programs, on the other hand, are typically downloaded along with software that you actually want.
You’d be forgiven for thinking, of course, that Malwarebytes has a vested interest in telling users that threats are growing and they should download an antivirus program – preferably its own offering – to fix it. But security researchers take their work incredibly seriously, and this is not a simple marketing exercise to fudge the numbers and make the situation look worse than it is.
So, in short, yes you should get some protection for your Mac. It might not be as susceptible to threats as a Windows PC, but the threat exists, and is growing larger.
Of course, whether the new Macs and MacBooks with the Apple's which use Apple's own M1 chips, rather than Intel processors, will be as susceptible remains to be seen.
How Does Antivirus Software for Mac Work?
Almost all leading antivirus providers now use a cloud-based system to detect threats that might appear on your machine.
However, this is a relatively new phenomenon. Back in the day, companies would release annual versions of their software, which would claim to protect you from any threats that might be lurking in email attachments or dodgy downloads from Limewire or Napster (ask your parents if you don’t know what these are).
Nowadays, antivirus software works by looking at what’s going on with your Mac and comparing it with a huge cloud-based database of previous interactions from users all over the world. If the software detects a usage pattern that has been suspicious in the past, it will block whatever the software is currently doing on your machine.
This means that the systems are constantly becoming smarter and more aware of the threats that can infect your Mac.
Of course, you might be wondering where antivirus companies get all of the information on previous threats to protect your machine – and, well, it’s from users like you.
That’s right – antivirus companies are studying the software that is running in the background of your machine to check for viruses and malware. Now, while this might sound like these companies are spying on you, they’re not – it’s no different, in fact, to the way that Apple itself can study app crashes to improve performance.
What’s more, all this data is completely anonymized, meaning that no single interaction – or, indeed, a whole slew of interactions – can be traced to you.
While this sort of data gathering can sound scary, you can rest assured that, as long as you’re using a well-respected and trusted AV provider, your usage data is not only safe, but also being used for good.
What to Look for in Antivirus Software
The first thing you want to check for when looking for antivirus software is real-time protection. All of the paid-for services we’ve listed include real-time scanning, which proactively keeps you safe when you’re online – not all free solutions can say the same.
The second thing we’d recommend looking at is the number of devices that you can protect with a single package. Not all providers will cover multiple devices, but some will – such as Avast, our top choice. This means you can save a small fortune by protecting multiple devices at once.
Another thing to consider is the effectiveness of each program. While there often isn’t much to choose between the leading providers, it’s always worth taking a look at a site such as AV Test, which independently scrutinises the major players in antivirus protection.
So, if you find a provider that includes real-time scanning, at a price you can afford, and which effectively prevents viruses and malware, go for it.
There are providers that will roll-in extras such as VPNs, password managers, or webcam protection, but none of these solutions will be as effective as leading VPNs or password managers.
But, if you’re downloading a shady free system from a no-name developer, we’d be concerned.
For a start, there are far more Windows computers out there in the world to infect. This makes it a much larger market for potential hackers to target.
MacOS is also built differently to Windows. Macs are built with stronger permissions to prevent unauthorized software from running – this doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just harder for a hacker to code.
And that’s really it! Macs are just a less enticing target for hackers – it’s far more effort on their end to create a virus for a Mac.
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