Mac Antivirus Software Review
Why Use Mac Antivirus Software?
The top performers in our review are Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac, the Gold Award winner; Kaspersky Lab Internet Security for Mac, the Silver Award winner; and Norton Security Standard, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a program to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 antivirus software solutions for Mac.
Mac is well-known for producing secure devices that don't need protection beyond what’s included on its computers and laptops. However, more and more malware creators are targeting Mac users, creating a need for further, third-party protection. Mac virus scanners are designed to work alongside the internet protections included with your computer, offering additional protection rather than an alternative solution. Additionally, Mac internet security programs have more tools than antivirus software alone, including parental controls and internet filters that are useful for both Mac and PC users.
Another good reason to purchase a third-party antivirus solution is that even though Mac devices are immune to many PC viruses, they can still be used as avenues to spread malware to Windows computers through email, USB drives and instant messages. A virus scanning program, especially one designed to work on both Macs and PCs, helps ensure your outgoing messages and files are not infected with anything malicious that could potentially harm your friend's, family's or client's computer.
What We Discovered While Reviewing Mac Antivirus Software
For basic antivirus protection, we specifically looked at whether each program detects and protects against ransomware. Ransomware is a new malware threat that locks your computer so you are unable to access files or programs. The ransomware creator sends a message demanding a fee, or ransom, to allow you access to your computer again. This fee typically ranges from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, and the creator often skips out with the money without giving back access to your computer. F-Secure is one program in our Mac antivirus review that detects and blocks ransomware specifically.
Here are a few other things we looked at while testing the best Mac antivirus software. You can also read several helpful articles on Mac antivirus software for additional information.
To determine the best antivirus for Mac, we turned to industry expert AV-Test, an independent laboratory whose sole focus is testing internet security programs. In December 2016, AV-Test released its most recent findings for Mac antivirus applications. It looked at two important areas: detection and performance. This is similar to the evaluations it uses to test the best antivirus software for Windows.
One program AV-Test looked at that we didn’t include in our lineup of the best Mac virus scanners is AVG. AVG was recently acquired by Avast, which we did include, though both brands will continue to release separate products. AVG recently released a new version of its antivirus software. However, the latest AV-Test testing included an older version. We do have a review of an older version you can read here. We hope to reevaluate AVG antivirus for Mac and consider it again in the future.
To determine how well a product recognizes and blocks Mac viruses, AV-Test exposes its test computer to all known malware threats – over 20,000 different viruses. Of the 12 Mac antivirus protection solutions AV-Test evaluated, only four detected all threats 100 percent of the time. These four programs include Bitdefender, our top-ranking product, and Sophos Home. F-Secure had the lowest detection score of the products we reviewed.
AV-Test conducted a second test on these Mac virus scanners to see how well each detected 7,000 of the most well-known and dangerous Windows malware threats. While it didn’t score the results as it did with the Mac malware detection programs, AV-Test did specify that Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac detected Windows threats with 100 percent accuracy, with Avast Mac Security, ESET Endpoint Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac listed with average scores of 99 percent. The other products on our lineup, though tested in the same way, were not mentioned as part of this elite group, and as such, they didn’t receive as high of a score for Windows malware detection.
AV-Test’s performance test looks at how big of an impact each antivirus program has on a computer’s resources. For this test, it copied, downloaded and shared 27.3GB of files to see how much lag the software created. It used a reference point of a loss of 149 seconds for file copying and 92 seconds for downloading, which combines to a total resource loss of 241 seconds – this is the expected lag time for a standard Mac computer that is not running third-party Mac antivirus software.
Norton Security performed the best in this test, matching the standard file-copying performance loss and slowing the computer by just two seconds when downloading applications. Avast scored the lowest in performance, creating a total lag time of 287 seconds, or nearly five minutes of lag over the reference point. This means that to protect your computer, Avast must use more of your computer's resources than most of the other antivirus software we reviewed.
In addition to detecting viruses, antivirus protection programs made for Macs include additional tools and resources to help you detect and remove threats. For example, while the majority of malware attacks result from accessing corrupt websites, some threats are attached to email messages or transferred through USB. The best antivirus software for Mac computers automatically scans both of these entry points and quickly neutralizes any threats without disrupting your work. While some programs just scan one or the other, ESET checks both emails and USB drives.
If you play games or watch videos on your computer, it’s important to choose a program with a gamer mode. This mode suspends certain functions, such as automatically scheduled scans and pop-up reminders, while you play or watch online. Without this mode, these functions can disconnect you from the program you are using or cause additional lag time. The best Mac antivirus programs detect when you are through playing and resume normal scans and reminder functions. Avast comes with a gamer mode.
Another important consideration is how many licenses are included with your yearly subscription. Some programs give you only one license and allow you to choose a single computer, laptop or mobile device to protect. Others limit you to desktops and laptops, requiring you to purchase an additional or specialty license to protect your phone or tablet. All of the Mac virus scanning programs we reviewed have additional licenses available for an extra cost. We noted the number of licenses you receive at the lowest price point for each solution.
We also looked at whether the software protects against viruses on mobile devices. The majority of the programs we tested require you to purchase a separate application to protect your cell phone or tablet. You can find more information about these solutions on our buying guide of the best mobile security software.
Help & Support
Mac virus scan programs are fairly straightforward to install and use. However, there are times that good tech support is necessary, especially in the event of a new malware threat that may attack your computer. We gave extra credit to companies that have 24/7 telephone support so you can connect with someone for help at any time, night or day. We also looked at whether live chat is available, since this is a quicker and easier way to reach support personnel while you are on your computer. All of the programs we reviewed come with email support, but it often takes a minimum of 24 hours to receive answers to your questions. In addition to standard tech support, Sophos has a community blog and idea forum where users can share their own experiences to help others with similar problems and questions.
Virus Scan Software for Mac: Our Recommendations
Although they are not infected quite as often as Windows PCs, Macs are certainly exposed and vulnerable to malware threats. In the course of our reviews, we looked at the detection and performance rates provided by AV-Test, the included tools, and the availability of tech support.
Bitdefender scored the highest in detection for both Mac and Windows malware. It has all the important features we looked for, including gamer mode, and scans both email and USB ports. It comes with three licenses you can use interchangeably with computers, laptops and mobile devices.
Kaspersky Lab includes ransomware protection, automatically scans both USB devices and incoming emails, and features a gamer mode. It adequately detects both Mac and Windows malware without significantly slowing your device. The program’s single license covers one device, and you need to purchase a higher-priced product to protect mobile devices.
Norton Security scored above average in detection of Mac viruses and doesn’t cause significant lag. Its tech support is always available and highly effective in quickly identifying and resolving your issues. The software comes with a single license you can use for either a computer or mobile device, though you do have the option of purchasing additional licenses.