Why Use Mac Antivirus Software?
The top performers in our review are Intego Mac Premium Bundle, the Gold Award winner; Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac, the Silver Award winner; and ESET Cybersecurity for Mac, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
The fact that hackers inflict a higher casualty rate on Windows machines than on Macs is no cause for complacency. Macs are squarely in the crosshairs of underworld agents with intentions on your money and identity. Although many Mac users have yet to purchase Mac security software, the savvy ones are buying in to receive extra protection.
Do You Need Internet Security for Mac?
Even though Mac OS X brims with security systems and there are fewer Mac malware samples in the wild than Windows malware, whenever Mac malware is good enough to penetrate, the casualty rate is spectacular. For example a Java-exploit Trojan called Flashback took control of 700,000 Macs in 2012. Apple responded by improving the Mac OS to update Java and erase Flashback malware upon discovery. Apple continues to work with internet service providers worldwide to stifle the Flashback command and control center. Another particularly nasty piece of malware – Mac.BackDoor.iWorm – hijacked 17,000 Macs into a botnet controlled via Reddit in 2014. More recently, in 2015, Russian malware researchers at Dr. Web discovered a new version of a backdoor Trojan for Mac OS X called Mac.BackDoor.OpinionSpy.3. It descends from a sophisticated malware genealogy active since 2010 that keeps spawning variants to wreak more havoc. Yes, you need Mac security against these parasites. For further reading on the topic please see our articles about internet security for Mac.
Internet Security for Mac: What to Look For
There is no perfect security. Any of the Apple security products in our review will reduce – not eliminate – risk. Hackers are organized specialists with high IQs cooperating to outwit you. Fortunately, as a Mac user you have already chosen an operating system more secure than Windows or at least less likely to be attacked. Unfortunately, the Mac OS has achieved such a large user base that it is a worthy target in its own right. Since there is no place to hide, now is the time to improve on the native Mac security if you want to strengthen the odds in your favor. May we offer a few suggestions to orient your research?
Protecting Your Mac from Internet Threats
Rather than rely on opinions from well-meaning acquaintances or anecdotal Amazon reviews, first narrow the list of internet protection for Mac products to those that participate in objective testing by independent software labs such as AV-Comparatives and AV-Test. Unaffiliated with any publishers of malware protection for Mac software, these labs employ competent computer scientists to design and run objective test suites. AV-Comparatives and AV-Test both conducted Mac malware tests in 2014 and made the results public.
Four of the products in our review dominated the AV-Comparatives test, which contained 65 recent samples of Mac malware. Intego Mac Premium Bundle and ESET Cybersecurity recognized every sample. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac detected 98 percent and 97 percent, respectively. Unfortunately, Kromtech MacKeeper, which had achieved 100 percent detection in AV-Comparatives 2012 test, dropped to 80 percent in 2014.
Perhaps a more important Mac malware test to consider is the one by AV-Test, which included more Mac security software products and measured more details. For example its detection test comprised two sections. One tested ability to discover 117 malware samples during on-demand scanning. The other recorded detection rates for virus checkers in background mode while lab technicians copied 84 infected files from one folder to another. Mac malware detection rates for the products in our review ranged from 100 percent to 26.5 percent. Most of the products we reviewed also stop Windows malware that attempts to flow through your Mac on the way to your Windows-using friends. So it would only be courteous for you to pick a product that also does Windows.
The challenge for Mac security software publishers is to combine accuracy with speed. Because these two variables are in an inverse relationship, one might observe that, given enough time, any product would find every menace. AV-Test measured effect on system performance to expose dramatic differences. After establishing a baseline by timing how long it took to copy 7.3GB of data on an unprotected Mac (17.2 seconds), the lab repeated the test after installing internet protection for Mac. For the products in our review, impact on system performance ranged from 17.5 seconds to 470.3 seconds. Both sets of AV-Test scores inform our ranking of Mac security software. However we also consider additional protection features, as well as help and support, to arrive at a more comprehensive assessment of each product.
Mac Internet Security Features to Look For
Antimalware is all well and good, but phishing is an equal threat to security. While malware tricks your computer, phishing tricks you into revealing personal data that leads to identity theft. Therefore Mac security software that combines antimalware with antiphishing is preferable because it keeps track of sites known to phish and alerts you if they show up in search results. Antiphishing is such an important internet security feature, that three-quarters of the Mac security products in our review include it.
Because phishers are essentially con men, there are many ways to fall victim to phishing that security software cannot stop. For example, a charismatic hacker who gleans a few facts about you can often charm a customer service rep into resetting a password. The fact that security software supports antiphishing does not save you from being phished by telephone or text message.
Other essential features present in most Mac security software are antispyware and the ability to scan email and external drives (removable media) for threats. Beyond the essential there are quite a few one-off options that may or may not pertain to your needs. Half of the products include proprietary software firewalls. However there is nothing wrong with the Mac OS firewall and it works just fine with third-party security software. A few products fold parental controls into the Mac software bundle to help parents who haven’t yet implemented parental controls. A few products provide antispam. Two of the products include an automatic backup utility, which you might find convenient if you haven’t already implemented such an important safety measure. One product scans attached iOS devices for threats. Another password protects files.
Only you can decide if you want to pile feature upon feature within a single product. Focus on the products that include antiphishing and can detect malware at a high rate without bogging down your computer. Then, all things being equal, if one product has additional features that coincide with what you want, your search is over, but not before you consider how the publisher intends to support you.
Help & Support Options
All of the internet security products in our internet security for Mac review include free support via email. Most also provide telephone access. More than half support live chat. Almost half include 24/7 access to support technicians, which is probably the best idea for a service as delicate as security. After all, if the support department is closed on a weekend when your Mac suffers a crippling malware attack that makes you miss a school or work deadline, there is no solace in waiting to reach help at 9 a.m. on Monday. Of course on the other hand, if your lifestyle is such that you could just shut down your computer without inconvenience until support opens, then 24/7 access would not be as necessary.
In addition to performance, features, and help and support, we observe the user experience. By definition, each user experience is subjective. Therefore we apply a single rubric: Does the product conform to the generally accepted conventions of Mac software developers? The products we reviewed certainly do. They install and uninstall as expected. Navigation among modules is not bewildering and help is available from within the apps.
Internet Security for Mac: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Our evaluation most values malware detection rates and effect on system performance. Then we consider additional protections, followed by help and support. The process reveals three clear winners that we recommend without reservation. All three are unusually good at malware detection. All three have zero noticeable effect on system performance. Intego has the most complete feature list and is the sole one to combine automatic backup, parental controls and ability to check iOS devices. Bitdefender has the best help and support hours. The price range is $40 to $70, with Intego costing the most and Bitdefender the least.