Internet-based threats come in many forms these days and things will only get worse, not better. While viruses are still a very real problem, there are other types of attack which a Mac security suite can help to protect you from.
While we all think of antivirus software as something that stops malicious programs being downloaded and run, a modern security app does a lot more than that. It can warn you of dodgy email attachments, sketchy websites and some of the options here will protect other devices you use, since you probably don't use a single Mac exclusively.
But as to the question of which antivirus software you should choose for your Mac, our current top pick is Intego Mac Internet Security, closely followed by Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac. However, you will find six other recommendations below as well which may suit you better depending upon the type and number of devices that need protection.
Do Macs need antivirus?
Plenty of Mac aficionados will tell you that Apple computers are inherently secure and don't require protection. We'd argue that they are wrong - or overconfident, at the very least.
Although Mac threats decreased by 38% in 2020, they had previously increased by 400 percent in 2019 (according a report from Malwarebytes). The bad guys, then, are still targeting Mac users and they're getting smarter and greedier. As a result, cyber security is something you can't afford to ignore, and good antivirus is a very good place to start if you want to stay safe.
Macs are generally more secure than their Windows brethren for two reasons. On the technical side, macOS is a Unix-based operating system. As a Unix-based operating system macOS is sandboxed.
Sandboxing is like having a series of fire doors: even if malware gains access to your Mac, it is unable to spread to other areas of the machine. They are more difficult to exploit than Windows PCs, but Macs are not unhackable.
Best antivirus for Mac reviews
- Reviewed on: 15 March 21
Intego’s Mac Internet Security X9 suite is a pair of utilities designed to help you keep your Mac safe and running smoothly. These are VirusBarrier and NetBarrier, which catch and kill malware threats plus spot potential intrusion attempts from outside as well as outgoing attempts from rogue software.
The Mac Premium Bundle X9 adds three more sets of capabilities to these: the backup prowess of Personal Backup (a good ‘belt’ addition to your Time Machine ‘braces’), the useful cleaning, tidying and general speed optimising tricks of Mac Washing Machine, and finally the multi-user safe surfing intelligence of ContentBarrier.
Sure, that last one is not something everyone needs, but it’s great for parents. Whichever one of these software suites you choose, you can be sure they offer some of the best protection available for your Mac.
Read our Intego Mac Internet Security X9 review.
- Reviewed on: 3 July 19
There's a whole lot to like about Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac. It's hard to argue with a 100% clean-up rate and some truly useful features at a great price.
At time of writing, it can be had for half price, which is £19.99/$29.99/AU$34.99 for the first year, but the standard cost is £39.99/$59.99/AU$69.99 for subsequent years. This covers three Macs, but if you only have one, prices are even lower.
If you're in Australia, buy Bitdefender here.
AV-Test's latest report gave it top marks for protection, performance and usability, and it really does do a good job at all of those things (although isn't quite as speedy at scanning as Intego Mac Security).
As long as you're not averse to being shown special offers when it's time to renew, it's a great choice.
Read our Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac review.
- Reviewed on: 10 July 19
Norton 360 is so named because it offers a lot more than just antivirus. It also comprises a VPN, firewall, password manager and clean-up tools within the one subscription price of £24.99/$34.99/AU$79.99 for the first year.
If you have more Macs (or a mix of Macs and PCs) to protect, the Deluxe version covers five devices for only £5/$5/AU$10 more.
The first full scan was speedy, but any further scans take the same amount of time, so Norton doesn't seem to include the functionality some other antivirus packages we've tested have that knows which files haven't changed, in order to speed things up. It managed to clean up all of the viruses we threw at it, though.
It also achieved perfect scores in the latest AV-Test report.
Unfortunately, the Mac version misses out on some features including webcam protection, cloud storage and parental control, which are all exclusive to Windows.
Read our Norton 360 Standard for Mac review.
- Reviewed on: 17 July 19
Add-on tools such as parental controls, a VPN and webcam protection add a lot of real value to Kaspersky Internet Security, and it also scored top marks in all three areas of protection, usability and performance in AV-Test's latest report.
Kaspersky Internet Security is £34.99/$34.99 per year for one device, and available to buy here. This contains additional features like privacy and online payment protection, and if you want just the virus scanning then Kaspersky Anti-Virus is available for £24.99/$24.99 per year.
- Reviewed on: 11 July 19
The virus clean-up and detection rate of ESET Cyber Security is very good, although the scanning speed is on the slow side.
ESET has also addressed the previous lack of features, adding ransomware protection, which is great to see.
There’s ultimately an elegant simplicity to ESET Cyber Security that we like and we therefore can’t help but recommend you at least include it on your shortlist
You can get ESET Cyber Security for £29.99 for one device for one year. Of course, you can choose to protect more than one Mac by adjusting the number of devices (and the length of the subscription) at the checkout. The cost per device is then considerably less.
Read our ESET Cyber Security for Mac review.
- Reviewed on: 3 July 19
Despite the long full-scan times, there’s a lot about Sophos Home Premium to make up for it. It’s definitely worth a look - and considering you can start with the free version and upgrade to the paid version later, what have you to lose?
At time of writing, a year’s subscription to Sophos Home Premium is £37.50/USD$45, after which it'll go up to £50/$60 per year. This is good value for what you get, and lets you protect up to 10 Macs and PCs. Plus, if you commit for three years the discount goes up from 25% to 45%.
But the best news is that if you merely want antimalware protection - including realtime protection - then Sophos Home Free is all you need. You get the same cloud-based remote management for up to three Macs or PCs as with the paid-for product.
You simply don’t get some of the other tools, like ransomware protection.
To our knowledge, Sophos is the only firm offering free antivirus for macOS that includes always-on protection. Other free apps merely let you scan your system on-demand.
Read our Sophos Home Premium for Mac review.
- Reviewed on: 7 February 20
Airo is a new name in Mac malware protection and focuses on macOS solely. As such it claims to offer the best-looking Mac antimalware apps around, and the folks behind it say it also utilises AI in the form of machine learning to stay ahead of new threats.
It has a pleasant, polished feel, and malware detection is good.
Its missing some extra features like firewall, ransomware and phishing protection, though.
Airo has opted for a VPN-style billing method, so subscribing for two years will give you the biggest discount, of 69%.
It means you'll pay £74.99/$74.99 upfront for 24 months' protection for one Mac. You can sign up here.
Read our Airo Antivirus for Mac review.
- Reviewed on: 17 July 19
A well-known name in the computer security industry, there's no denying Trend Micro's clean-up rate of 100% is impressive. The additional features such as ransomware protection are also very welcome.
When we reviewed it we saw some odd results in terms of the number of files it showed as being scanned, but in the latest AV-Test report, Antivirus for Mac scored full marks for protection as well as performance and usability.
UK Mac users can buy Trend Micro antivirus for Mac for £29.97 here (discounted from £49.95 at time of writing).
Read our Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac review.
How to choose Mac antivirus
Features fundamental to all packages are two ways to find viruses: on-demand protection and via always-on protection. The former finds viruses by examining one file after another during scheduled scans, or when you choose to undertake a scan, perhaps because you’re worried your Mac might be infected. The speed at which the antivirus app can do this is important, because some take a long time and also hog the Mac’s CPU while they do so. Waiting six hours to find out if your Mac is infected is neither convenient nor relaxing.
Always-on malware protection is what protects the user outside of the times when scans are run. If some malware arrives, perhaps via an email or a downloaded file, then the always-on protection should be able to detect it and either quarantine it (copy it to a safe folder so the user can decide what to do with it), or simply delete it. Usually a notification is shown when malware is detected in this way, but not all antimalware apps show the same amount of explanation of what’s happened - and this was one of the factors we examined in our testing.
Outside of direct malware detection, many security suites include additional tools such as ransomware protection. Ransomware is a new kind of malware that, once it’s infected a computer, encrypts all the user’s files and then demands a fee to decrypt them. To protect against this infection, anti-ransomware features typically block any app from writing to a user’s home folders, such as Documents or Photos, unless the app’s preapproved (a process called whitelisting). Lots of apps come already preapproved, of course, such as Microsoft Word, or Apple’s own Photos app. But you can add others.
Several products also include virtual private network (VPN) add-ons. These protect an internet connection by encrypting it, and this is useful when utilising unsafe open WiFi such as that provided by a café or hotel. In our experience, these are not replacements for separate paid-for VPN services as many do not unblock video streaming services and some are cut-down versions which constantly nag you to pay extra for the full, premium versions.
Web protection via browser plugins or extensions is also popular and aims to stop the user (or their children) doing anything they regret online, such as visiting dodgy websites or handing over personal information.
There are usually different options from each vendor, and you get more extras with the top packages. They might include password managers, parental controls, cloud storage - the list goes on. Generally, the underlying antimalware engine is the same in all products from the same company, so you can save money if you don't need those additional features.
And price was an obvious factor in our test. All the antivirus apps are sold as yearly subscriptions. That’s right, you can’t just pay once and use forever. Often there’s a hefty discount for that first year’s subscription, but this can burn you when automatic renewal occurs a year later and the full retail price is charged: often 100% more. Alternatively, you can purchase several years’ subscriptions at once, receiving a discount.
Many subscriptions allow you to install the software on more than one computer (including Windows and Android devices), which can sometimes add significantly to the value - all computers, phones and tablets within a household can be protected with one subscription.
How we tested
For various reasons, quantitively testing antimalware apps is difficult to the point of near-impossible, and for this reason the results of our testing are intended to be indicative rather than definitive.
For example, we ran a full scan using each app and our goal was to determine relative speed and CPU loads. One app scanned the system in 30 minutes, while another took six hours. Your own scans might be quicker than this, or take longer. However, it’s clear that the former antimalware app has a faster scanning engine compared to the latter.
This is the kind of difference we hoped to identify.
The full scans were run on a MacBook Pro running macOS Mojave with an i7 2.8GHz CPU, 16GB of RAM and 512GB flash-storage based disk, around 400GB of which was occupied. This Mac effectively has eight CPU cores—four actual cores, and four hyperthreaded virtual cores. This Mac is used daily for tasks such as email, web browsing, watching movies, listening to music, and more. As such, it’s very much a typical system.
In order to test always-on malware protection for each app, we downloaded 26 malware samples from a Mac security site representing most malware targeting the Mac from 2018 until the first quarter of this year. Because placing these onto a "live" system represents an obvious security risk, we unleashed them within a virtualised Mac running on VMware Fusion, with macOS Mojave installed. This VM was assigned four CPU cores, plus 8GB of RAM, so represents an average Mac system.
Notably, we did not actively infect the system with this malware. This is generally impossible because of Apple’s Xprotect technology that’s built into macOS that blocks the majority (if not all) malware for the Mac.
Instead we simply placed the malware sample files on the hard drive by extracting them from password-protected archives. This was enough for most malware apps to respond and either quarantine or delete the malware files, and was enough to test the extent of each app’s malware database.
If an app didn’t catch a particular malware sample, we checked the VirusTotal database for more information. VirusTotal is an open project intended to act as a freely-accessible information repository covering most malware and antimalware apps.
Our goal was to find if the antimalware app claimed to defend against any malware that it ignored. We found that in most cases it did indeed claim to do so.
So, what’s going on? Perhaps it’s this: we tested the Mac version of an antimalware app, and there are likely to be Microsoft Windows, Linux and even Android versions of that app. The Mac version might have a weakness in that it can’t spot that malware, even though it should.
Alternatively, it might be an issue with our particular sample of that malware - although we note that some antimalware apps we reviewed got a 100% detection and clean-up score, so claiming it’s “the wrong type of malware” is perhaps a weak excuse.