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. However, you will find seven other recommendations below as well which may suit you better depending upon the type and number of devices that need protection - and also how much you want to pay.
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.
Not long ago, the Silver Sparrow malware was detected on Macs powered by the latest M1 processor and infected hundreds of thousands of Macs in total. The bad guys, then, are still very much 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: 25 March 21
Total Protection from McAfee is a dedicated software security tool that will monitor your Mac as you work, looking for unauthorised software activity such as browser search engine hacks, attempts to trick you into installing unwanted software, and actual malware and virus attacks.
It is very simple to use; once you’ve walked through the guided steps for giving it permission to work behind the scenes it is essentially something you can just leave to get on with its job.
Total Protection also offers WebAdvisor as an option, steering you from known problem sites and warning you when you visit questionable ones. It also offers a software firewall for two-way network traffic monitoring.
We noted some occasional performance impacts as it ran in the background, but it was largely unobtrusive in its efforts. The option of protecting other devices is useful as well, covering smartphones and Windows PCs as you require.
It’s worth noting that the Windows version in particular offers more features, such as a native VPN, which you don’t get in the Mac app.
Read our McAfee Total Protection 2021 review.
- Reviewed on: 24 March 21
Norton 360 Deluxe is a security utility that performs a range of different monitoring and safeguarding operations to keep your Mac free from threats such as browser hacks and search engine hijack scripts to intrusion attempts and actual malware.
It focuses on catching unwanted software, but it also offers some useful additional features including a VPN for securing personal data while online, and a tool for managing passwords, bank card details and similar data.
There are three different versions, two of which can also be used to secure your iPhone as well as Android smartphones and Windows PCs, should you require that. In tests it proved to have little to no detectable impact on performance, and it spotted all the challenges in our test macOS setup.
Note that the Cloud Backup feature doesn’t work on macOS, but that is more of an extra rather than a vital part of the package.
Read our Norton 360 Deluxe review.
- Reviewed on: 7 June 21
Bitdefender Total Security is a very effective tool for keeping your Mac safe, and it will also protect Windows PC, an iOS and Android devices. The bundled VPN is very basic and gives you only 200MB of data per day, but the rest of the suite of tools is effective and easy to manage.
But when you compare what the Mac version offers compared to the Windows version, you'll feel quite hard done by. There's no password manager, no social network protection, no webcam or microphone protection, no Wi-Fi security advisor and plenty of other features that Windows users get for the same price.
Bitdefender is also lagging behind its rivals with no identity protection. If your goal is simply to keep your Mac protected from malware, then Bitdefender does a great job. But you can find better value elsewhere.
Read our Bitdefender Total Security 2021 review.
- Reviewed on: 29 April 21
Eset Cyber Security Pro is a useful security tool that protects your Mac – and your Windows PC, Linux box and even Android phones, although not your iPhone – against unauthorised software behaviour, network intrusions, search engine hijack scripts and worse.
It stands out from its competition through its comprehensive range of preferences controls that can fine-tune many aspects of its behaviour, and its relatively low price.
It isn’t the most unobtrusive in terms of background performance impact, although most of the time this was minor enough to be not really noticeable.
As well as real-time and on-demand monitoring it also provides a useful firewall, dedicated tools for spotting web-based threats including spyware, and protection against phishing attempts to trick users into divulging private data. It also offers parental controls with three user categories and detailed control over what kinds of sites each user is allowed to visit.
Read our Eset Cyber Security Pro review.
- Reviewed on: 9 April 21
Avira Prime is a security utility designed to keep your Mac safe from ‘potentially unwanted programs,’ which covers everything from simple scripts designed to compromise and redirect your browser searches through to actual malware.
A single large window presents the various features, from scans to app management and cleanup, although a couple of its features use a separate panel for a web-based console. In our tests it detected all our compromised files and installers.
It doesn’t look inside zip archives or disk images, but it pounces as soon as items are extracted from these.
Most importantly, even while Avira Prime is actively scanning for trouble it has such a small impact on the general performance of our Mac that we wouldn’t notice it without comparing timings. You can get the basics of the security features with Avira Free Security but Prime's annual subscription provides useful additional capabilities, if you can stomach the high cost.
Read our Avira Prime review.
- Reviewed on: 29 April 21
MacKeeper 5 is the reborn version of a security utility that has been around for many years. The reputation of previous versions seems just old news now; it’s now a useful and comprehensive tool for keeping your Mac secure and optimised as you work, play and use the internet.
The range of tools it offers in addition to watching for unwelcome software is wide ranging. There’s a memory optimiser, an update tracker to spot outdated applications, a smart uninstaller to clean up after other software and a VPN feature for secure browsing.
There’s even identify protection which monitors password databases to catch possible ID theft efforts. While we noted occasional performance impacts from its real-time antivirus monitoring, it wasn’t something that happened all the time.
Ultimately we liked MacKeeper’s easy and helpful interface, which makes what could be a daunting task quite approachable.
Read our MacKeeper 5 review.
- Reviewed on: 19 April 21
F-Secure Total is a simple-to-use security software suite that works on macOS, iOS, Windows and Android devices and protects your data from a wide range of threats. These range from the fairly common simple browser hacks and search engine hijack attempts through to the more rare but also more risky actual malware and ransomware attacks.
It performs these jobs well, although the real-time scanning behaviour – important in this kind of tool – did have some impact on the overall performance of our test Mac.
The price is high, though, its passwords management feature doesn’t directly support Safari and we noticed some interface quirks as we used it. If you want a solid and capable security utility this does fit the bill, but at the same time it’s not as convincing an option as some of its competitors.
Read our F-Secure Total 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 type 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 a common component and aims to stop you (or your children) doing anything you regret online, such as visiting fake or infected websites or handing over personal information.
There are usually different options from each vendor, and you get more extras with the top packages, and far fewer with free ones. 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.
Do bear in mind that all 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 for a bigger 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.