What's the best Mac antivirus you can buy?
If you're wondering which antivirus software you should choose for your Mac, or even whether you need antivirus at all, you've come to the right place. In this article we outline the best Mac security software.
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 least.
Across 2018, there were 14 new instances of Mac malware, with some finding new and innovative ways to infect their targets.
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. Macs are not unhackable, but they are more difficult to exploit than Windows PCs.
The second reason is that, right now, there are fewer Macs than there are Windows PCs. Fewer targets, which are harder to hack. Is it any wonder that cybercriminals focus on the Windows world?
However, Macs are not entirely safe, and as they grow in popularity and cybercriminals become smarter and greedier, the risk is increasing. As a result, cyber security is more important than ever, and a good antivirus is the best place to start if you want to stay safe.
This is just one of several in-depth articles we have on the subject. More general advice can be found in our Mac security tips; and those who have been hit by a malware attack should try how to remove a virus from a Mac.
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 on the disk, 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 Microsoft Windows computers), 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 antimalware 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 disk 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.
Best antivirus for Mac reviews
Was: $69.99 - $129.99
Now: $49.99 - $89.99 (30% off)
Airo provides complete virus and malware protection for Mac by fitting powerful antivirus technology into an elegant, all-in-one security software. Airo combines real-time threat detection and cutting-edge AI technology, creating the most secure and reliable environment for Mac.
- Reviewed on: 3 July 19
Intego's Mac Internet Security X9 is our pick of the bunch, making it the best antivirus for Mac 2019.
There's a lot to recommend: it's the fastest antimalware app we've reviews, the clean-up rate was impressing, and although it's more expensive than some offerings, you get a brilliant firewall app as part of the bundle.
This is enough to justify the price as far as we're concerned, but the very budget concious who need only malware protection might look at other apps we've reviewed, such as Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac.
In AV-Test's latest report, Intego scored top marks for protection and usability, but did suffer in performance tests suggesting you may see some slowdown of your machine, but we didn't notice this during our testing other than during a full scan, which was very quick to complete.
Intego Mac Internet Security X9 costs £39.99/USD$49.99 for one Mac for a year, and there is a free trial available should you wish to try before you buy.
Read our Intego Mac Internet Security X9 review.
- Reviewed on: 3 July 19
Despite a few small irritations, 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 £29.99/USD$34.99 for the first year, but the standard cost is £39.99/$59.99 for subsequent years. (There are lower per-year costs if you commit to a two- or three-year subscription.)
However, we've awarded it 4.5 our of 5 rather than the top score because of its adware component, which is simply unacceptable. We would've given it top placement in our group test otherwise.
AV-Test's latest test 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), so if the adware isn't a problem for you this is a great choice.
Read our Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac review.
- Reviewed on: 10 July 19
Norton 360 is the newest security product from Symantec, offering more than just antivirus. In addition, you'll get a VPN, firewall, clean-up tools and more all within the one subscription price of £34.99/$49.99 for the first year, with the caveat being that's just for one Mac or PC.
You can increase the number of devices by opting to upgrade from 360 Standard to Deluxe or Premium for five or ten devices respectively, but of course that'll cost you extra.
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 through at it, though.
Annoyingly, the Mac version misses out on some features inlcuding webcam protection and parental control, which PC users get for the same price.
Read our Norton 360 Standard for Mac review.
- Reviewed on: 3 July 19
While the long full scan times are simply unacceptable, there’s a lot to recommend 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 £30/USD$30, after which it'll go up to £50/$60 per year unless you opt for a two year license from the get-go at £60/$60. This is good value for what you get, and lets you protect up to 10 Macs and PCs. You can sign up here.
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 just don’t get some of the other tools, like ransomware protection.
To our knowledge, Sophos is the only firm offering a free antimalware app for macOS that includes always-on protection. Other free antimalware apps merely let you scan your system on-demand.
Read our Sophos Home Premium for Mac review.
- Reviewed on: 11 July 19
The virus clean-up and detection rate of ESET Cyber Security 2019 is very good, although the scanning speed is sadly on the slow side and the lack of add-on features, such as ransomware protection, is a little disappointing.
However, 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 and for one year. If you'd like to try before you buy, a 30-day trial is available too. Buy ESET or get the free trial here.
If you're based in the US, you'll find the same software available for $39.99 here.
Read our ESET Cyber Security for Mac review.
- Reviewed on: 12 July 19
Airo is a relatively new company that specialises solely in Mac malware protection. As such it claims to be offer of 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, but a full scan is slow and there were some strange results. However, it did deliver a 100% clean-up rate when we unleashed our malware on it.
Its missing some extra features like firewall and ransomware protection, though.
Airo costs £47.99/USD$49.99 for the first year. This is for just one Mac. The RRP is £67.19/$69.99 for subsequent years, but you can save by committing to those when you purchase for the first time. 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.
However, the odd results when performing a full disk scan, in which only a fraction of the total number of files were reported as being scanned, is a little concerning. This might simply be a bug in the way the scanner counts files, but surely that can’t be any kind of excuse.
Add in the higher retail price of this app and, sadly, we’ve got to come to the conclusion that it’s hard to recommend. It did manage a great score in AV-Test's June Mac report, though.
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.
- 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, however, there’s no getting away from the weaknesses of that malware detection - both when scanning the system, and the always-on protection. The fact that several malware samples were missed is hard to forgive.
That said, it scored well in AV-Test's June Mac report, with top marks for protection and usability and just under perfect for performance.
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.