Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac full review

The last version of Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac was included in our roundup of antivirus apps and, although we thought it contained some neat features, we were a little disappointed by our test results.

In fact, at Bitdefender's request we spoke to its engineers to discuss the matter, and the improvements that have been made since then. We're here to take a look at the 2019 update of the app - and we're happy to report that the company has done a good job of addressing the flaws.

Subscription prices

Before we start, a reminder that Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is sold on a subscription basis. 

There's an offer at the moment that lets you get your first year's subscription for £25.99/$38.99, but the standard cost is £39.99/$59.99. (There are lower per-year costs if you commit to a two- or three-year subscription.)

UK customers can sign up here, and US buyers can sign up here.

Bitdefender virus testing

As with the tests earlier this year, we placed 10 Mac malware samples inside a macOS virtual machine, although this time around macOS Mojave was used throughout. As before, we tested the two ways antivirus apps detect viruses: via an on-demand full disk scan, typically initiated by the user, and the always-on scanner - called Bitdefender Shield - that sits in the background and aims to detect and eradicate any malware as soon as it lands on the disk. This is typically via downloads or emails.

So, let's get straight into those test results. The on-demand scan detected and deleted nine of our malware samples - an improvement over the previous version, which only caught seven.

The one it missed was contained in a DMG disk image and this is evidently a technical limitation with Mac antivirus apps, because none of the antivirus apps we reviewed earlier this year fared any better. So, essentially we can award a 100% cleanup rate here. Pretty good!

We moved on to Bitdefender Shield. This involved extracting the virus samples from their password-protected archives to see what happened. Here Bitdefender near-instantly caught eight of the virus samples, and this time caught the one in the disk image, which it also unmounted as a separate safety precaution.

So sadly two of our virus samples were missed. We again spoke to Bitdefender and, as we suspected, the two malware samples were skipped because they were contained in archive files (a TAR and Java JAR archive respectively).

Although Bitdefender's on-demand scanner looks inside archives, Bitdefender's always-on scanner doesn't. This it because doing so requires a lot of computing power, and therefore would negatively impact the performance of your Mac.

Our opinion is that this makes sense for zip archives, such as those in use every day. If you downloaded a large zip containing Office files then your system could grind to a halt as it was scanned. The user would become annoyed and even remove Bitdefender to avoid it happening again. So yes, not scanning some archive files makes sense.

But all Java apps are distributed as JAR archive files, and this means Bitdefender won't scan any of them until that Java app is actually used. Why not just make Bitdefender Shield avoid scanning the more commonly used zip files, as in the current setup, but scan the rest like JAR or TAR files?

Ultimately it's a moot point, we guess, because hardly anybody runs Java apps nowadays. And as soon as anybody extracts the contents of any archive - be it a Java app or a zip full of office files - all malware contents will be caught by Bitdefender Shield anyway.

Bitdefender's interface

Looking at the rest of the app, there's a handsome user interface although most of the time all you'll see of Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is a menu bar icon that indicates it's protecting your system.

Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac review: Scan logs

We wish the app provided easier access to scan logs, however, because at the moment you must open the app's main interface, then view its Preferences dialog box, and then click the History tab. A button right there on the main user interface would be much more intuitive, especially considering the poor-quality and less-than-informative notification that appears when malware is detected.

Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac review: Notification

There's also a menu bar icon for the VPN component that's included out of the box too. This is a cutdown version of the Bitdefender Premium VPN product and, sadly, is useless because it's limited to just 200MB of traffic each day.

That might be enough for a little light browsing in a café but the average size of a web page nowadays is 3MB. You're only going to get through 60 or 70 web pages before the VPN waves bye-bye and you see a demand for payment. (Here's our guide to Mac VPNs that are worth a try.)

And while we're on the subject of sneaky marketing, we were a little miffed to find an option in the Preferences dialog box to control whether "special offer" messages are shown to the user. This was turned on by default, and you can turn it off, but ads really shouldn't be present in any software you're handing over cash to use.

Bitdefender's feature list

Still, there are some nice features elsewhere. Included with Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is SafeFiles, which aims to protect against ransomware by blocking access to your personal files for apps that aren't authorised. Most popular apps come preauthorised, so this is a nice little tool that requires minimal setup and shouldn't get in the way subsequently.

There's also a TrafficLight extension for Safari, which you can download now for free even without purchasing Bitdefender. This blocks trackers and indicates if you're at risk of things like phishing attempts. Safari already has some built-in protection for these issues, but this is a nice additional level of protection.

The Bitdefender Central online dashboard, accessed via a browser, lets you see the security status of computers on which you've installed Bitdefender. This is very useful for administering a family's computers, for example.

But mostly, despite packing in some terrific features, Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac keeps things simple in its user interface and the way it's used. After some initial steps of enabling full disk access - an annoyance introduced by Mojave's new security features - you really can install Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and then forget about it. This ultimately is what most of us need from antimalware apps.

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