By now, you should know that Macs need antivirus software, but which one should you choose? There are lots of Mac-specific security apps, and it can be difficult to tell them apart, so we’ve done the research for you. These nine security suites will help you stay free of viruses, trojans, and all other sorts of malware.
Of course, to make sure you’re really secure, you should also disable Java, know which sites are likely to infect you with malware, beware of malicious browser extensions, and take the other standard precautions.
Consistently rated as one of the top antivirus options for Mac, BitDefender has a solid reputation for both malware detection and system performance. In 2015, it detected 100% of threats tested by AV-Test, and 99% of those tested by AV Comparatives (though AV Comparatives notes that the definitions were quickly updated). It even detected 100% of Windows-based threats.
In AV-Test’s system performance test, BitDefender was only 12% slower than a Mac with no antivirus software in copying over 26GB of data, calculating MD5 check sums, and downloading test files, making it one of the fastest options out there. The exemplary malware detection combined, low system load, and adware removal earn BitDefender the #1 spot on the list. Of course, you can’t get this level of performance for free: BitDefender will cost $40 per year for a single Mac, and $60 annually for up to three Macs.
Although Symantec’s home security solution for Mac was only assessed by one of the testing organizations (AV-Test), its results were so impressive that it gets the #2 spot on this list. It detected 100% of the presented threats, and Norton is so confident in their product that if you get a virus that Norton techs can’t remove, they’ll give you a full refund.
Norton’s impact on system speed was exactly the same as BitDefender in AV-Test’s comparison, tying it for the #1 spot in effective antivirus packages (there were two pieces of software that were faster, but they detected fewer threats in the test). As with BitDefender, this performance will cost you: you’ll pay $40 for the first year, and $60 after that for a single computer.
With 100% detection rates across the board, including Windows-based threats, Kaspersky will definitely keep your computer safe. The software also includes Kaspersky’s “Safe Money” features, which are meant to help improve your security while you’re shopping online or using online banking features. In addition to all of these protections, it also has parental controls for keeping kids out of the darker parts of the web where they shouldn’t be, something neither BitDefender nor Symantec offers.
This software does have more of an impact on your system performance, though. It was 53% slower than reference on the AV-Test comparison, which is a very large margin. Tom’s Guide also performed a speed test, and while the slowdown wasn’t quite as drastic, it did have an effect. Its quick scan put more of a burden on the system than Avira’s, but its full scan was less resource-intensive, which is why it gets the third spot in the list. The price isn’t bad, either: $30 for a year on a single computer, then $40 per year thereafter.
100% detection rates on both AV-Test and AV Comparatives’ tests as well as a relatively low system-resource footprint earns Avast the highest rating of the free antivirus options for Mac. Its great ability to detect malware on your Mac is in part due to the fact that 230 million users worldwide provide data on threats, helping Avast react and update to new threats very quickly.
While the system performance report on AV-Test is difficult to interpret, as Avast was scanning during the download phase while other software was not, the other system performance results are encouraging. Tom’s Guide showed slower performance during background operation than Avira, but faster operation during a full scan. If you’re particularly concerned about speed, and are looking for a free solution, it’s probably best to install Avira and Avast in turn, and run a speed test for both.
Another popular free antivirus app for Mac, Avira caught 99% of Mac threats and 100% of Windows threats in the AV Comparatives test, as well as 100% of tested threats in the AV-Test comparison. If the counter on Avira’s website is to be believed, there are over over 450,000,000 installs of Avira around the world, regularly providing insights into new threats.
Speed tests for Avira generally place it in the same ballpark as Avast, though it still shows a 42% slowdown in the copying/checking/downloading test from AV-Test. Its background-run speed test from Tom’s Guide was tied for the least system-resource-intensive with Kaspersky, and its quick scan had the best time of all the software tested. Its full scan, however, was quite resource-intensive; it had the largest effect of any software tested. Again, if you’re trying to decide between Avast and Avira, you may want to test for yourself.
Although there’s disagreement about where Sophos should be placed in the lineup of the best Mac antivirus software, there’s little disagreement that it works well: both AV-Test and AV Comparatives showed 100% detection ratings (Tom’s Guide discovered lower detection rates, but because the other two groups are industry leaders, their findings have figured more strongly in this ranking).
System resource usage is less clear. Tom’s Guide showed it as fast, but not blazing fast, and AV-Test found a 21% slowdown in their test tasks. Sophos has a bit of a reputation for slowing down Macs, but it’s quite possible that these issues have been resolved. Issues with speed may be more evident on older Macs, too. As with Avast and Avira, if you’re concerned about speed, you may want to test it out for yourself (personally, I didn’t notice much of a slowdown when I used it).
AVG scored a perfect 100% on both the Mac- and Windows-based threat detection tests from AV Comparatives, though it wasn’t tested by AV-Test. Despite only being tested by one group, AVG’s detection rates are so good—especially for a free antivirus app—that it gets a spot on the list.
Not being tested by AV-Test, we have no system resource usage results to report here—Tom’s Guide didn’t test AVG, either. However, its very nice-looking and easy-to-use interface does stand out as very useful. If you have any experiences with AVG, please let us know in the comments below!
Full 100% marks in threat detection from AV-Test and AV Comparatives show that ESET is a solid option for protecting your Mac from what’s out there, and the pro version also packs a personal firewall and parental controls, which those with youngsters will appreciate. You also get priority access to the ESET support team for any technical issues you may come across, which is nice.
A 25% slower system test in AV-Test’s comparison makes ESET one of the more—but not the most—resource-intensive security apps out there. Combining that with a cost of $40 for a year, or $60 for two years, means that ESET probably isn’t the best choice for most people (the parental controls on the pro version, though, may be enough to tip the scales in its favor).
The only reason MalwareBytes is so far down the list is because it wasn’t included in any of the tests that we referenced for the rankings in this article, though it does come recommend by our own Justin Pot (and it’s one of the best Mac apps of 2015). The company does have a good reputation for being secure and effective, and the app itself is very small, leaving more room for the important things on your Mac.
MalwareBytes specializes in adware removal, so if that’s a concern of yours, this may be a good option. According to the website, it completes a scan in under six seconds, which is impressively fast. If you have any experience with MalwareBytes, let us know!
Free Apps Are Great, But Paid Are Better
Most people will probably choose to go with Avast or Avira to protect their Mac, as their high levels of detection, low levels of system load, and $0 price tags are difficult to beat. If you’re looking for maximum system performance, though, BitDefender or Symantec will be your best options. With new types of threats being developed all the time and the explosion of malvertising as an important attack vector, protecting your Mac is crucial. You really can’t go wrong with any of the entries on this list, so pick one and make sure you’re protected!
What do you use to protect your Mac from online threats? Has it been effective? Have you noticed any system slowdowns? Share your experiences below!