Macs may be a far less tempting target for malware and viruses, but they’re not immune from attack. Even if you don’t care about adware or being used as means to infect users on other platforms, it’s still possible to fall victim to ransomware, password theft, or stolen iPhone backups.
Accordingly, good antivirus for Mac software will protect your Mac on all of these fronts. It’ll catch malware that’s still spreading or in circulation; block ransomware; protect older systems with out-of-date software from security vulnerabilities; prevent your Mac from acting as a carrier for malware aimed at other operating systems; and keep infected files off of any virtual machines you’re running.
As to the question of which Mac antivirus software you should choose, our current top pick is Intego Mac Internet Security. However, you will find several other recommendations below that may suit you better, depending upon the type and number of devices that need protection and also how much you want to pay.
Our top contenders in our best Mac antivirus round up dominate by posting perfect (or virtually near perfect) scores from security research labs, passing our own malware detection tests with flying colors, offering well-designed interfaces, and even throwing in extra features like a firewall or password manager.
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 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 Mac 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.
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.
McAfee Total Protection 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.
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.
Avast Premium Security for Mac does its job well overall. There are a few niggles such as the unwanted upselling for Cleanup Premium and the fact that the File Shield monitoring slows down file copy times a bit.
Otherwise, it’s a well-featured suite which will protect from all sorts of nasties including watching for browser script hacks, potential ransomware and other remote attack activity. It will, of course, also scan for potentially unwanted programs and actual malware threats, whether on your Mac or your removable media or in email attachments.
Custom scheduled scans can be set up, although the automatic background monitoring teamed with occasional specific manual scans is likely to be enough for most requirements. Wi-Fi network monitoring for vulnerabilities is another feature this software offers, and the Real Site option watches for fake sites pretending to be legitimate shopping or banking sites, a serious risk that goes beyond just watching for unwanted files on your own Mac. It is very effective at all these things, although we found that customising its behaviour can be a little fiddly.
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.
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.
Trend Micro Antivirus is a good program with well rated antivirus protection, and a simple, straightforward interface that users will appreciate.
Anyone looking for additional features will be disappointed with this suite, but it offers good protection at a fair price.
In March 2022 AV-Test gave Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac a 99 percent protection score against 200 samples.
Our own spot checks produced similarly good results. Lining up against the Objective See malware library Trend Micro had no trouble detecting most threats. However in a few cases it didn’t detect all the malware contained in a folder until a scan had been run.
Trend Micro is an excellent choice for those looking for something that’s simple and easy to use. There are options with better protection, but Trend Micro’s protection is still good and pricing is fair.
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.
Certain tools require separate apps to manage them
$99.99 for five devices, one year (Deal price: $49.99)
The 2022 version of Kaspersky Total Security offers a raft of features, including antivirus and anti-phishing protection, ad blocking and private browsing, webcam spying protection, a VPN, a child locator with parental controls, screen time management, and a password manager.
The main disappointment with Kaspersky Total Security 2022 is the installation process on the Mac – made all the more frustrating by the fact that installing on Windows is quick and easy.
Mac users have to download and install the Internet Security product and then download and install the password manager and Safe Kids tools as separate apps. Kaspersky doesn’t make this clear.
Once installed, the product is robust and effective. Based on 2021 testing for anti-virus products, Kaspersky received top marks for protection, performance, and usability from AV-Test and solid grades from AV Comparatives. The product also was rated the best antivirus software for 2022 from Security.org.
Total Security offers access four key features: scanning, updating, privacy, and Safe Kids. To hunt down malware, you can run a full scan, a quick scan, or a scheduled scan. The Safe Money feature protects your credentials when you shop or bank online, while the Kaspersky password manager sets up strong passwords.
There is also an easy to configure VPN and the Safe Kids app (which can be accessed via a smartphone app) brings parental controls.
Sophos used to offer a free version of its Home product with antivirus protection and website protection, but in 2021 that version was discontinued, leaving Sophos Home Premium as the only option for personal use.
There’s now a 30 days full trial, but after that it costs £37.46/$44.99 for the first year and £49.95/$59.99 for each subsequent year. You can install on 10 Macs or PCs though.
Setup was confusing. Initially the software guides you through the process, but then setup stops and you have to sign into your Sophos Home dashboard to complete setup (it’s not at clear that you need to do this step).
There’s also no Dock icon to launch the program, instead you use a menu bar icon to access the online dashboard where you can control the five types of protection including:
Antivirus protection – real-time scanning for local and network drives, perform a manual scan or schedule one, plus a quick scan can be triggered from the menu bar icon.
Malicious traffic detection
A 2017 evaluation of macOS security software by AV-Test gave Sophos Home outstanding grades for protection, performance, and usability. We ran the EICAR test, which simulates a virus, and Sophos detected and blocked it with no trouble. The website filtering worked well.
Sophos Home Premium provides effective protection, but the setup process and cloud-only features are drawbacks. It needs clearer set up and the ability to do more locally.
Malwarebytes comes in both free and premium editions for personal use. Unfortunately the Mac version falls short of many of the features of the Windows version. Malwarebytes Premium for Mac includes the basis virus and malware scanning as well as the ability to detect malicious apps, or PUPs (potentially unwanted program). The real-time protection constantly monitors your system for security threats, automatically blocking and quarantining anything that could infect your computer.
But it doesn’t directly come with the protection against malicious links and phishing attempts. Nor does it offer the safeguards against ransomware and zero-day exploits.
There is a free version of Malwarebytes, but that just includes just basic virus scanning. The premium version costs $3.33/£2.50 billed monthly or $39.99/£29.99 billed annually for one device, and $6.67/£5.83 billed monthly or $79.99/£69.99 billed annually for five devices. There’s a free 14-day trial.
Malwarebytes Premium on a Mac is accessible through a menu bar icon. Clicking the icon displays a menu with options to start a scan, temporarily turn off the malware protection and malicious app blocker, update the program, view and tweak its settings, and open the management console.
From the management console you can trigger a manual scan and set up scheduled scans to run on a recurring basis. A detection history displays all quarantined items. There’s an Allow list to add legitimate files or programs that were mistakenly flagged as malware to.
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 – today, it’s 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.
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.
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 Mac 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 pre-approved (a process called whitelisting). Lots of apps come already pre-approved, 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 for Mac 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.
Some of the best Mac antivirus 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 test Mac antivirus software
Each software package is evaluated creating a clean installation of macOS, cloning it for each AV product, and then booting separately into each one to install a different package. This was to ensure that previous app installations didn’t interfere with new ones – sometimes AV software treats other AV software as an infection.
In addition to visiting malicious websites, downloading known malicious software, and even running said malware on our Mac, we also reference the most recent reports from two labs that regularly cover macOS malware: AV Comparatives and AV-TEST. These laboratories test AV software against sets of known malware as well as products that are grouped as potentially unwanted applications (like adware).
The latter doesn’t damage or expose your computer or its files but may consume power and CPU cycles. Because the testing effectively looks at a combination of virus databases and behavior, they remain good gauges even after many months. When an antivirus for Mac software package lacks a rating from a known security research lab, we do more extensive testing with real malware.
Finally, while we gave props for a lot of different features and behaviors, we marked products down if they lacked any or all of the following:
A nearly perfect score on macOS malware detection
Native browser plug-in or system-level Web proxy
A high score on Windows malware detection
Using a Mac antivirus product, especially any that includes tools to also improve your online privacy, may lull you into believing you’re safe from personal and private information leaking out. That’s not quite the case. While there’s no reason to panic, you should consider a few reasonable issues.
First, an antivirus for Mac product may upload the complete text of files flagged to the cloud, where it can be analyzed by separate tools hosted there. This practice is normal and sensible: Some malware can detect when a running process may examine it, and will then engage in subterfuge. Antivirus software makers also can access their massive databases to examine files with characteristics that trigger their algorithms—certain elements that match known malware. As a result, security researchers discover new viruses, worms, Trojans horses, and the like.
Second, this software may also rely partly or entirely on cloud-based checks of URLs, malware, and the like. Accordingly, an AV package might upload every URL you visit, metadata about files, signatures of files, information about your computer’s hardware, a list of running or installed applications, and more. Companies vary on their disclosure of such policies, and may not let you opt out of this kind of sharing. We note issues in each review as available.
Third, anti-virus software makers also get a sense of what behavior is happening on your computer that’s being monitored or blocked, and may use that information for their own purposes. In some cases, you can opt out of this information gathering.