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MacOS antivirus software & why you need it

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We often hear that macOS is less susceptible to computer viruses than other operating systems. This can only partly be true. If we look at the OS market we can deduce the grounds for such reasoning. MacOS makes 9.3%, while Windows OS is 86.6%, Linux – 2.0%, Chrome OS – 0.4%, others – 1.7% (NetMarketShare). So, naturally, macOS is experiencing less threats.

Spam and phishing are the 2 most spread malicious tactics aimed at obtaining personal data of users, e.g. bank account details, Apple ID, logins, passwords. The number of phishing attacks on macOS users in the first half of 2019 amounted to 6 million. According to Google security reports, the number of phishing websites per week is growing month to month: January – 39,962; February – 41,372; March – 50,531; April – 49,143; May – 59,557.

Web stores, social networks, banks, payment systems and IT companies are among the most frequent targets. Surely, phishing attacks and scams aren’t the only threat for macOS users. Malware, spyware, adware, viruses, trojans, ransomware and other things we’re not even aware of.

Nevertheless, let’s not discard macOS security measures. This is also a vital factor before selecting an antivirus for Mac. A default protection system may slightly vary depending on OS version, still note that these standard measures are valid only if a user complies with the recommended safety instructions. Let’s make an extract from Apple Platform Security Guide about Mac protection levels.

1. Hardware security A critical component is the Secure Enclave coprocessor (on macOS, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, tvOS devices) – encrypting data at rest, secure boot and biometrics.
2. System security Boot-up process, software updates, ongoing OS performance.
3. Encryption and data protection The main principle is that only trusted code and apps run on devices. There are additional encryption features to safeguard user data, even if other security measures fail, e.g. if a Mac is running insecure code. 
4. App security Special attention to apps as they could negatively impact security, stability, and user data.
5. Services Security Apple ID, iCloud, Sign in with Apple, Apple Pay, iMessage, FaceTime, and Find My – for safe cloud storage, authentication, payment, messaging, etc.
6. Network Security In addition to the built-in safeguards, organizations should also keep data secure as it transfers to and from devices.

To sum up, default macOS security can prevent many issues, yet it cannot predict all users actions. So the answer to those inquiring whether they need an antivirus program for a Mac, would be yes. Furthermore, such distinguishing features as real-time monitoring, tools against phishing, ransomware, malware, and even Mac optimization tools, are a clear benefit. That said, we have several candidates to consider.

Top-10 antivirus for Mac contenders

To set aside these programs, we’ve studied the characteristics and documentation of each. Then we’ve looked into performance factors: RAM load in scanning/background mode, CPU load in both modes, quick/full scan time, number of scanned files, real-time response to potential threats.

To test the performance of each antivirus for Mac, we’ve used the EICAR test service with 4 file types to download. Once downloaded, an antivirus scanner should detect it. A decent app should react even to archived files (.zip, .rar).

01 of 10

BitMedic

macOS: 10.9 + / Developer: Pocket Bits LLC / License: free, $2.99/month.

Straight from the App Store, trial version included. The program successfully passed the EICAR file scan, but unfortunately did not detect threats in real-time mode. Nevertheless, BitMedic has tools to safeguard both local work and web surfing. In the background, it consumes 26% of CPU, and 89% during scanning. In our case, it also uncovered three phishing files in emails that other programs hadn’t.

bitmedic av mac

Pros: Only $2.99 per month Strong AV scanner, anti-phishing

Cons: Trial limitations High system load

02 of 10

Airo

macOS: 10.9 + / Developer: AIRO AV / License: free, $49.99/year

Airo antivirus for Mac comes with an extension for Safari or Chrome. These browser add-ons protect users from phishing content and trackers. The program proved efficiency both with the EICAR test and in real-time mode. Full system scan lasted 25 minutes. Plain design, stable operation, suitable for casual users.

airo antivirus for mac

Pros: 7 days of fully functional trial Fast scanning

Cons: None so far

03 of 10

ClamXAV

macOS: 10.10 + / Developer: Canimaan Software Ltd. / License: free, $29.95/year

First of all, this is the only antivirus I’ve seen that checks for new updates every time it starts. ClamXAV is powerful and light on system resources at the same time. In the settings there’s another peculiar feature – Enable detection of non-Mac malware, that apparently acts as a filter of unwanted files. Overall, only the essential security functions here.

clamXAV free virus scanner

Pros: 30 days of fully functional trial Non-Mac malware detection

Cons: None so far

04 of 10

Vipre

macOS: 10.11 + / Developer: j2 Global Inc. / License: free, $38.49/year

There are several modifications of this antivirus available on the developer website. For this “hit-parade” we’ve gone with the Advanced Security suite. It is very basic in features and settings. During a full scan, we’ve noticed that the application goes through directories meticulously, which takes time (over 40 minutes) and loads a Mac substantially. On the other hand, 100% detection rate under EICAR tests.

vipre macos

Pros: 30 days fully functional trial Excellent threat detection

Cons: Fewer files scanned compared to other apps

05 of 10

Avira

macOS: 10.11 + / Developer: Avira Operations GmbH & Co. / License: free, $25.99/year

Avira offers a range of security solutions for home and business. Avira Free Security package for Mac contains an antivirus, a VPN client (500 Mb/month), and a Firefox browser extension. One can configure a behavior scenario when a potentially dangerous file is detected: delete right away or place it in quarantine. Avira Connect, an application for managing all vendor products, lets you download trial versions, purchase subscriptions, install mobile apps.

how to scan Mac for viruses

Pros: VPN and Firefox extension Median system load Real-time protection

Cons: USB scan in Pro only Real-time mode doesn’t cope with ZIP archives

macOS: 10.10 + / Developer: Intego / License: free

Virusbarrier is designed to prevent malware, scans potentially dangerous files on macOS and Windows OS platforms. Thereby, a Mac can act as a filter for external storage devices. A straightforward design with a configurable parameter – directory selection for daily scans. Intego does not provide real-time protection, yet scanning is efficient. The initial scan lasts 11 minutes, and each subsequent scan takes less time thanks to caching.

intego virus barrier

Pros: All types of malware protection Free application

Cons: No active monitoring

07 of 10

Avast

macOS: 10.13 + / Developer: Avast Software s.r.o. / License: free, $69.99/year

Avast offers a real-time mode, malware detection, file shield, web shield, email shield. Thanks to fine-tuning Avast will scan every single file on a Mac, so detection rates are high enough. One can enable scanning of ZIP / RAR archives and backups. Last but not least, despite trial limitations, it can unearth spyware and malware – as proven by our in-house tests.

avast macos free

Pros: Deep scan configuration Active protection mode

Cons: Aggressive advertising

08 of 10

ESET

macOS: 10.10 + / Developer: Canimaan Software Ltd. / License: free, $34.99/year

ESET has been on the market for a long enough time for thousands of users to appreciate it. Immediately upon launch, it automatically updates it’s virus database. We can scan any directory on a device, even Virtual Machines. ESET’s interface has not changed much from its earliest designs and has this old-school vibe. Trial version is stripped of real-time protection and web security. 

eset mac free

Pros: The largest amount of scanned files Potent virus protection

Cons: Active mode and web protection in Pro only

09 of 10

AVG

macOS: 10.10 + / Developer: AVG Technologies Inc. / License: free, $2.39/month

This antivirus for Mac puts forward an impressive set of tools, unfortunately, many elements are not available in the free basic version. AVG will take care of malicious files/scripts and network threats. Configurable scan options are: scanning archives, scanning backup copies, external storage devices. In terms of process duration, fast scan takes about 30 minutes while full/deep scan lasts 1 hour on average. 

best antivirus software for mac

Pros: User-friendly Only $2.39 monthly

Cons: Free version limited

10 of 10

Bitdefender

macOS: 10.10 + / Developer: Bitdefender / License: free, $19.99/year

To download a trial, one has to sign up on the developer website. Bitdefender is a suite of apps, essentially: active antivirus, adware block, VPN, online shopping protection, Time Machine backups scanner. The antivirus is stable, yet we’ve noticed slight lags when downloading new files. Each file download initiates a folder scan, which increases system load rapidly. During the EICAR scan it has detected and instantly isolated all the threats.

is bitdefender good

Pros: Lots of security tools $19.99 for Premium

Cons: Account registration required

Summary

Features and types of protection:

Real-time mode System scan Spyware detection Malware detection Phishing detection EICAR test
BitMedic
Airo
ClamXAV
Vipre
Avira
Intego
Avast
ESET
AVG
Bitdefender

Performance characteristics:

RAM during scanning, Mb CPU during scanning, % Fast scan time, mm:ss Full scan time, mm:ss Fast scan – number of files Full scan – number of files
BitMedic ~900 27-89% 06:33 30:14 13,132  600,456
Airo ~500 7-18% 03:46 24:56 23,038  322,015
ClamXAV ~300 2-10% 00:15 65:40 3,394  615,106
Vipre ~600 13-90% 04:23 46:43 22,803  285,237
Avira ~150 5-10% 02:31 57:41 6,329  601,007
Intego ~50 5-7% 32:11 746,724
Avast ~100 7-13% 02:19 37:18 64,667  604,849
ESET ~250 8-11% 72:32 616,412
AVG ~110 1.50-2,8% 38:32 54:22 296,463  602,495
Bitdefender ~100 2.75-4% 06:11 44:22 54,49  614,083

I would like to add that all software on the list have displayed great results. Surely, it could be much more than 10 programs, so here are a few more decent ones to consider as alternatives, or honorable mentions, no matter how you call it.

macOS Pricing, annual Developer
Kaspersky 10.11 or later $59.95 AO Kaspersky Lab
Norton 10.10 or later $49.99 Norton LifeLock Inc.
Trend Micro 10.11 or later $39.95 TrendMicro Incorporated
Sophos 10.12 or later $49.99 Sophos Ltd.
F-Secure 10.11 or later $66.99 F-Secure

Read next: Free anti-malware apps.

ABOUT AUTHOR

Dmitry Yedin

Dmitry Yedin is an analyst and author, a part of the “multimedia” crew of ThinkMobiles. Don’t even start with him on games, graphics, video content or messengers.

Dmitry Yedin is a self-motivated and goal-oriented guy, a technology geek throughout his life, interested in computers, music, photography, and tech trends. Through diligence, analysis and care for detail he assists people in picking the best available options.

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