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 a 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 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.
Many antivirus suites provide a decent level of protection, but a few rise above all others by providing the very best in performance. Our top contenders 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.
Looking for Windows antivirus recommendations? You can read about the best antivirus suites for PC on our sister site, PCWorld.
Best overall antivirus software
Sophos Home Premium has it all: Effective malware protection, ransomware monitoring, protection against potentially-unwanted-apps, and additional features that often require separately licensed software. Its cloud-based configuration and generous licensing (up to 10 Macs and PCs) also make it easy to shield friends and family from threats, no matter where they live. (Full details available in our review.)
Best free antivirus software
If you want simple virus protection that you can count on, AVG’s free tier is a good pick. When AV-Test put it to the test, it had a 100 percent protection rate from 145 samples. AV Comparatives’ scored it 100 percent among 585 Mac samples, and 100 percent against 500 Windows samples in the same test.
The interface will pitch you to upgrade to the paid AVG tier, which adds ransomware protection, phishing protection, and a Wi-Fi inspector for monitoring all the devices on your home network. But if you just want to scan your Mac for infected files and make sure new downloads aren’t carrying a virus payload, AVG’s free product is a fine choice.
What to look for in antivirus software
By our reckoning, antivirus software should be able to neutralize a threat before it can begin wreaking havoc. That means preventing the download, installation, or execution of malicious software.
Since you can encounter threats by visiting compromised or malicious websites, receiving virus-laden attachments, or accessing USB drives with malware, good AV software should scan on a continuous basis unless you configure it otherwise. And ideally, files identified as malicious should be quarantined into a special storage area managed by the AV software, with the option to automatically delete files known to be malware or repair normal documents that also carry devious payloads.
Great AV suites also will monitor the filesystem for certain kinds of changes. Ransomware—which is malware that will rapidly encrypt user files like documents and mailboxes and then delete the originals—has become a huge moneymaker on other platforms. As a prime opportunity for attackers, it’s the greatest danger Mac users likely face as a category.
Detecting this pattern and halting it before any files are unavailable should be possible without an anti-malware system knowing the specific innards of a ransomware virus. Sophos, our top pick, includes this feature in the Home Premium version of its 2018 update. Other vendors, like Avast and Trend Micro Antivirus, offer an alternative feature that allows you to whitelist programs allowed to manipulate files in specific directories. So if this particular type of attack becomes rapidly popular, you’ll be protected.
Good antivirus software should also use minimal computational resources. That’s especially the case these days—AV monitoring hasn’t become much more complicated than when it first became available, and faster, multi-core CPUs can easily handle the demands of running AV software in the background without disturbing your active work.
Beyond these primary features, an easy-to-navigate interface and extra features are worth factoring into your decision. Some AV software are full-fledged suites that offer additional options like backup service for essential files, a password manager, parental controls, anti-tracking and privacy modes or options, a more advanced firewall, and the blocking of Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUAs).
How we test
Each software package is evaluated creating a clean installation of macOS Mojave, 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, 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 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
- Ransomware monitoring
- Native browser plug-in or system-level Web proxy
- A high score on Windows malware detection
Using an anti-virus 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 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.
All of our antivirus for Mac reviews
If you have specific requirements or just wish to see other options, below is a list of all the antivirus software we’ve reviewed. We’ll keep evaluating new and refreshed software on a regular basis, so be sure to come back to see what else we’ve put through the ringer.
Avast Premium Security
Avast Premium Security offers top notch security for the price, but the question is do you want to pay that price? Avast isn’t cheap at $70 per year for a single device—though $90 for a year for 10 devices is not bad. The bigger issue is that Avast Free for Mac offers so much, getting the premium package may not be worth it.Read our full Avast Premium Security review
Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac 2020
Kaspersky Internet Security is a top-rated security suite with not a lot in terms of extra features. That’s to be expected for the non-deluxe version of any security line. The price is also right at just under $25 for a single device for year for new subscribers.Read our full Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac 2020 review
Avira Free Antivirus for Mac
Avira Free Antivirus for Mac doesn’t offer much in the way of features, but its antivirus protection is top notch. We’d argue it’s the far better value than Avira Pro since there aren’t a lot of extra features worth paying for compared to the free version.Read our full Avira Free Antivirus for Mac review
Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac
Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac does a good job in protection and the price is right. It’s not the security suite you want if you’re looking for a ton of extra features, and if you need tools such as parental control you need to upgrade to Bitdefender’s Total Protection subscription. Still, if all you need is solid protection for a few Macs then Bitdefender is worth a look.Read our full Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac review
Norton Security Deluxe (Mac)
Norton Security Deluxe is the most comprehensive security package we tested, but it lacks advanced monitoring of ransomware and complete Windows malware identification—the latter of which should be a given. Still, if you’re not concerned about ransomware and want an all-in-one suite, it’s the best option available.Read our full Norton Security Deluxe (Mac) review
Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac
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.Read our full Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac review
Airo is built from the ground up for Mac. The interface is very easy to navigate, and early tests indicate its detection capabilities are very good. This is a new product, however, and some features that come standard in other suites are not yet a part of this one.Read our full Airo Antivirus review
F-Secure Safe is a top-tier suite that offers high quality protection, but doesn’t have much in the way of extras compared to similarly priced antivirus offerings. Still, if all you want is very good protection, and the option to purchase a suite for a varied number of devices, then F-Secure Safe is a good choice.Read our full F-Secure Safe review
Malwarebytes Premium is a no frills, anti-malware security program that is meant to be your full-time security suite. Its approach to detecting malware may not sit well with some, and its greatest strength continues to be finding and removing malicious code after it’s been installed.Read our full Malwarebytes Premium review
ESET Cyber Security Pro
ESET Cyber Security Pro provides solid protection at a good price of a single machine. This suite doesn’t offer a lot in the way of extras, and we’d like to see its network monitor develop into the more robust feature available on Windows. Still, for the price you get a good amount of protection against key threats on macOS.Read our full ESET Cyber Security Pro review
Intego Mac Premium Bundle X9
Intego’s Mac Premium Bundle X9 offers a ton of features and services. The company recently released more robust Windows malware detection for Macs, as well as a dedicated antivirus for Windows PCs. All Mac households may be happy with Intego’s offering, and those with mixed-OS homes might be fine but we’ll be happier once we see some third-party testing results for Intego’s new Windows malware detection.Read our full Intego Mac Premium Bundle X9 review
Intego Mac Internet Security X9
Intego’s software has no fatal flaws, but because of its lower ratings by security labs, minimal ransomware protection, and lack of native browser plug-ins, we don’t currently recommend it.Read our full Intego Mac Internet Security X9 review