It’s fair to say there’s less risk of malware attacks on a Mac than a PC, but does that mean you can skip antivirus altogether?
For years, we’ve been told that Macs can’t get viruses. But no computer is immune from cyber attacks, so each year we test Mac antivirus software to their limits with hundreds of virus attacks including worms and ransomware to see how they fare. Read on to see your protection options.
Built-in Mac security
There aren’t many viruses for Mac computers, which makes them hard to come by. Our lab tests Windows antivirus software with several thousand Windows-specific viruses each year, but tests only a few dozen on Mac computers. That isn’t to say that it’s impossible to catch a Mac virus, but the number of different strains is much smaller.
MacOS is secure by design. It requires a number of steps to allow a virus to run on your machine and needs you, the user, to intervene for any program – be it a virus or otherwise – to gain access to critical system files. In short, it’s actually quite tricky to get infected by Malware on an Mac.
Why you should still consider anitivirus for Mac
Even if you don’t let a piece of malware run, we have found that macOS’ built-in security scanning doesn’t reliably detect dormant viruses just sitting on the hard drive. If you never had any intention of running the viruses yourself, you could inadvertently share them with somebody you know who might not be so fortunate.
And there’s more to antivirus than simply protection from viruses. Almost all the security suites we test come with additional protection against phishing attacks, where websites pretend to be legit in order to steal your data. We have found that the very best Mac security suites will also bolster your phishing protection quite significantly, and perform better than the protection built into the Mac versions of Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Opera web browsers. For this reason, if you’re nervous about threats on the web, it would make sense to at least consider a Mac security suite.
Antivirus options for Apple Macs
While there’s no cheap way to get yourself a Mac, those who don’t fancy a yearly subscription to a security suite can rest easy in the knowledge that this year we tested three free options, one of which was good enough to be a Best Buy.
If you’re a Which? member, you can see the very best antivirus options on our best antivirus for Mac advice guide. And for everybody else, we’ve highlighted five options from the biggest brands.
Paid antivirus for Mac
Norton Security Deluxe
One of the biggest names in antivirus has a relatively inexpensive Mac option. What’s more, if you have Windows computers in your household you can mix and match the different device types under the same subscription. Subscribing gets you various other benefits, although some, such as the 50GB of cloud storage, is only available for Windows computers. See whether it’s worth paying for in our Norton Security Deluxe for Mac review.
Kaspersky Internet Security
Kaspersky’s security suite includes basic protection as well as tools specifically designed to protect your files from ransomware and a bolstered web browser for banking. Like Norton, you can mix and match a Kaspersky multi-device Internet Security subscription between Windows and Macs. See if it’s worth the cost in our full Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac review.
Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac
It comes with phishing protection and a VPN for keeping your web browsing safe from prying eyes, but can this AV production take on its big-brand rivals? It’s performed well in our tests in previous years, so read our full Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac review to find out.
Free antivirus for Mac
AVG Antivirus for Mac (free)
If you don’t want extra features and also don’t fancy shelling out for yet another digital subscription, AVG Free might be the option for you. There are no frills, but it should deliver when it comes to basic protection, adding that last layer of defence for when all else fails. See how it fared in our antivirus lab test by reading the full AVG Antivirus for Mac review.
Avast Free Antivirus for Mac (free)
Avast and AVG are owned by the same company, so they should perform similarly in our tests. Included in the installation is Avast’s free password manager, which might come in handy if you’ve yet to set one up for yourself. Read our full Avast Free Antivirus for Mac review to see whether it’s a good free choice.
How we test antivirus
Our antivirus test lab is riddled with threats. It has set up dozens of computers in 40 countries around the world to act as ‘honeypots’ for millions of viruses. These honeypots capture viruses that are fresh into the wild and may have only existed for days. This makes the task for the security software very challenging, because many of them rely upon huge databases of so-called virus ‘definitions’ to tell whether or not a file is harmful.
Grabbing new threats means they will also have to rely on their own intuition – rather than simply checking a database – using more advanced techniques to decide if there’s a threat. We also use a mix of scenarios on both Windows and macOS, including viruses stored on USB sticks, and even malicious real-world phishing webpages designed to steal your data. Only the most secure software can fend off all these types of attacks effectively.
Malware can be more of a concern if you’re using an old phone. Read our guide on mobile phone security for more.