Some might consider identifying the best Mac antivirus software in 2018 a redundant task, given that Macs "don't get viruses." But although its true that Apple machines are targeted less than Windows, they can still be infected.
The risks are increasing, which is why you need protection. Every product in this list has been chosen because it's especially designed to protect Mac systems and has scored highly at identifying and removing viruses and malware.
- We've also highlighted the best antivirus
The macOS operating system is based on the Unix operating system, which is sandboxed. That means it’s very difficult for viruses to do any damage. Think of them as locked in a little box from which they can’t escape no matter how hard they try.
This means that you need specific Mac antivirus software - whether that be the very strongest paid-for protection or a free download that we've picked out at the bottom of this guide - that's been designed to work with the unique demands that macOS has, so read on for our top choices.
Mac antivirus: which is best at detecting threats?
The excellent AV-TEST regularly puts anti-virus programs through their paces, and their most recent tests took place in June 2018 on macOS High Sierra. They tested two key areas: how well the packages detected Mac-specific threats, and how well they protected against Macs in mixed-OS environments being hijacked to spread Windows malware.
While the amount of Mac malware is still considerably less than that targeting Windows, its still 100 times higher than what experts predicted just a few years ago.
For Mac malware, six packages achieved 100% detection without false positives:
Brilliant protection for Macs
Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is one of the most accurate virus protection suites for Apple devices on the market, and it comes with a host of features, including multi-layer ransomware protection, adware removal, and it can also scan for Windows PC malware as well. If you're concerned about internet nasties, Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is the best software for Macs in 2018.
Software from the Mac experts
Intego has been protecting Macs for 20 years, so if there's any software that knows what kind of security Apple machines need, this is it. It comes with an antivirus engine that cans for the latest Mac threats, as well as Windows and Unix malware as well, and it also features a full firewall for managing network permissions.
Mac protection from a well known brand
Kaspersky is a well regarded name in the field of antivirus protection, and it maintains that reputation with its Internet Security for Mac software, which brings a range of features that put much of its competitors to shame, including firewall protection, parental controls and tools to make sure you can shop and bank completely securely online. The huge range of features are certainly welcome, but it can make the interface a bit cumbersome to navigate if you're looking for a particular tool.
Another well known brand to protect your Mac
Norton is another brand that's well known in the anti-virus world, and the Norton Security Deluxe software helps protect your Mac with an excellent malware detection engine. It can cover a range of devices, so you can have it protect your Macs, or even any Windows PCs you have, or mobile devices. While the security it offers is great, there can be a noticeable impact on system speed when in use.
If you want to keep your Mac feeling as speedy as possible, look at one of the other choices in this best software for Mac list, but if you want robust, dependable protection, no matter what, then Norton Security Deluxe is definitely worth investing in.
The next four achieved between 99.5% and 98.4% without false positives:
Good security that includes social network protection
If you're running the latest version of macOS, macOS High Sierra (10.13), then Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac is a very good choice, as it has been built for compatibility with the recent operating system. It brings antivirus protection, content filtering, a social media privacy checker and new ransomware protection tools. Scanning speed has also been improved since the last version, making it faster to check your Mac for any viruses.
A trusted scanner for macOS
ClamXAV doesn't have the catchiest of names, but it's the antivirus software for Mac that many IT professionals swear by - not least because it only creates AV for Apple computers.
That doesn't mean it's overly complicated - in fact, it has one of the most simple and easy-to-use interfaces out of all the Mac antivirus software on this list.
It's particularly adept at catching viruses in email attachments, and while it doesn't come with some of the internet safety tools of other suites, it's still an excellent choice for protecting your Mac, and unlike its competitors, it offers a one-off fee, rather than a yearly subscription.
A feature-packed suite
ESET Cyber Security for Mac scores highly from independent testing labs, so you can rest assured that your Mac is being well looked after if you have this installed. It's not the quickest software to scan your Mac for viruses, but it digs deep into your system to make sure your machine is completely free from viruses, and it has a pretty competitive price tag as well.
Accurate protection but light on features
F-Secure SAFE is pitched as an antivirus service for the entire family, protecting all manner of devices, including PCs, smartphones, tablets as well as Macs, and strong parental controls.
AV-Test found F-Secure protected against 100 per cent of zero-day threats during March and April 2018, as well as 100 per cent of all widespread and prevalent malware discovered during the previous four weeks. However as of June 2018, detection rates of MacOS malware are 96.4 per cent.
Concerns about the suite slowing down the installation of frequently used applications also persist, as does a relative lack of features. Having said that it does offer some nifty capabilities such as banking protection, which blocks specific sites and apps from interacting with your system while you’re logged in, and specific safeguards across the scourge of ransomware.
In short, F-Secure’s user-friendly UI and accurate protection make it an adequate choice, but it is lacking in the feature department.
Do I need free or paid-for antivirus for Mac?
The debate is the same regardless of whether you have a Mac or a PC. Free antivirus products are effective at protecting against threats but they lack certain premium features.
Having multiple systems on a network means cyberattacks have more users and more endpoints to target. Additional management tools that let you set policies can help mitigate this risk.
Macs might be considered safer than PCs, but it still might not be risking it for the sake of saving some money.
Top 5 best free antivirus for Mac in 2018:
Strong all-round protection for your Mac
Avast Free Mac Security goes the extra mile to protect your Mac with an unusually lengthy feature list.
The core antivirus engine offers real-time protection to catch threats when they appear, for instance. You can run on-demand full system scans if you suspect a problem, or launch a more targeted check on specific files, folders or drives. It's even possible to schedule scans to run automatically when you're not around.
A Web Shield warns you about malicious websites, blocks dangerous downloads and email attachments, and protects your privacy by eliminating intrusive ad tracking.
There's an unusual extra in Avast's wireless network scanner, which quickly checks your network, router and connected devices, alerting you to any vulnerabilities.
Mac antivirus software isn't often checked by the independent testing labs, but Avast's most recent results were good, with AV Comparative's 2017 test finding the package detected 99.9% of sample threats. Only Bitdefender and Kaspersky did better, and they were both paid editions.
If you'd like even more, upgrading to Avast Security Pro gets you ransomware protection and instant alerts of Wi-Fi intruders or changes in your network security. A one Mac, one-year licence can be yours for £49.99 ($70).
Block the latest malware before it can cause damage
While many antivirus companies try to win you over by piling on the features, Avira Antivirus for Mac takes a simpler, more lightweight approach. There's no web filtering, no network scanning or other security extras: it's purely focused on keeping your system malware-free.
That doesn't mean the package is short on power. Its real-time scanner checks any file the system accesses, picking up threats before they can do any harm. The scheduler enables setting up the app to scan your system automatically, or you're able to check your entire system whenever you like.
As a bonus, the app doesn't just protect against Mac threats. It also uses Avira's Windows experience to pick up any PC-related malware, ensuring you won't share any files that might endanger your friends.
The main testing labs haven't evaluated Avira Free Antivirus for a while, but AV Comparatives last report found the Avira engine blocked 99.1% of test malware, and with Avira's strong record on the PC we've no doubt that this is an app you can trust.
Although this list is all about free Mac antivirus, Avira deserves a mention for its commercial Avira Antivirus Pro 2018. It adds an option to scan USB keys for threats, includes tech support and protects up to five devices with one licence (Mac, Windows and Android), yet the cost is low at just £29.99 ($42) a year.
Point, click, detect, remove, done. Easy...
Bitdefender Virus Scanner is a lightweight free malware hunter which can track down and remove both Mac and Windows-related threats.
A simple and straightforward interface makes the app extremely easy to use. A status display keeps you up-to-date on how your system is doing, and four buttons enable running a quick scan of critical locations, an in-depth check of your entire system, or speedy scans of running applications or a folder of your choice.
Although this looks all very basic, use Bitdefender Virus Scanner for Mac for a while and you begin to notice some very neat touches.
The app doesn't force you to wait a day for your next virus signature updates, for instance. Bitdefender issues updates every hour and Virus Scanner always fetches the latest version before it starts a scan.
An option to exclude files and folders from the scan - network shares, system backups - is another plus, reducing the work the engine has to do and significantly speeding up your scan times.
What you don't get here is any form of real-time protection or web filtering, essential tools for a complete security solution. This simplicity also reduces the chance of conflicts with other apps, though, suggesting Bitdefender Virus Scanner could be a useful second opinion tool which you run alongside another security app.
Quick and easy anti-malware from a big-name provider
Mac antivirus software isn't just about detecting the latest most deadly ransomware, or other high-risk threats. Most tools can also strip out adware and other potentially unwanted programs which may not be highly dangerous, but are wasting system resources and slowing your Mac down.
Malwarebytes has been eliminating the full range of Windows threats since 2006, and the Mac edition is just as simple, straightforward and effective.
The app is such a lightweight installation, the size of three digital music files, that you'll barely notice it's there. And while the lack of real-time protection means Malwarebytes can't stop attacks - only remove existing infections - it also ensures there's no real impact on your system resources and the app is unlikely to conflict with other antivirus tools.
Performance is another highlight, with Malwarebytes claiming the average system is scanned in less than 15 seconds. Set it running when you check your emails in the morning and it'll be finished before you are.
Installing Malwarebytes for Mac also gets you a 30-day trial of the Premium edition which is able to detect and block threats as they appear. If you're not interested in this, ignore it; real-time protection will disappear when the trial expires and you'll get on-demand scanning only. Alternatively, upgrading to Malwarebytes Premium enables protecting any mix of three Mac, Windows or Android devices, and a one-year licence is priced at £49.99 ($70).
A complete security suite, for free
The free antivirus market is highly competitive and it can be difficult for individual companies to stand out from the crowd, but the British vendor Sophos has found a way: it gives you more features in its free products than many competitors provide in their paid editions.
On-demand scanning to clean up infected systems? Check. Real-time protection to prevent attacks in the first place? Of course. Browser filtering which blocks access to dangerous sites? Naturally. Parental controls to define the content your child can access online? Yep.
Oh, and you can cover up to three Mac or Windows devices with a single account, and remotely check and manage their status from a central web console - potentially very useful when protecting the whole family.
Sophos isn't just piling on these extras to disguise a weak antivirus engine, either. AV Test's December 2017 Mac detection rate tests showed Sophos delivered the same level of protection as products from Avast, Bitdefender, Kaspersky and other big names.
This works for us, but if you need more, Sophos Home Premium does have some worthwhile extra features: advanced ransomware protection, monitoring of access to your webcam and microphone, live chat and email support, and the option to protect up to 10 devices. It's a strong feature set, and competitively priced at £40 ($56) a year.
Mac antivirus: what’s the effect on performance?
Most of us believe that virus protection software has a negative effect on performance, but chances are it’s much less negative than we think: in their tests, AV-Test found that there was no measurable performance drop when using ClamXav, MacKeeper, Kaspersky or Norton. There was a measurable difference with Sophos and Trend Micro (2 per cent of additional system load), and with ESET and Bitdefender, which added around 4 per cent to the overall system load.
Mac antivirus: do I really need it?
That really depends on you. The risk of infection remains pretty remote, and if you practice basic security measures and don’t fall for common scams then you’re very unlikely to suffer from any problems. Even ransomware can be defeated with the cunning tactic of having a backup of anything important.
That said, if you’ve ever experienced the mess malware can make on a Windows system you’ll know that just getting things back to normal can be an incredible time thief, especially if key data has been damaged. Perhaps the question shouldn’t be whether anti-virus is worth the money, but whether your time is more valuable than the cost of a security app.