We all know the received wisdom - there's no point in getting antivirus for Mac because Apple products are completely impenetrable. Right?
Well, no. And it's probably a pretty short sighted view these days considering the sheer amount of Mac and MacBook owners across the globe, and thus an enormous potential target for hackers and cyber criminals. And malware aimed at Macs are sadly becoming more common. That's where getting the best Mac antivirus becomes crucial. You don't want to pick up that new MacBook Pro, only to have it crippled by a cyber attack!
Sure, Apple machines are still targeted less than their Windows counterparts, but they can still be infected - and the risks are increasing, which is why you need protection. Every Mac antivirus 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.
The macOS operating system is based on Unix, which is sandboxed, meaning it can be 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 will 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...
- Check out the best Mac VPN for another great way to stay safe online
The best Mac antivirus in 2021 is:
Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is one of the most accurate virus protection suites for Apple devices out there, built on a sterling antivirus engine which is consistently rated among the top performers by independent testing labs (and boasts fast scan times, too).
It’s not just about core antivirus defenses, though, because Bitdefender offers a suitably broad raft of features. That includes multi-layer ransomware protection, and an anti-tracker browsing extension to better maintain your privacy while web surfing, blocking a range of web trackers (and hopefully making some web pages load quicker, too). Excellent anti-phishing protection is on board, as well.
Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac also keeps a watchful eye out for adware, and is capable of scanning and picking up on Windows PC malware (helping to defend against the possibility of you transmitting a Windows virus to your friends or family who might have Windows 10 PCs).
An extra layer of security for Time Machine is a useful addition, too, in order to keep backups safe from ransomware attacks. And a further nifty extra is the integration of Bitdefender VPN, although that said, you get very little data allowance with this free version, so it’s only for very occasional use.
If you’re at all concerned about viruses and the other nastiness floating around on the internet, Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is the best software for Macs in 2021.
Intego is a veteran antivirus provider which has been defending Macs for over two decades now, so if there’s any software that knows what kind of security Apple machines need, this is it.
Mac Internet Security X9 provides top-notch antivirus protection against the latest threats, and is rated up there with the best (like Bitdefender and Kaspersky) when it comes to the independent testing labs.
Outside of that excellent core malware protection, it boasts an intelligent firewall and anti-phishing protection to keep you safer online. Intego also helps shore up your privacy levels by defending against third-party apps attempting to hoover up your data. On top of all that, Mac Internet Security X9 offers a neat interface, and is easy-to-use.
Downsides include the fact that the app hits system performance a little harder than some rivals, and while it does protect against Windows malware, there are some question marks in that area in the test results we’ve seen (that said, this obviously doesn’t directly affect Mac users anyway).
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 positively bristles with features.
You get top-quality malware defenses – when it comes to the independent test labs, Kaspersky is consistently rated as one of the best for Mac antivirus – plus malicious URL blocking, ransomware protection, and countermeasures against webcam hijacking. Kaspersky also provides an encrypted browser for additional security when it comes to sensitive online tasks like doing your banking.
On an overall level, the Mac app looks similar to the Windows 10 antivirus version (which of course is highly rated in itself). The interface is a little busy, which is somewhat inevitable given all these features, but you’ll hardly find this app difficult to use.
Really, the only fly in the ointment here is that this antivirus app is somewhat pricier than top-tier rivals, but it still represents good value for money for what you’re getting.
Norton is another well-respected brand in the antivirus world, and provides excellent malware detection for Mac computers. Indeed, Norton 360 Deluxe delivers protection for Macs, Windows PCs, or mobile devices – up to five of them in total. So, if you’ve got plenty of Macs or MacBooks to cover, or perhaps a Windows 10 laptop as well, and of course your smartphone, Norton will have your back across all bases.
You get quite a helping of features here, including strong antivirus protection, anti-ransomware, a firewall, parental controls, and some very neat extras including cloud backup functionality. There’s also a major bonus in the form of Norton Secure VPN to help maintain better security and privacy when online.
While you get impressive benefits on the security front, for sure, one thing to be aware of is that Norton 360 does have more of a noticeable impact on your system performance than some rivals.
Furthermore, the asking price of this security suite is on the more costly side by default. However, that said, there are usually offers knocking a good deal of money off, and at the time of writing, you can get a pretty good deal on a subscription – particularly when you consider the number of devices covered.
Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac is another good choice to keep your Mac secure, and its antivirus engine is highly rated by the independent labs. In fact, Trend Micro’s antivirus is right up there with the top performers when it comes to the core malware protection the app provides.
This program’s feature-set includes ransomware protection, email scam filtering, parental controls, and a social media privacy checker which monitors social network usage for the many threats which are increasingly delivered via these channels.
On the downside, sometimes virus scans can be lengthier than you’ll experience with competing products, and the app only covers a single device (but that might be all you need).
Furthermore, some rival antivirus suites offer more features. Trend Micro lacks a firewall, for example, or protection for the likes of online banking (the firm’s Pay Guard secure browser is reserved for the Maximum Security for Mac suite). That said, note that at the time of writing, you can get the latter suite for the same price as Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac – and extended coverage for up to five devices – so it’s well worth keeping an eye out for deals like this.
Avast Premium Security comes well-equipped to defend your Mac, and its antivirus protection has impressed both the major independent testing labs – so that’s obviously a good start.
Backing this up is a decent library of features, including a Ransomware Shield as an extra layer of defense to protect against this particularly nasty strain of malware (a capability that seemed to work well in our testing, and could work against even the latest undiscovered threats out there).
You also get a solid level of protection when web browsing, with Avast firmly steering you away from any phishing sites, and Wi-Fi intruder alerts are on hand in case your home network happens to be compromised. Furthermore, Avast Premium Security is nicely user-friendly, which never hurts.
The main downside here is that if you only want Avast Premium Security to protect a single Mac, it works out very expensive – but if you pay a bit more for 10 devices (across not just Mac, but Windows and mobile), it’s more competitively priced (assuming you need that level of coverage). Even so, you can find better value options elsewhere.
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.
ESET Cyber Security for Mac used to do well in evaluations conducted by the independent antivirus testing labs, although in more recent history, sadly the major labs have stopped testing this particular vendor. However, if past scores are anything to go by, you’ll have sound enough protection for your Mac.
This security suite is also one of the more fire-and-forget efforts, so it’s good for novices in that respect. Although at the same time, if experts want to dive into the details under the hood, they can do so, and configure things to their liking with a large amount of options and settings.
ESET comes with ransomware protection, as well as defenses against Linux and Windows malware (so any nastiness that you may not know about – because it doesn’t affect a Mac – won’t be spread to your friends with Microsoft-powered PCs).
It’s not the quickest software in terms of virus scan times, but it digs deep into your system to make sure your Mac is completely free from malware, and it’s reasonably competitively priced overall (although some subscription plans are better value than others).
Mac antivirus: how we rank them
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.
The excellent AV-TEST regularly puts anti-virus programs through their paces, and their most recent tests took place in March 2020 on macOS Catalina. They test three key areas: malware detection, false positives and performance.
For Mac malware, eight packages achieved 100% detection without false positives.
We combine AV-TEST's findings with our own product research and reviewing. We focus further into the usability of the products, their features and how good they are to use and live with on a day-to-day basis.
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 2021
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 2018 test finding the package detected 100 percent of sample threats.
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.
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 100% of test malware (tying with Avast), 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 product. It includes tech support and protects up to three devices with one license (Mac, Windows and Android).
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.
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.
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 £37.50 ($48) 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 (two per cent of additional system load), and with ESET and Bitdefender, which added around four 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.
The best paid Mac antivirus at a glance
- Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac
- Intego Mac Internet Security X9
- Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac
- Norton Security Deluxe
- Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac
- ESET Cyber Security for Mac
- F-Secure SAFE
The best free Mac antivirus at a glance
- Avast Free Mac Security
- Avira Free Antivirus for Mac
- Bitdefender Virus Scanner for Mac
- Malwarebytes for Mac
- Sophos Home for Mac