Despite rumors, the relationship between Apple‘s desktop operating system and viruses is more myth than reality. Mac users will continually tell you that third-party antivirus software isn’t necessary, that the computers are downright insusceptible to the infectious malware, spyware and ransomware plaguing the Windows ecosystem at any given moment. It’s a claim with some validity given Windows is still the most widely-used OS on the planet, and thus the most prominent breeding ground for malicious software, but the idea that Apple’s ecosystem is virtually invincible is poppycock to a certain extent. Although the OS is less prone to malevolent attacks thanks to the system’s core Unix architecture — one featuring a more rigorous permission structure that better prevents unauthorized OS modifications and the execution of unwanted software — the right virus can still infiltrate the system’s underlying vulnerabilities. Just take July’s supposed FBI ransomware attack as a prime example.
Fortunately, there are dozens of fantastic antivirus programs to better bolster an already well-built system. Whether you’re looking to utilize the ever-popular Avast, the graphical user interface of ClamXav, or the balanced Avira, there’s more than enough freemium products on the market to secure you’re computer from potential threats. That, combined with routine maintenance and a little caution on your part, and you’ll have plenty of peace of mind when it comes protecting your Mac.
Here are our top picks for the best free antivirus software for Mac OS X. Also, check out our selection of the best antivirus software for any operating system and our guide on how to password protect a folder if you want to thwart snoopy passersby rummaging through your files on either Windows or Mac OS X.
Updated on 12-16-2013 by Brandon Widder: This article has been updated since it was originally published to reflect recent software changes. Drew Prindle contributed to this article.
A few protection suggestions prior to installing antivirus software …
- Stay up to date — Keeping your Mac up to date with the latest software is never a bad idea. Apple has always been keen to pinpoint potential threats, often issuing incremental updates that address system vulnerabilities as quickly as possible. Assuming you’ve opted for automatic updates, install them as their notifications arise, or manual install the updates from within the Updates panel located on the right-hand side when viewing the main App Store window. Leaving updates unattended will only risk your Mac to greater virus exposure.
- Turn on your firewall — Although not for everyone, turning on the firewall built into more recent versions of Mac OS X can help secure network traffic is properly monitored and secure. If you’ve haven’t done so already, navigate to the main System Preferences panel, select the Security & Privacy option and click the Firewall tab located at the top of the window. Afterward, click the Turn On Firewall button, followed by the Firewall Options button, and specify any connection you wish to block by adding the application to the resulting list.
- Encrypt your data — Mac OS X may already secure important files on your behalf, but setting up FileVault’s full disk, XTS-AES 128 encryption adds yet another level of protection to your entire drive. It essentially prevents unwanted users from seeing and copying your files, setting a master password for your machine in the process and allowing you to specify which user accounts are allowed to unlock the encrypted drive. To turn on FileVault, navigate to the main System Preferences panel, select the Security & Privacy option and click the FileVault tab located at the top of the window. Afterward, click the Turn on FileVault button, note the recovery key — or allow Apple to store the password on your behalf — and restart your computer when prompted.
- Exercise caution — It should go without saying, but be cautious when using browsing the Web, downloading email attachments or otherwise engaging with unfamiliar sources and content. There’s usually a good reason if your browser or antivirus software doesn’t trust a certificate or attachment. Use your brain and consider picking up the community curated Web of Trust extension for your browser. The basic software functions as a review system for various websites and links, providing users with up-to-date information on whether the content in question is reputable or malicious.