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Protect your Mac for free with these five anti-virus apps

Best free antivirus for Mac OS X

Avast! Free Mac Security

Avast! for Mac screenshot

Avast! is like the blockbuster of antivirus software — minus the whole big-name budget. It’s easily one of the most, if not the most, popular antivirus software on the Web given the program is loaded with a breadth of exclusive features that have yet to find their way into most other antivirus software. The program, free for non-commercial use, is quick and effective, providing on-demand tools designed for full-system malware scans as well as those for sifting through specific email threads, attachments, and various Web activities (i.e. webpages, downloads, and Java scripts). Furthermore, the software touts drag-and-drop scanning for individual files and phishing protection, along with the ability to scan external drives and attached volumes for potential infections.

The application’s light-gray interface is straightforward and self-explanatory, featuring a navigational pane on the left that consists of five primary buttons and a real-time graph that aggregates shield activity and allows users to quickly check the overall stats of their computer. Although the software automatically updates and enables subtle, pop-up notifications by default, users can easily turn off either feature if they prefer greater manual control or wish to subdue the alerts entirely. The software is also relatively lightweight, hovering around a paltry 750MB in size, and tailored for Mac-specific malware. A built-in firewall or parental controls would be nice, it’s tough to argue with more than 25 years of service and a sprawling user base.

ClamXav 2

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ClamXav is not your typical antivirus software. The open-source software is barebones and rudimentary in nature, designed as a graphical user interface for the open source ClamAV antivirus engine, while still boasting the same functionality you’d likely find in most paid antivirus apps. The app can scan individual files or entire folders on-demand, on access, or on schedule, subsequently detecting and quarantining both Mac OS X and Windows-based malware swiftly and efficiently.

It doesn’t handle email scans quite as fluidly and methodically as Avast! — the detection system is often overly aggressive when it comes to pinpointing potential threats — but it is capable of removing malware from your mailbox and allows users to save their favorite scan locations for quicker access. Also, although ClamXav is natively powered by the ClamAV engine, those familiar with code can incorporate their own engine build instead, adding substantial flexibility catered more toward open-source aficionados than the everyday user.

The program is also relatively light on resources, clad in a gray minimalist interface that makes starting and halting scans a breeze, and comes equipped with a tool known as “Sentry” that conveniently monitors changes to specific files and folders opposed to your entire system. The software’s biggest drawback, aside from occasionally sluggish scan speeds, is easily how infrequent virus definitions update. Still, the sheer level of flexibility ClamXav offers gives the software a slight upper hand above its closed-source competition.

Related: Our quick-hit guide to password protecting a folder

Sophos Antivirus Mac Home Edition

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If offering an entire history of Mac malware dating back to ’82 isn’t evident of a developer on top of its game, I don’t know what is. Straddling the line somewhere between necessity and excess, Sophos offers all the basic utilities you’ve come to expect from quality antivirus software. The utility offers custom, on-demand, and scheduled scans for specified files, folders and drives, along with additional tools for deleting and quarantining any software Sophos deems as a potential threat.

The software even incorporates a “Live Antivirus” feature that will quarantine unknown files that are merely exhibiting suspicious behavior in line with that of malicious threats — a tool that could potentially be seen as overkill, but is a reassuring precaution all the same. Although the program has a tendency to scan slower than most, it’s fairly lightweight and non-obtrusively performs vital background tasks while barely leeching or exhausting your system’s resources.

Despite the notable feature set, Sophos manages to fit each facet of the software within a compact, cocoa-based interface that looks and feels like a native Mac app. Initiating a full-system scan can be done directly from the top of main interface, while additional options for more specific scans are discretely housed within a drop-down menu located at the bottom of the window. Additionally, its malware definitions are constantly being updated, ensuring the program is never without the latest knowledge of potential threats. It’s one of the most hands-off antivirus programs on the market, and as such, sits among the best.

Bitdefener Virus Scanner

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 9.05.28 AMBitdefender Virus Scanner does not live up to its premium brethren, Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac, in terms of scope or functionality. However, the lightweight app remains a capable piece of software for those seeking basic protection against Mac-based malware and its Windows counterpart. It’s built upon the company’s award-winning, anti-virus engine and features a host of scan options, allowing you to quickly perform deep scans of your entire system or those targeting specific locations. If you grant it access, the streamlined program even provides an option for scanning critical locations — such as your Mac’s launch agents and the entirety of your system library — thus allowing you to bypass lengthier scans when pressed for time. Moreover, it automatically updates with Bitdefender’s hourly malware definitions prior to scanning, while providing a quick means for blacklisting specific locations from system scans.

Other hallmarks are limited, though. Bitdefender Virus Scanner automatically tries to disinfect and quarantine suspicious files it comes across, and though the feature is not unique to Bitdefener’s offering, the software can also quickly search for malware within various archives and file types (PDF, PKG, ZIP, RAR, etc.). Said functionality is housed within a sleek window showcasing the three scanning modes in addition to a sole Update button, too, the latter of which can be used in lieu of automatic updates. It’s not the most thorough, nor is its accompanying progress bar particularly accurate, but sometimes simplicity is far more enticing.

Avira Free Antivirus for Mac

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Some things, though not all, are worth the wait. Although German security firm Avira took its sweet time regarding a Mac incarnation of its beloved antivirus for Windows, the company built a Mac version that remains completely free for all users — whether being utilized by private consumers, professionals, or even multinational corporations. The software strikes a nice balance between ease of use and quick access to advance utilities, ultimately rendering basic system scans just as simple to execute as those that are scheduled and file-specific. The software is equipped with standard spyware and adware protection, along with the ability to intercept harmful websites and block tracking, and comes bundled with 5GB of online storage in addition to one-click deletion of malicious files.

Unlike most of the software on our roundup however, Avira is coupled with a moderately-lengthy installation and update process that goes hand-in-hand with the software’s heavy uses of system resources. It’s certainly not a deal breaker considering the price of the software and the many laudable aspects of the program, but it’s an unfortunate downside nonetheless.

Avira’s interface is also rather bulky, though easily understandable, lined with red-and-gray highlights and a left-hand navigational bar for viewing the status of your system, scheduling tasks, and viewing past quarantine history among other options. Virus definitions are also periodically updated in a timely fashion, regardless of how long the initial updates might take to finish. It’s ideal for the less tech-savvy bunch, but capable enough for those looking for automation, scan history, and other advanced features.

This article was originally published on Jan. 28, 2013.

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