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Your Mac needs an anti-virus, and we’ve found five free options

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Best free antivirus for Mac OS X

Avast! Free Mac Security

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Avast! is like the blockbuster of antivirus software — minus the big-name budget. It’s easily one of the most, if not the most, popular antivirus software on the Web. 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 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.

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

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 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, but it’s tough to argue with more than 25 years of service and a sprawling user base.

The free version also offers to install two other programs during installation: Avast Online Security ($40 per year) and Avast SecureLine VPN ($60 per year). Neither are necessary for detecting and removing viruses, so pay attention during installation if you don’t want them.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware for Mac

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Windows users have long turned to Malwarebytes’ free version as a solid one-time-scan, and a great second option to an always-running scanner. The Mac offering isn’t a port of that program, however, but an entirely different piece of software with a focus on quick scanning and Mac-specific adware.

The program is the creation of Thomas Reed, who blogged about Mac spyware and security for years at The Safe Mac. While running that site, Reed made a simple tool — Adware Medic — to remove the adware he so often wrote about. It was a simple spyware removal tool, but one also renowned for quickly detecting and deleting common Mac malware. Last year, Malwarebytes brought Reed onto the team, and re-branded Adware Medic as Malwarebytes Anti-Malware for Mac. The tool is just as fast as before, and still free, but it’s got a new name and a bigger team behind it.

Using the program couldn’t be easier. Just launch it, hit scan, and the software will quickly let you know if you’re infected with any Mac-specific malware. This is not an always-on solution, or a particularly complete one — after all, it specializes in 160 of the most common types of adware. Even so, it’s worth having around as a lightweight scanner or as a second option.

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 “Automatic Virus Protection” 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 interface. Initiating a full-system scan can be done directly from the top of main interface, and you can configure exemptions quickly and disable features in the section below. Additionally, the 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.

Bitdefender 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 featuresare 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 that showcases the three scanning modes in addition to a sole Update button, 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 enticing.

Avira Free Antivirus for Mac

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Some things, though not all, are worth the wait. German security firm Avira took its sweet time regarding a Mac incarnation of its beloved antivirus for Windows, and 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, Avira is coupled with a moderately-lengthy installation and an update process that goes hand-in-hand with the software’s heavy use 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, and updated on April 8, 2016, by Justin Pot to include recent software changes.

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