Despite persistent rumors to the contrary, MacOS is just as susceptible to malware as Windows 10 — it’s just that Windows 10 is a more common platform, so more malware is coded with Windows users in mind. Apple’s operating system is far from invulnerable, and new threats appear regularly, so it’s important to keep up on basic security.
Fortunately, there are many fantastic anti-malware platforms designed to give your Mac a booster shot against the latest viruses, adware, and ransomware. Whether you’re looking to utilize the ever-popular Avast, the simplicity of Avira, or the balanced Sophos, there are dozens of freemium products on the market to secure your computer against potential threats. Combine one or more with a little caution, and you’ll have plenty of peace of mind. Below are some of our favorite anti-malware suites.
Things to do prior to installing antivirus software
Stay up to date — Keeping your Mac updated with the latest software is essential. When there’s a system update, make sure you pick it up as soon as possible, and make sure all your other apps stay up to date as well. Security patches are rolled out pretty regularly for most MacOS applications. 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 manually install the updates from within the Updates panel located on the right side when viewing the main App Store window.
Turn on your firewall — Although not for everyone, turning on the built-in firewall can help secure network traffic to and from your system. If you 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, and you’re all set. Under Firewall Options, you can block connections from individual applications on your system, as well as give certain apps a pass.
Encrypt your data — MacOS 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 allows 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.
Avast! is one of the most popular security suites available, and it’s easy to see why. It’s effective and free for non-commercial use, providing on-demand tools for quickly performing 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, it offers 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 interface is straightforward and self-explanatory, too, and features 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. 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 malware, however, so pay attention during installation if you don’t want them.
Windows users have long turned to Malwarebytes’ free version, affectionately known as MBAM, as a backup for always-on malware software. If you’re a Windows user, it’s a great tool for scheduling deep-scans of your system. The Mac version started as an adware removal tool, but as of today, it’s also a fully-fledged tool for protecting your machine against malware. Plus, it’s just as effective in MacOS as it is in Windows.
The program is the creation of Thomas Reed, who blogged about Mac spyware and security for years at The Safe Mac. While running the site, Reed made a simple tool — Adware Medic — to remove the adware he so often wrote about. 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 has 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, though, and is thus more suited for performing deep-scans and ridding yourself of particularly pernicious malware. It doesn’t provide “real-time” protection like Avast! or some of the other options on our list, either.
If offering an entire history of Mac malware dating back to ’82 isn’t evidence of a developer on top of its game, we 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, and a whole lot more. 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 a potential threat.
The software even incorporates a real-time protection features that will quarantine unknown files that are merely exhibiting suspicious behavior. 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 its robust feature set, Sophos manages to cram all this functionality into a compact interface. Initiating a full-system scan can be done directly from the top of main menu, and you can configure exemptions quickly from easily navigable menus. 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.
Built upon Bitdefender’s award-winning anti-virus engine, Bitdefender Virus Scanner 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 features 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 Bitdefender’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.