May 29, 2023

Your Mac *does* need antivirus software. Here are your best bets.


You’ve probably heard that Macs don’t need antivirus software. Whoever told you that was wrong.

The idea that Macs are generally more secure than PCs isn’t totally off-base. Windows does tend to have more security vulnerabilities because, while Apple does everything in-house, Windows operates on hardware from a handful of manufacturers. Apple’s closed-loop system simply makes holes smaller and harder to infiltrate.

But that doesn’t mean Mac’s security is hole-free. Antivirus software is still a worthwhile purchase.

Do hackers prefer Macs or PCs? 

It’s been a handful of years since Apple revealed that PC has it beat popularity-wise (by about four times, or 300 million active users). Apple’s been chomping away at the market share, but still, fewer people own Macs. Fewer Mac owners, fewer targets for criminals, right? Hackers are obviously more likely to create malware that’ll affect more people’s computers rather than spend extra time working around a tricky OS that fewer people have installed.

But just like TikTok warns that the chances of your cat killing you are few but never zero, the chances of hackers deliberately going after Mac users are few, but never zero. MacBooks are the it-tech of the moment. They’re the cool laptop to have and flaunt like a cool bag or pair of shoes, especially for students getting their first laptop. Hackers have zeroed in on this.

They also know that most Mac owners are under the impression that their laptops — or iPads, which have surged Mac OS’s prevalence big-time — are invincible, and therefore might not bother to arm their Mac or iPad with any type of virus defense. They know that population isn’t paying attention. Big mistake. Huge.

So it’s terrifying yet not that surprising that Mac’s malware problem has not just caught up to, but outpaced the PC infection rate. A report from Malwarebytes found that Mac malware saw an increase of over 400% between 2018 and 2019. That number is all but guaranteed to rise, with new threats like OSX.Generic.Suspicious and FakeFileOpener cited as significant disruptors in the macOS world. Adware, or advertisement-supported software, is also a problem. Though not as dangerous as a virus, these “potentially unwanted programs” bombard your device with ads, and can go as far as to change your browser’s homepage and add spyware.

You thought you had avoided the pain in the ass that is researching, installing, and paying regularly for antivirus software. However, it’d be far less convenient to have your valuable data compromised or to lose a lifetime of photos that you have yet to backup on iCloud. The research is the most time-consuming part, so we’ve taken care of that. We’ve taken a look at some of the best antivirus solutions out there for your Mac, ensuring you have an extra layer of security between your data and nefarious viruses. We’ve evaluated their effectiveness at detecting viruses, and lay out any of their additional security features too. 

The difference between a virus, malware, and ransomware

Every virus or instance of ransomware is malware, but not all malware is a virus or ransomware. Malware (short for malicious software) is an umbrella term covering any software intentionally to cause damage to a computer, server, network, or the user of any of these things. Malware can be as  dully irritating as adware (pop-ups that don’t go away) or as dangerous and invasive as webcam spying.

A virus is a form of malware that self-replicates in different programs by using malicious code. The infection can stem from a variety of places: email or text attachments, links on social media or movie-watching sites, pop-ups where you really thought you just X-ed out, or seemingly-safe internet downloads like a game or browser add-on.

Ransomware is form of malware that blocks access to a system until a ransom is paid — essentially holding it hostage. Schools (institutions with lots of people who need access to computers to do their jobs) have fallen victim to ransom-related cyber attacks as of late. A school in Baltimore County experienced a days-long shut down after a ransomware attack left the system inaccessible — in the middle of coronavirus-induced online learning, no less.

The average person probably doesn’t need to be as worried about such an attack as a school or business. Not to get all doomsday, but the point here is that no computer is 100% immune to the different types of malware, especially as hackers get more creative with their methods.

Antivirus software needs to look *extra* alive on public WiFi

Public WiFi is the kind you access at places like coffee shops, hotels, or airports (before COVID, at least). Expectedly, it’s a breeding ground for creeps. Hackers love free WiFi for the same reason you do: Connecting to the internet requires no authentication. That network is littered with unsecured devices, many times belonging to working professionals with bank accounts and business credentials that have phishers frothing at the mouth. Hackers could take advantage of this in two ways: sliding themselves between you and the connection point to eavesdrop on emails, credit card info, or work logins you may be relaying (a Man-in-the-Middle situation) or by distributing malware. 

If this type of mobile connection is one that you use frequently, antivirus software should know how to handle these threats. They should be able to safeguard your online activities, detect phishing threats or subtle-yet-sketchy email addresses, and warn you about questionable URLs before the site loads fully. Your best-case scenario would be to use a VPN, which software packages like Norton and Kaspersky provide. A VPN adds a level of encryption that a public network can’t guarantee to provide, hooking you up to a secure server and adding an extra wall of protection around your data.

Other precautions include disabling nearby file sharing and AirDrop, using your phone’s hotspot if you can, and asking an employee for the official WiFi name to avoid fake, malicious hotspots. Some parents seek Chromebooks for their kids due to the fact that each Chrome page or app runs its own sandbox, and GoogleOS isn’t super popular with hackers yet.

Do you really need a password manager?

Let’s say you find an email in your spam folder with one of your passwords — potentially one that you still use for multiple different logins — as the subject line. The email insists that by having that one password, someone was able to hack into your laptop’s webcam. Sextortion threats and sketchy links to Bitcoin follow. How freaked out would you be?

Once the initial shock wears off, some Googling will likely assure you that no, there’s very little chance that a hacker installed webcam-attacking malware using a single password. (The need for a webcam cover is a conversation for another day.) But what’s left is the fact that someone bad does know that one password. It’s less worrisome if you haven’t used it for anything in five years — but if you’re one of those people who recycle some rendition of the same password over and over, the number of websites or apps where that password and your email (and credit card info, or worse) are connected is… concerning. FWIW, tracking down old passwords requires, like, the most bare bones hacking skills ever. Keylogging doesn’t even need to be involved. Vulnerable login credentials are constantly passed around the dark web after major security breaches (like LinkedIn’s in 2016 or Facebook’s in 2018).

Many antivirus software options consider password-related threats (which are equal opportunity employers, regardless of being a Mac or PC owner) to fall under the security threat umbrella and will include some type of password manager in their package. These programs take on the task of creating and remembering a super-random password unique to each website you log into. Saying goodbye to your go-to password can be a pain, but CNET insists the security benefits are worth it. 

Here is the best antivirus software for Mac in 2021:

Offers idle scanning for when you’re not active • Subscription comes with no-limits VPN • Includes two Safari plugins • Two-way firewall deters exploit attacks
Was known for having performance issues in the past
Plenty of options to scan your Mac in the background without the performance dips of the past.

Norton 360 Standard for Mac

Set it and forget it: Norton’s clutch idle scanning runs in the background without creating lag.

  • One Mac:
  • Up to five Macs:
On OG in the security software business, you know what to expect from Norton. It sits in the shadows and watches out for any suspicious activity or threats to your system — no action on your part necessary. Rather than slowing your Mac down while you’re using it, the automatic idle scanning feature only kicks in during quiet periods. 
The Norton 360 Standard package includes two powerful Safari plugins. Safe Web helps to steer clear of visiting rogue sites, while Norton Password Manager is a simple password management tool. Neither are quite as expansive as the antivirus facility, but as a useful way of cutting off issues at the source, they do the job admirably. 

Can disable a Mac’s webcam (MacOS can’t even do this) • Comes with access to Kaspersky Safe Kids • Customer service is actually responsive • VPN and password manager included • Two-way firewall • On-screen keyboard to ditch keyloggers
Vulnerability scan isn’t super helpful • VPN usage is limited
Spotless malware detection and a full parental control suite make it great for families.

Kaspersky for Mac

Family-friendly Kaspersky has immaculate test scores against malware plus a wealth of bonus features.

  • One Mac for one year:
  • One Mac for two years:
  • Three Macs for one year:
  • Three Macs for two years:
The bonus features that come along with the beastly antivirus are what really make it stand out, particularly to parents with kids who use devices unsupervised. Screen time reports, app and search customization, and geofencing notifications (which you’ll get access to with an antivirus package) make it one of our favorite parental control software options.
Kaspersky’s pristine lab tests need to be discussed, too. It’s particularly good at not only scoping out ransomware and stalkerware threats, but recovering files lost to malware as well. Since blocking all trackers could break some websites you use, Kaspersky lets you make distinctions among behavioral trackers and trackers used by ad agencies, web-analytics firms and social networks and treat each category differently, as well as letting you white-list websites of whose trackers you approve.

Works fast without interfering • Traffic Light browser identifies dangerous links • Ransomware protection on files and Time Machine backups • Removes adware and blocks ad tracking
Autopilot background scanner can’t be scheduled • Automatically installs VPN, which isn’t free • Safe Files can be *too* officious
Spotless test scores and extras like ransomeware protection make this a solid choice.

Bitdefender Total Security for Mac

Be confident in this award-winning protection, including a ransomware scanner that’s a real stickler.

  • Up to 5 devices:
    $44.99 (first year)
  • Up to 10 devices:
    $49.99 (first year)

Bitdefender’s award-winning antivirus engine is a strong opening gambit for a company that’s less known by the average consumer than a Norton or McAfee. Testing for malware detection has revealed flawless success rates, and its ransomware protection is an added bonus that isn’t always seen at this budget.
The search for malware can be customized to your Mac’s system library or filetypes (like unopened PDF or ZIPs) including tricker Mac-specific ones. Its always-on scanner, Autopilot, continues the detective work quietly in the background, including sniffing out PC malware that found its way to your Apple device. Web security features include an adware blocker and anti-phishing detection.

SafePrice add-on for price comparisons • Resident Shield runs quietly in the background • Free version of password manager • WiFi inspector flags questionable devices using your network
Need to opt out of third party reporting • Full URL protection only in Chrome and Firefox (not Safari) • Lack of antiphishing features
Experience near-perfect malware protection and a password guard without being a paying user.


Get impressive add-ons like a password manager and online shopping tool without upgrading to a paid tier.

Not completely convinced that Macs need to go as far as paid antivirus? Humor us with a free version, at least. Avast finds itself listed as the best free Antivirus for Macs across multiple publishers’ lists with its impressive engine detection that doesn’t skimp where other free competitors do. (The paid version of Avast isn’t nearly as much of a steal.)
Avast acquired AVG in 2016 but remains slightly more comprehensive than its now-sibling, at least when it comes to the free versions. A live WiFi vulnerabilities monitor and ransomware shield work in tandem with the traditional malware scanner to create an armor against common vulnerabilities that proves itself in tests. In a rare but appreciated move, Avast also offers a free tier of its password manager.

Recent redesign has a clean interface • Offers extra tools like anti-spam protection
Occasional accuracy slip-ups • Heavy system impact during full scans • Not comprehensive on iOS
It might not be the subtlest or the most attractive, but for those after comprehensive security assistance, it’s unparalleled.

McAfee Total Protection

McAfee offers extra tools like digital document shredding and anti-spam protection that help it rise above the rest.

  • One device:
    $34.99 (first year)
  • Five devices:
    $39.99 (first year)
  • Ten devices:
    $44.99 (first year)

As expected from a name as big as McAfee, there’s the prospect of award-winning antivirus scanning. It’s not quite as fast as Norton’s nor quite as accurate, but it’s still highly competent. 
Where things are ramped up is McAfee Total Protection’s many extra tools, much beloved by its users. There’s anti-spam protection that works with many popular email clients, a digital document shredding tool, Wi-Fi protection settings, and a network manager so your network can’t be hijacked without your knowledge. Parental controls are also available along with McAfee Identity Theft Protection which helps protect you against identity theft by scanning the dark web and SSN monitoring. It’s all about cutting off your risks before they cause problems that require recovery.  

Particularly great phishing detection • Comes with 256GB cloud storage • Cloud-based security info means no updates • Comes with premium LastPass password manager
Doesn’t use a large database for detection, if that matters to you • Lacks some customization • Reported hiccups after OS update
A lightweight solution for protecting an older Mac without using up precious RAM.

Still using your 2012 MacBook is kind of a power move. They may seem invincible, but they still need virus protection — one that won’t upset the spinning beach ball. Webroot primarily relies on “next-gen” security, a collection of real-time predictive methods like AI and behavioral analysis. System impact and RAM demand are kept low by avoiding the need for comparing each file to a large database of threats. Full scans take just minutes and updates aren’t a thing.
Alongside such fast scanning, Webroot works to cut things off at the source. Its anti-phishing tools catch and block harmful sites before they even load, along with a firewall and network connection monitor. 

Built just for Macs • High accuracy rate • Stellar network protection on public WiFi • ContentBarrier parental controls
Could be speedier • No web browser plugins • Not as proactive against Windows or Linux-based issues as competitors
A stylish stack of features that’ll keep your Mac running quickly, though not as robust as competitors.

Intego Mac Premium X9

Buckle down on Mac-specific viruses while keeping your computer free of files that slow it down.

  • One device:
    $39.99 (first year)
  • Three devices:
    $54.99 (first year)
  • Five devices:
    $69.99 (first year)

Perfecting its Mac safety software since 1997, Intego has been perfecting Apple-specific tools before it was cool. Its current X9 bundle covers all of the bases with three barriers: VirusBarrier (traditional antivirus) NetBarrier (firewall), and ContentBarrier (parental controls).
Intego’s slick cleaner platform, Washing Machine, features actual appliance-like toggles to schedule scans or get rid of junk or duplicate files — essentially optimizing your Mac to run as efficiently as possible. Any infected pieces found will be quarantined from the rest.