If you need a way to protect your Mac, a top security research firm has just revealed seven of the best choices.
There is a pervasive (and untrue) myth that Macs do not need security suites. While it's true that fewer malefactors target Macs than PCs, there's plenty of harmful Mac software. Furthermore, as Macs increase in popularity, the amount of Mac-directed attacks will increase, too.
Innsbruck, Austria-based security firm AV Comparatives recently released a comprehensive study of eight popular (though not necessarily the most popular) Mac security suites: Avira, ESET, F-Secure, Intego, Kaspersky, Quick Heal, Sophos and ZeoBIT. In the end, seven of these programs got AV Comparative's seal of approval.
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In order to assess the various programs, AV Comparatives devised a battery of tests, of which malware detection and recovery was only one part. Since Macs pride themselves on user-friendliness, AV Comparatives measured each program's ease of installation, user friendliness and help features as well.
AV Comparatives did not rank the programs or choose favorites, but did stamp the seven winners as an "AV Comparatives Approved Security Product" for September 2013.
If you're looking to rule out a security suite right off the bat, look no further than Quick Heal Total Security. Although AV Comparatives adored the interface and slick update procedures, the program really fell down where it counts, identifying only half of the malware programs to which the researchers exposed it.
If you're a casual user, your best bets are Avira, ESET or F-Secure. All of these programs passed the battery of malware tests with flying colors, and scored extra kudos in the user interface and help desk arenas. Avira is free, while ESET costs $45 for one year and F-Secure costs $30 for one year.
For those who are willing to dive deep and get their hands dirty, Intego, Kaspersky, Sophos and ZeoBIT all offered superb protection from threats, but required a little technological know-how to set up the programs so that they function just so.
Intego, which produces only Mac software, costs a steep $80 per year, while Kaspersky clocks in at $60 and ZeoBIT at $40. Sophos, however, is free, so there's no reason not to try it out, even if your Mac skills are not quite up to snuff.
The report also provides a fairly detailed table that compares the individual features of each program. If you insist on having features like email protection, safe search, firewalls and parental controls, for example, you'll have to spring for one of the paid programs.
It's also worth noting that Avira, ESET, Kaspersky, Sophos and ZeoBIT also detect Windows malware. Windows malware generally does not affect Macs, but this functionality could be very useful if you transfer files frequently between a Mac and a PC — say, a home and work computer. Otherwise, a Mac carrying Windows malware could act like a digital Typhoid Mary.
While Macs attracting malware is a definite negative trend, the good news is that there are plenty of reliable options to deal with it. Even Quick Heal was not entirely without merit, argued AV Comparatives — because it is a new program, it still has lots of room to grow.
In the meantime, if you've never scanned your Mac for malware, give Avira and Sophos a shot, then consider additional protection if necessary.