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The best Mac antivirus software in 2021

Best Mac antivirus
(Image credit: Avast)

Every Mac user needs one of the best Mac antivirus programs, although that program may be free to use.

We're long past the time when Apple reasonably could claim that Macs never get infected with malware. The last few years have seen a steady rise in Mac malware, and the numbers keep growing. Today's Macs are also plagued by adware, scareware and other potentially unwanted programs.

Apple's built-in protections aren't enough to stop all this. The XProtect antivirus software looks for exact matches to known malware, but its malware database is updated only every few weeks and modern malware changes shape constantly.

Meanwhile, the Gatekeeper system in macOS only checks new software for an Apple developer signature, which anyone can get for $99. And if Gatekeeper trusts a piece of software, then XProtect will too.

Third-party Mac antivirus programs work a lot harder. They can quickly detect shape-shifting malware and malware no one's ever seen before. They update their databases several times a day and double-check what Gatekeeper lets in. 

Most Mac antivirus programs even check for Windows malware, which likes to hide out on Macs. Some of the programs also come with useful extras such as password managers, system optimizers or VPN services.

  • Keep your mobile device safe too with an iPhone VPN

What is the best Mac antivirus program?

We tested seven of the best Mac antivirus products, free and paid, and we think Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is the best Mac antivirus program.

Bitdefender had a nearly invisible impact on system performance, caught all Mac and Windows malware in lab tests, rolls back files encrypted by ransomware, and hardens your web browser against online attacks. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac even offers 200MB of VPN data daily, although that's just a tease for the unlimited service.

Latest Mac & iOS security alerts and threats

— Facebook says four Chrome browser extensions stole information from Facebook user profiles.

— T-Mobile says a breach exposed customer data such as phone numbers and call info.

— A new variant of cryptocurrency-stealing Mac malware uses AppleScript to avoid detection.

Close behind is Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac, also a dedicated Mac antivirus program with perfect malware-detection scores but a heavier system impact during scans. It has features Bitdefender doesn't, including webcam protection and full parental controls. Kaspersky offers 300MB of daily VPN usage, and its password manager is also limited unless you pay more.

You won't get such restrictions with Norton 360 Deluxe. Its VPN and password manager are unlimited right out of the box. You'll pay more, but because Norton 360 Deluxe includes five licenses for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS devices, it may be worth the extra cost. Norton catches all Mac and Windows malware in lab tests, and its system-performance impact is small. It even includes LifeLock monitoring for misuse of your personal data.

Avast Free Mac Security is our favorite free option. It has nearly perfect malware protection, an unlimited password manager and an easy-to-use interface. But it can slow down your system during scans, and you'll see a lot of ads and suggestions to upgrade to paid Avast products.

Sophos Home Premium is a hidden gem. It doesn't come with a lot of extra features, but it does protect your Mac's webcam and has web filters for children and dedicated protection against ransomware. You can protect up to 10 Mac or PCs for a bargain price. We would place Sophos Home Premium higher on this list, but we don't have recent data about how well it detects malware. However, Sophos' Mac antivirus for enterprise, upon which Sophos Home is based, does very well in lab tests.

McAfee Antivirus Plus is also an inexpensive 10-device bundle protecting Macs, PCs and Android devices. It gives PCs a lot of extra features, but not Macs, and McAfee's full scans can create noticeable system slowdowns. Its consumer Mac malware protection also hasn't been tested in a while, and McAfee's enterprise Mac antivirus performs a notch below those of Bitdefender and Sophos.

Malwarebytes for Mac Premium has never been subjected to malware-detection lab tests, but Malwarebytes' Windows consumer antivirus software does not do well. However, we can recommend using the free version of Malwarebytes for Mac, an excellent cleanup tool that's the perfect assistant for good Mac antivirus software.

The best Mac antivirus software you can get

Best Mac antivirus: Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

1. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac

The best antivirus program for Macs: light, fast, strong and easy to use

Perfect malware detection
Ransomware protection
Clean, easy-to-use design
Imperceptible system impact
Automatically installs VPN client, but unlimited costs extra

Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac gets flawless malware-detection results in lab tests and has a nearly nonexistent impact on system performance in our own Tom's Guide tests.

The program also offers ransomware rollbacks, including for Time Machine backups, extensions to harden your web browser, adware blocking and 200MB of free VPN data daily. It recently added tracker blocking to protect your privacy as you move from one website to the next.

Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac's streamlined, easy-to-use interface places on-demand scans front and center. You may not need to use them, however, because the Autopilot and Bitdefender Shield features keep the software running without much human intervention.

We only wish that Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac didn't keep trying to upsell us to Bitdefender's unlimited VPN service. But other than that, it's a nearly perfect Mac antivirus program and our choice for best Mac antivirus software.

Read our full Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac review.

Best Mac antivirus: Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

2. Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac

The best parental controls of any Mac antivirus product

Perfect malware detection
Useful privacy tools
Great parental controls
Heavy system impact during scans
Password manager, VPN are teasers

Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac has perfect malware-detection rates, protects your webcam and kills tracking cookies.

It offers the best parental controls of any of the best Mac antivirus programs, with content filters, time limits and monitoring of personal data. Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac can even turn off the webcam on a MacBook, a feature that Apple itself doesn't offer, and the program's interface is detailed yet easy to use.

There are some drawbacks. The included password manager Is limited to 15 entries unless you pay an extra $15 per year. Likewise, the VPN service gives you only 300MB of data per day; unlimited data costs $30 per year. (At least Kaspersky doesn't persistently try to upsell you on them.) The malware-detection engine also takes a somewhat heavy toll on system performance during scans.

Read our full Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac review.

The best parental controls of any Mac antivirus software
Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac offers excellent malware protection, useful privacy tools and great parental controls. 

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Best Mac antivirus: Norton

(Image credit: Norton)

3. Norton 360 Deluxe

The best feature set among Mac antivirus programs, including unlimited VPN service

Excellent malware detection
Low impact on system performance
Unlimited VPN service, password manager
Rather expensive
Parental controls, cloud storage don't work on Macs

Norton 360 Deluxe has a ton of useful extras, including unlimited VPN service and an unlimited password manager, two features for which its rivals make you pay extra. It's also got a two-way firewall, a system optimizer and dark-web monitoring of your personal data.

More importantly, Norton 360 Deluxe has a small impact on system performance, always-available tech support and, last but not least, flawless malware detection of both Mac and Windows software.

You'll pay rather a lot for these luxuries, however, although the five-device license lets you spread out the cost over several Macs (or PCs). The interface, while very detailed, is also more complicated that it should be. And we wish that the parental controls, webcam protection and backup software, which come built into the Windows version of Norton 360 Deluxe, worked for Macs as well.

Read our full Norton 360 Deluxe review.

Best Mac antivirus: Avast Free Mac Security

(Image credit: Avast)

4. Avast Free Mac Security

If you want free Mac antivirus, this is the one to get

Nearly no system impact in background
Unlimited password manager
Scans email attachments for threats
Malware protection isn't perfect
Nags you to pay for extra features

Avast Free Mac Security has many useful extra features, including an unlimited password manager, an external-drive scanner and a malicious-website blocker. Unlike most Mac antivirus programs, it scans email messages and attachments for malware.

While Avast's malware detection is good, it isn't perfect. Likewise, its system-performance impact is a mixed bag, with very little background drain but a heavy hit during active scans.

Avast Free Mac Security's interface is easy to navigate, but prepare to be disappointed. Many of the most enticing items, including ransomware rollbacks, are available only to paid users. 

The system optimizer is just a tease – you can scan your Mac for clutter, but you have to pay to see the results. You'll also be nagged constantly to buy other Avast programs, such as its VPN service and its anti-tracking software.

Read our full Avast Free Mac Security review.

Best Mac antivirus: Sophos Home Premium

(Image credit: Sophos)

5. Sophos Home Premium

Most cost-effective for large families

Covers 10 systems
Ransomware protection
Parental website filters
Heavy background system impact
Untested malware detection

Sophos Home Premium can protect up to 10 computers, Mac or Windows, for a low price and its parental web filters can stop kids from seeing objectionable material online. It also has dedicated protections against ransomware and for your webcam and microphone.

Its background system impact is more noticeable than its competitors', although nowhere near the system impact of some Windows antivirus products. It's got a relatively small impact during active scans.

The interface is minimal and mostly lives in the menu bar; for more controls, there's a powerful online management tool. Tech support is 12 hours a day, Monday through Friday, and limited to email and chat interactions.

We just wish we had some third-party lab-test data about the efficacy of Sophos' Mac malware scanner, which might place it higher among the best Mac antivirus software programs.

Read our full Sophos Home Premium review.

Best Mac antivirus: McAfee Antivirus Plus

(Image credit: McAfee)

6. McAfee Antivirus Plus

Another bargain for large families, but fairly sparse on features

Protects 10 devices
Low passive system impact
Unproven detection rates
Huge system slowdowns during full scans
Confusing interface

McAfee Antivirus Plus's generous 10-device license means you can provide antivirus protection for a whole family of Macs (and/or Windows PCs and Android phones) for a reasonable yearly fee.

But the program doesn't have a lot of extra features for Macs, which makes it hard to recommend for Apple customers. All Mac users really get is a firewall, while Windows users get ransomware protection, cryptojacking protection and a system optimizer. McAfee Antivirus Plus also has a heavy system impact during scans and a confusing interface.

Furthermore, we don't know really how well McAfee Antivirus Plus protects against Mac malware. There haven't been any recent Mac malware-detection testing scores for McAfee, so its protection powers are impossible to compare with those of the best Mac antivirus software.

Read our full McAfee Antivirus Plus review.

Best Mac antivirus: Malwarebytes for Mac

(Image credit: Malwarebytes)

7. Malwarebytes for Mac Premium

Stick to the free version, which works well with better AV software

Easy-to-use design
Superfast scans
Low system impact
No special features
Untested malware detection

Despite its fast scans, light impact on system performance, and bright, easy-to-use interface, Malwarebytes for Mac Premium feels half cooked.

The program doesn't have many of the extra features its competitors offer, such as malicious-website blocking and email scanning. And because its malware-blocking skills haven't been evaluated in lab tests, we don't actually know how good Malwarebytes is at protecting your Mac.

However, we do recommend the free version, Malwarebytes for Mac. It is not truly antivirus software, but an excellent post-infection cleanup tool that also gets rid of the annoying adware and unwanted programs that antivirus software tends to miss.

You might want to let the two-week Malwarebytes Premium trial expire and instead use the free tier alongside some of the best Mac antivirus software.

Read our full Malwarebytes for Mac Premium review.

How to choose the best Mac antivirus software for you

First, figure out what you need. Do you have several Macs and Windows PCs at home? Then a multiplatform, multi-device bundle such as Norton 360 Deluxe, Sophos Home Premium or McAfee Antivirus Plus might be ideal. Bitdefender and Kaspersky also offer multiplatform bundles that come with the same software we've reviewed here.

Or do you have just one, two or three Macs? If so, there's no need to go overboard: The one- or three-device versions of Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac or Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac should do you just fine.

Do you have young children or teenagers living at home? Consider Mac antivirus software that comes with parental controls or web-content filters, like Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac or Sophos Home Premium.

Then you have to figure out how much you can afford. If the answer is "nothing," then try Avast Free Mac Security or the free tier of Sophos Home. The trade-off is that they aren't as good as many of the paid programs.

But if you can afford to spend $50 a year, then you've got a lot of options. Most of the antivirus companies frequently offer discounts of up to 60%, both straight from their websites or through online retailers.

You'll have to let them automatically charge your credit card the full price when your subscription ends, but you can often uncheck that option beforehand, or override it by buying another subscription on sale first.

How we test the best Mac antivirus programs

To find the best Mac antivirus software, we evaluate ease of use, interface and performance impact. We installed each AV program on the same Late 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina Display running macOS 10.12 Sierra. It was powered by a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7 processor and had 8GB of RAM and 70GB of data stored on a 512GB SSD.

We conducted our own tests based on how much each of the best Mac antivirus programs affected our laptop's performance. To do this, we used our custom OpenOffice benchmark, which matches 20,000 names and addresses in a spreadsheet. We measured how long it took to run a quick scan and a full scan while the laptop crunched numbers in the background.

We assessed how easy each of the best Mac antivirus programs was to use and the number of useful extra features it offered (including free add-on software). 

To gauge how effective each package was at stopping malware, we used the results of evaluations conducted by AV-Test, a well-regarded independent product-testing lab in Germany, and results from other tests conducted by AV-Comparatives, a similarly well-respected company in Austria. (Both labs also test the best Android antivirus apps.)

iOS antivirus apps

A lot of people want iOS antivirus software for their iPhones and iPads. The truth is that such software doesn't exist. Apple won't let third-party apps examine other iOS apps, or even inspect new apps as they're installed. Anything that claims to be antivirus software swiftly gets kicked out of the iTunes App Store.

Many major antivirus vendors, including F-Secure, McAfee, Norton and Trend Micro, do have "security" apps in the App Store. But these check web links for known malicious sites, locate lost devices or pretend to protect your privacy. None scans an iPhone for malware.

There has been real iOS malware that affects non-jailbroken devices, but it's very rarely cropped up. In each instance, Apple has pushed out a new version of iOS to stop the malware in a matter of days or weeks. Generally, if you keep your Apple mobile device updated to the latest version of iOS, you should be safe.