Sophos Antivirus for Mac Home Edition: OK for Families

If you're looking to protect a family's worth of Macs with antivirus software without spending a dime, check out Sophos Home, which comes in a single bundles for both Mac and PCs. This free suite allows you to remotely manage up to 10 machines and even includes parental controls.

But while Sophos Home doesn't slow down your system as much as others, its malware-detection score -- which is OK -- is still behind many of its competitors' scores. We recommend Avast Free Mac Security as the best no-cost option, and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac ($40 per year) as our Editor's Choice.

Costs and What's Covered

Sophos Home is free, and its Mac version requires a Apple computer running macOS 10.12 Sierra or one of the two previous versions (OS X 10.11 El Capitan and 10.10 Yosemite) with 1GB of RAM and 1GB of free disk space.

Up to 10 Macs or PCs can be linked together under a single Sophos account for remote management of a household.

Antivirus Protection

Sophos Home uses traditional signature-based malware identification and heuristic behavioral-based monitoring to identify suspicious files. It can thwart Windows malware as well help stop the spread of malware for that platform.

Not only does Sophos constantly scan your computer and its connections in the background, but its web interface enables on-demand scans from remote locations. The utility also scans unopened archive files such as ZIPs.

Antivirus Performance

The Germany-based AV-Test testing lab evaluated Sophos Home for Mac's malware-detection skills and found decent, but far from perfect, protection.

In AV-Test's May 2017 studies, it found that Sophos Home detected 98.4 percent of Mac malware, which translates to catching 181 pieces of malware and failing to detect three. That's not terrible, but Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac, Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac and Norton Security Deluxe detected 100 percent of malware thrown at its Macs in those same tests.

Sophos Home's malware-detection score is behind many of its competitors' scores.

Austria's AV-Comparatives lab tested a series of Sophos Home's competitors -- but not Sophos Home itself -- in July 2017. Two of the free options it tested (Avast Free Mac Security and AVG AntiVirus for Mac) detected 99.9 percent of malware, catching 686 out of 687 malicious files.

Special Features

Unlike other free Mac antivirus solutions, Sophos Home is rich with bonus features. Chief among them is remote management from the Sophos Home web page, so you can check on your machine -- and up to nine others linked to your account -- from the field.

Additionally, those with children coming of age will appreciate Sophos Home's parental controls. (Of the eight Mac antivirus products we tested, only Sophos, Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac provide them.)

Those with children coming of age will appreciate Sophos Home's parental controls.

Not only can you block an account from visiting entire categories of websites, but it keeps records of each attempt to navigate to a unapproved page. Alternatively, users can be allowed to visit a page after being given a warning that Sophos will make a note of their visit in the parent's log if they proceed.

Sophos' competitors pack browser plugins to flag untrustworthy search-engine results, but don't be annoyed that Sophos doesn't. Those extensions can be downloaded for free from those manufacturers, which include Avast, Bitdefender and Kaspersky.

Performance and System Impact

Sophos Home created a comparatively low impact on system performance. We assessed this using our custom OpenOffice benchmark test, which measures how long it takes to match 20,000 names and 20,000 addresses on a spreadsheet. Our test machine was a Late 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina Display with a 2.6 GHz Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 70GB of data stored on a 512GB SSD.

After we installed Avast Free Mac Security on our MacBook, the OpenOffice test finished in an average of 2 minutes and 24 seconds, 1.75 seconds longer than the same system took before the installation. That's a passive system hit of 1.2 percent, which is the middle of the bottom half of the range that we found.

Unlike other free Mac antivirus solutions, Sophos Home is rich with bonus features.

By contrast, Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac rated 2.8 percent (a category high) and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac rated 0 percent (the lowest), but you really wouldn't notice any effect on your system.

During a full-system scan, the OpenOffice test finished in 2 minutes and 31.25 seconds, signifying a performance dip of 6.3 percent, the second lowest of those we found. Avira Free Antivirus for Mac's 12.8 percent is the highest, with Kaspersky's 4.5 percent the lowest.

Sophos Home's full-scans completed in an average of 40 minutes and 51 seconds, which falls in the middle of the times we recorded. By contrast, the longest time we saw was 72:45 (Kaspersky), and the shortest was 1:25 (recorded by Bitdefender). The average for all eight products was 36:30.

Interface

Sophos' main window allows you to perform on-demand scans and check the status of your machine, but most of its controls are found in the Sophos Home web interface. For example, while Sophos' on-machine main screen features an Exceptions button, clicking that only shows you which exemptions you've set for websites, applications and files.

To visit the web interface, click Home Dashboard in the main screen and click on your Mac to see its status. Here you can click Scan to perform a remote scan, or click Configure to set parental controls, change scanning preferences and set up exceptions.

Installation and Support

Clicking Download on the Sophos Home web page starts a download of the folder containing the suite's installer file. After opening that installer, it takes approximately 3 minutes for Sophos Home for Mac to be up and running.

As is the case with most free Mac antivirus software, Sophos does not offer any personal technical support with this product. Instead, you'll need to turn to Sophos' community forums and knowledge-base documentation to have your questions answered.

Bottom Line

Sophos Home for Mac is a solid plan for families, especially those on a tight budget. Not only does it pack remote management and parental controls, but its easy one-click scans make it simple enough for anyone to use.

If only its malware detection score were closer to (or at) 100 percent, it would be a serious contender. That's how tight the race to be the best Mac antivirus suite has gotten. Because of this, we prefer Avast Free Mac Security or the paid Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac.

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  • Seta Soso
    All these features and protection offered count for little when Sophos locks up my Finder everytime I browse folders on my Macbook Pro 15" Retina running OS X Mavericks (10.9.5). The fix? I uninstalled Sophos and everything was back to working fine.
  • ruftytufty
    One expects a full scan to have some performance impact - but one doesn't normally need to run a full scan very often. I think a more useful performance test would be how much does the always-on scanning (of downloaded files, URL's, copies), etc. affect performance. That's going to affect one's day-to-day experience of performance effects much more.
  • Justin Keller
    I'm a little surprised to see some of the other scanners rate more highly... Avira has known issues with cause Macs to take forever to shut down, or even to hang while shutting down. Avast installs adware, blocks some websites from loading (the browser will say that it can't connect to the server), and has massive issues with replacing certificates for secure sites.

    I have absolutely no relationship at all with any company that produces an antivirus scanner. But I have tried both of these products, and when I began having problems I went to sites such as Apple's discussion groups and to The Safe Mac. This is known stuff.
  • StephenStrum
    Here's the problem as I see it. I agree with Justin's comments that you never know if there exists a CONFLICT OF INTERESTS in what one person or site advises versus another. I am a physician and uninvolved with any software company. That is the truth, but is this enough for readers to believe in what I have to say. Second, many comments by users and in different websites becomes outdated. In fact, searching Google for me is impaired dramatically but not seeing on the search findings the most recent date per that site. So, I went to TheSafeMac.com and their review of anti-virus apps is 2 years old. That's outdated in my opinion. I have used a number of apps that muck up my computer's operation i.e. slow down, or even freeze operations. Some colleagues have had major problems with Sophos.
    The bottom line is where can we find those ethical persons that provide reports that are up-to-date, accurate, and not corrupted by conflicts of interest? Basically, it's the same issue: Caveat emptor or Buyer beware!
  • Captain Yesterday
    I was very satisfied with Sophos from 2011 until August 2016 when the last version supporting OS X 10.7 and earlier (9.4.2) stopped adding new virus definitions (after having been reduced to limited support in November 2014 and zero support in November 2015). The couple of problems ever I saw were always introduced in one update and quickly fixed in the next. For a free product, I found their support forum excllent. However, I only used its On-Access Scanning, Manual Scanning, and Manual Updating functions. I disabled its Live Protection, Web Protection, and Automatic Updating functions because I use other measures (ipfw/WaterRoof, Little Snitch, MVPS hosts, NoScript for Firefox, webmail exclusively) and because managing network and CPU resources significantly increases reliability and performance for me.

    Based on "Best Antivirus Software and Apps 2016" I decided to try switching to Avast. So far it seems a perfectly serviceable replacement, though with fewer of the user interface features I use, I'd rather Sophos had kept supporting my system. I'll elaborate under the Avast review.