Mac users, take note: AV-Comparatives.org warns it's a "misguided conclusion" that you don't need antivirus software. For many Apple users, however, the idea of having a shield against bugs is still foreign. While there are only a handful of professional tests and reviews, a few software antivirus products stand out in the Mac category, including Avast! Free Antivirus for Mac, which is well reviewed by experts who praise its reliability and design.
Just the basics. Launched in 2012, Avast! Free Antivirus for Mac is a free, downloadable program for personal (not commercial) use that provides malware defense, email scanning and some online protection. Installation is straightforward. As when installing most antivirus software, you should delete or disable any existing antivirus software on your machine before downloading the program.
The software requires that you accept a license agreement and register to continue to receive updates (you have 30 days to register, but it's a good idea to do so as soon as possible in order to protect your system). After the program is installed the home screen will pop up, indicating the security status and shields providing layers of protection. There aren't many options to choose from on installation and the software isn't teeming with features, but Avast! Free Antivirus for Mac is a good choice for home users.
A simple design, and layers of protection. Avast! Free Antivirus for Mac provides "shields" for email, web and file systems that check viruses in all three. Scans include email attachments, downloads and computer files. Reviewers applaud the multiple levels of screening, as well as the software's clean, uncluttered design that displays your security status and allows you to find out more information on quarantines and threats in each category by clicking on the three shields.
Download.com, which gives the product its Editors' Choice award, calls the tools "well-organized," and notes that its live graphics "enhance the feeling of safety -- you can see that the antivirus software doesn't sleep and is always working to protect you from any viruses circulating on the web." The software also uses pop-ups to show when it's working, but these can be turned off or limited to important alerts. There is a web reputation button that warns of potentially malicious websites based on reports from other Avast! users.
Detects all or most malware. The most important indicator of antivirus performance is detection; Sophos, a previous best-reviewed pick in this category learned this the hard way when a security expert found serious holes in the U.K. firm's highly regarded software. While Mac antivirus products aren't widely tested (let alone compared), Avast! Free Antivirus for Mac scores well in this category and is one of the key reasons it rises to the top. The software detected 100 percent of malware threats in a test by AV-Comparatives.org, a leading lab for antivirus tests. The lab tested nearly 500 Mac virus samples on seven antivirus software brands; Avira and ZeoBit both also caught all of the malware.
In a non-lab test by The Safe Mac, Avast! caught 43 out of 51 malware threats, coming in second to Sophos; it tied with Dr. Web Light. The reviewer tested 16 Mac antivirus software makers, and commented that he was "appalled at how much active malware was missed," by most programs. Download.com endorses Avast! and notes that it was "very easy to use" but warns that its test computer and browser slowed down during scans. However, hundreds of Download.com contributors give Avast! 4.5 out of 5 stars, with most complimenting the software's light footprint and saying it runs unnoticed in the background.
Review Credibility: Excellent AV-Comparatives.org, a top lab for antivirus tests, tested nearly 500 Mac samples on seven antivirus software brands and found Avast! Free Antivirus for Mac, Avira and ZeoBit had 100 percent malware detection rates. The write-up for Avast! is shorter than AV-Comparatives.org's other security reports.
Review: Mac Security Review, Editors of AV-Comparatives.org, Sept. 30, 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent In this single-product review, CNET's Download.com awards Avast! Free Antivirus its Editors' Choice award, rating it 4.5 out of 5 stars. The editors praise the logical interface design, live graphics and multiple "shields" -- one each for email, file systems and the web. Editors note that running the scans slows down computers, while users say it has a light footprint.
Review: Avast Free Antivirus for Mac, Editors of and contributors to Download.com, Sept. 2, 2012
3. The Safe Mac
Review Credibility: Very Good This website, dedicated to security on Macs, tests the ability of 16 antivirus software products to detect 51 malware threats on a computer running Mac OS X. Avast! found 43, coming in second to Sophos; it ties with Dr. Web Light.
Review: Mac Antivirus Detection Rates, Editors of The Safe Mac, Nov. 14, 2012
Review Credibility: Good PCMag.com previews Avast! Free Antivirus for Mac in lieu of a full report, providing a good overview of how the software is designed and functions. It does not test or review the product, however.
Review: Avast! Free Antivirus for Mac Preview, Neil J. Rubenking , April 27, 2012
5. PC World
Review Credibility: Good This article profiles a security researcher who detected critical holes in Sophos, a popular antivirus software product for Mac users. Sophos, which patched the vulnerabilities, was previously one of the best-reviewed antivirus products for Macs.
Review: Researcher Finds Critical Vulnerabilities in Sophos Antivirus Product, Lucian Constantin, Nov. 6, 2012