If you have a newer Mac with one of the most recent OS versions installed, you might already have Apple’s proprietary antivirus software XProtect installed on your device. While you get this for free with your Mac, it’s not the only option you have for free antivirus protection for your Apple device.
Comparitech often runs in-house testing and in-depth reviews on the best antivirus for Mac and Windows. While you might think there’s not too much difference between providers, the results can be quite surprising. The level of protection against malware is not the only difference either. Additional features and speed vary significantly from provider to provider. With a little additional research, you can find the best possible free antivirus for Mac and give your device an extra level of protection.
In this article, I have researched the best free AV tools for Mac. I’ve looked for antivirus solutions that have great features and work as well as paid software when it comes to protecting your device. Below, you’ll find the top free antivirus programs for Mac. If you are in a rush, you can choose from our quick summary. If you have more time, we cover each antivirus in more detail further in this article.
Best free antivirus for Mac:
- Avira: Good antivirus scanner with more additional features for free.
- Bitdefender: Number of options to customize free malware scans.
- Sophos: Real-time scanning that protects against known Mac malware, viruses, trojans, worms, and bots.
- Avast: Free malware scanner with browser security alerts to keep you safe online from phishing scams.
- TotalAV: A good option for on demand malware scanning and light on additional features.
I’ve chosen the best free antivirus tools that are free programs forever, and not just short term free trials. These apps are very functional, but also not as advanced with all the extra features of a paid version.
If you are looking for something with even more security and privacy features beyond the antivirus scanner, you might want to consider a subscription-based Mac antivirus. Our top recommendation is Norton Antivirus.
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What to look for in a free antivirus program
The built-in XProtect feature on Mac works to detect malware and block its installation. Like third-party antivirus programs, XProtect is constantly updated with the latest malware signatures to maintain protection against the latest threats. Another feature called Gatekeeper blocks all software from installation if it’s not an approved Apple program. Users must provide additional authorization for any software not already approved by the AppStore for the program installation to go ahead.
While these tools work well and are helpful for protecting your device, they are fairly basic compared to some options, especially when you consider computer security today is more complex than just removing known malware.
Here’s what to look for in a free antivirus for Mac:
- Places malware and other suspicious files into quarantine
- Offers malware scanning and ideally real-time virus protection
- Provides these services for free
Typically antivirus packages differentiate themselves from one another by including different additional tools and features. What every good free antivirus for Mac must include however is a malware scanner, quarantine for suspicious files and programs, and malware removal features. Ideally, the scanner includes real-time virus monitoring, but not all free versions offer this feature. The selections below all meet my criteria.
Best free antivirus programs for Mac
Here are the 5 best free antivirus programs for Mac:
Avira’s free Mac antivirus provides a solid malware scanner alongside more features than most of its competitors in the free antivirus space.
Avira’s real-time scanner blocked everything I threw at it including four EICAR virus sample files and three live malware files. In my tests Avira was often a bit slow to detect and remove samples compared to the speed I’ve seen with some antivirus programs. Despite this, the overall performance was good with no noticeable effect on PC performance, and I was able to run programs without slowdown or interruption.
Avira provides some useful extra tools including system tuneup, a password manager, and a VPN to enhance user privacy while online. Of course this is only the free version so there’s a limit of 500MB per month on the VPN. That said, there are a good number of secure servers and locations across the world, and importantly the VPN does not record logs.
The free antivirus package includes a Browser Safety extension, which blocks phishing attempts, unwanted adverts, and ad tracking cookies. Avira also includes a free password manager, with unlimited password storage and biometric logins.
Should you try out the free version and want to upgrade to Avira Prime you’ll get a number of extra benefits. This includes unlimited data with the VPN, data breach monitoring, and antivirus cover for 5 devices on any mix of operating systems. This is useful if you have a mix of devices in your household, for example a Mac desktop, Windows laptop, and Android phone or iOS smartphone.
Bitdefender Free for Mac lets you scan apps while they’re running, scan critical locations on your Mac, scan a single specific location, or scan the entire system.
The critical locations scan feature is an interesting option because it only targets the areas on your Mac that are most likely to have malware. This would include areas like the downloads, temporary files, and cached files. Most paid antivirus products have this kind of feature, also known as a quick scan. The good thing about Bitdefender here is that it gives you quite a few options on how to perform scans, which is not always the case with free antivirus software.
The free Bitdefender virus scanner for Mac doesn’t provide real-time protection, like the paid version does, and works on demand – when a user requests a scan.
Bitdefender does always update to the latest virus signatures before a scan, and the Bitdefender database is updated with the latest virus signatures every hour, so when you do run a scan you know you’re protected against the latest threats.
During my tests with four EICAR samples and three live malware samples, including trojans and adware, Bitdefender detected all possible threats.
Performance was also very good, with the cloud based software having no noticeable impact on the speed of my Mac during the scans.
Overall this makes Bitdefender for Mac a great option for keeping your device secure. The main downside is that the free Mac version of Bitdefender only includes the scanner, with no additional features or security tools.
Bitdefender’s paid products offer even better protection with real-time protection, web security tools, a VPN, optimization tools, and many more features.
Sophos Home Free for Mac includes real-time malware scanning, which is a great start for a free antivirus solution. This protects against known Mac malware, viruses, trojans, worms, bots, potentially unwanted apps, ransomware, and more.
Sophos also gives you Mac Web Protection and leverages the vast SophosLabs blacklist database. This database helps to prevent connections between your Mac and compromised or dangerous websites.
There’s also a couple of extra features for Mac users including basic parental controls that allow control of the content children can view online.
During my tests I found the real-time scanner to be very effective and Sophos blocked all EICAR files and live malware samples I tested against the antivirus. EICAR and malware samples were also removed during scan after live protection was turned off.
Upgrading to Sophos Home Premium adds important ransomware protection, webcam, and microphone monitoring. The premium version also lets you cover up to 10 devices. The free version includes a 30-day trial of the premium features before reverting to the free features.
Avast Free for Mac is likely to offer greater protection than in-built options and it can also help you scan for and identify other threats if you’re already infected.
Avast can block viruses, spyware, Trojans, and other malware in real-time with its live protection. You’ll also get built-in protection against ransomware attacks.
The free version gives you browser security alerts so you are warned of unsafe sites. This tool will also block intrusive web trackers such as those used by advertisers via the Avast Online Security extension.
In my own tests Avast allowed the EICAR samples when downloaded over HTTPS, but blocked them on HTTP. The antivirus program also deleted all live samples.
The impact on my Mac was minimal with only a slight impact on CPU and memory and no noticeable difference in performance.
Ultimately I really like that Avast offers a free and effective real-time scanner and good performance. It is a little light on extra features, but for free software it’s still pretty good.
When you upgrade to Avast Premium you get more advanced ransomware protection, enhanced online banking security, protection against phishing attempts, and wifi network security alerts.
TotalAV Free Antivirus for Mac performed well in my own tests with all malware detected by TotalAV’s scans. The free version uses an on-demand virus scanner and does not provide real-time monitoring of your system.
The free macOS version of TotalAV comes with a few optimization tools, but they’re only available for a trial after you download the program, so they don’t fit the criteria of free we are looking for in this review.
The good news though is that it does run a system cleanup on installation that will remove junk files and cookies to speed up your overall computer performance.
Overall TotalAV’s free plan for Mac users is good for on demand malware scanning but its light on additional features and it lacks real-time scanning. If you are interested in the full features available with TotalAV, you can look at the paid versions. TotalAV offers big discounts for new subscribers and you’ll get real-time protection, a password manager, VPN, and a number of other privacy and security tools.
The free version includes 7-days of access to many premium features so you can try them out at no cost.
Should I stick with XProtect?
You might wonder if you should just stick with XProtect. Mac’s have a reputation that they don’t suffer from malware but that perception has changed in recent years. While Windows has more users and therefore is a bigger target for hackers, the number of viruses aimed at Macs has been increasing.
For many everyday Mac users, it is well worth looking into one of the free antivirus solutions above or even upgrading to one of the paid services with more security and privacy features.
As the options above are all free, they are definitely worth trying out. I found that Avira was one of the best free solutions for Mac as it has real-time scanning and way more security features than most free antivirus software.