What Does McAfee AntiVirus Plus Cost?
As noted, you can use your $59.99 per year subscription to install McAfee protection on every macOS, Windows, Android, and iOS device you own. Norton is also cross-platform, supporting macOS, Windows, and Android, but your $99.99 per year Norton subscription gets you five licenses, not an unlimited number. On the plus side, Norton on Windows is a full-featured suite, and on the Mac it includes features you don’t get from McAfee—most notably a no-limits VPN. You pay $29.95 for ClamXAV for Mac just once, which lets you install it on all the Macs in your household.
Bitdefender, ESET, Malwarebytes, and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac all cost $59.99 per year for three installations, compared with unlimited licenses for McAfee at that price. A three-license ProtectWorks subscription costs a bit less, at $44.95 per year. Of course, you can also get antivirus protection for your Mac at precisely no cost by choosing Avira, Avast One Essential for Mac, or Sophos Home.
Like Avira, McAfee supports macOS versions back to 10.15 (Catalina). Norton’s support for the current macOS and the two previous versions means it supports Mojave, Catalina, and Big Sur. For those stuck running an old operating system, Intego or ProtectWorks AntiVirus for Mac may be a better choice, with support back to 10.9 (Mavericks) and 10.8 (Mountain Lion), respectively.
Getting Started With McAfee
As with many cross-platform security products, McAfee’s installation process starts online. You log in or create your account, enter your registration code, and download to your Mac. At one point the installer presents you with a serial number—don’t lose it! If you must reinstall the software on this same device, you’ll need that number, not the registration code.
During installation, McAfee offers a Virus Protection Pledge. This pledge means that if a malware attack gets past an existing McAfee installation, McAfee’s trained experts will remotely connect to your computer and take care of the problem. Virus removal service normally costs $89.95 per incident, so this is a good deal. If the experts can’t fix the problem, McAfee refunds your purchase price (but isn’t liable for any ancillary damage from the malware). You must sign up for automatic subscription renewal to get this pledge, but that seems reasonable.
As noted, your license lets you install McAfee on your Windows devices, as well as your iOS and Android devices. Do please peruse my review of McAfee AntiVirus Plus for full details on what you get with the other platforms. Briefly, the Windows edition is loaded with features not found on the Mac, the Android edition offers both antivirus and antitheft, and the iOS edition (as expected) is relatively feature-limited.
The layouts and color schemes of the Mac and Windows editions used to track very closely, but not anymore. The current version of the Windows edition has had a serious makeover, transitioning from an emphasis on security features and tasks to focus on helping its users confidently enjoy their online lives. That same makeover is pending for the mobile editions, which will combine three separate apps into one when released. The mobile update is planned for some time in October. As for the macOS edition, my contacts tell me that an update for its interface will happen, but it’s not a high priority.
A menu across the top of the macOS version’s main window lets you choose Home, Mac security, Identity, and Account. At left on the Home page is a list of your protected devices, with a button to extend protection to even more devices. Large button panels across the bottom let you launch a scan, check for updates, or get help. The remaining space displays important information about your security status, such as the results of the last antivirus scan.
On the Mac Security page the left panel displays simple toggles for security components such as real-time scanning and automatic updates. The bottom button panels let you launch a scan, view quarantined items, or see protection history. And the Identity page simply tracks status for the WebAdvisor component. Actual identity protection features are reserved for McAfee’s Total Protection suite.
No Results From Antivirus Labs
The teams of testers and researchers at independent antivirus testing labs can throw a lot of resources at the task of lining up antivirus tools and determining which of them do the best job. I follow four such labs for my Windows antivirus reviews, two of which also release regular reports on Mac antivirus. Since my hands-on testing setup, developed over many years, is mostly Windows-based, those two sets of lab results become especially important to my Mac antivirus reviews.
When I first evaluated McAfee’s macOS product several years ago, it had certification from AV-Comparatives, with 100% detection of Mac malware and 94% detection of Windows malware. McAfee doesn’t appear in the test results from this lab in the last few years, nor has it been included in test reports from AV-Test Institute. Airo Antivirus for Mac, ESET, Malwarebytes, and Sophos Home Premium for Mac, among others, also lack recent results.
If you want to see top lab test results, look to Avast, Intego, and Trend Micro. All earned top scores from both labs. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac came close, missing out by one-half point from AV-Test.
Scans and Schedules
Like most Mac antivirus tools, McAfee aims to detect and remove any Windows malware it encounters. I ran a custom scan challenging McAfee to clean up a USB drive containing the samples I use for Windows antivirus testing. My collection runs the gamut from barely risky potentially unwanted applications, or PUAs, to pernicious ransomware. Strangely, McAfee reported detecting about twice as many threats as there were files on the drive. Judging from its report, and the files that remained, it wiped out 62%, a score that puts it in the bottom third of recent products.
Windows malware can’t do any harm on a Mac, so I don’t slap down an antivirus that fares poorly in this simple test. Even so, it’s impressive that Webroot detected and eliminated 97% of those samples, and Avira Free Antivirus for Mac got 90%.
Most of the Mac antivirus utilities I’ve evaluated offer two kinds of scans: a quick scan that looks for active malware and checks the most likely areas for infestation, and a full scan that covers your entire computer. McAfee sticks with the full scan, along with the custom scan I mentioned. On the MacBook Air I use for testing, McAfee’s full scan took more than three hours. My company contact confirmed that this time is within the normal range.
I observed that while the full scan displays what looks like a progress bar, it isn’t. The only true indication of progress is the ever-increasing number of items scanned. At the end of the scan, McAfee reported that it scanned more than 600,000 items and fixed more than 350 million issues. I’m puzzled it found so much to fix on the MacBook Air that I use for nothing but testing.
The average time for a full scan among macOS antivirus products was 28 minutes. Adding McAfee’s time to the list singlehandedly raised that average to 35 minutes. I thought that perhaps a second scan would run faster due to optimizations performed during the initial full scan. After an hour and a half, I had to quit and run other tests. Yes, you should run a full scan immediately after installing McAfee or any other antivirus. But don’t be surprised if it takes a very long time.
At the other end of the scale, Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus for Mac completed its full scan in just 10 minutes. Clario and MacKeeper finished still faster, at eight and seven minutes respectively. Clearly different security companies define a full scan in different ways.
Like ESET, Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac, and a few others, McAfee schedules a weekly full scan out of the box. You can turn off scheduled scanning, or change it to daily or monthly, but you can’t set multiple scan schedules.
Phishing Protection Remains Top-Notch
If you’re a nefarious web designer rather than a malicious coder, phishing is the perfect crime. All you need to do is create a website that precisely replicates the appearance of a sensitive site and find a way to direct victims to your site. When an unsuspecting user logs in to your fake site, you grab the credentials and own the account. You can now use those credentials to, say, log into the victim’s bank and transfer funds.
For my Windows antiphishing tests, I use a small utility that lets me launch a suspected phishing URL and click a button to indicate the product blocked it, the product missed it, or the page wasn’t a proper phishing fraud after all. I use the utility to launch the same collection of URLs against the phishing protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Edge, and on a system protected by the antivirus under test. If it’s a macOS antivirus under test, testing phishing protection becomes a manual process involving a lot of copy/paste and button-mashing. I tested the Windows and macOS editions simultaneously.
On both Windows and macOS, McAfee achieved a stellar 100% detection. You can’t do better than that. Webroot also scored 100% detection, while Bitdefender and Avast One came close with 99%.
A typical personal firewall performs two tasks. First, it guards against attack by outside agencies. Second, it manages network permissions to make sure local programs don’t misuse the network. In the past, McAfee handled both tasks under macOS, but a few years ago McAfee dropped the Application Control component. My contact at McAfee explained, “This was a business decision, based on usage relative to the cost of maintenance.”
Like the similar firewall in Intego Mac Internet Security X9, McAfee asks you to identify each network you join as Public, Home, or Work. On a public network, the firewall allows all outgoing traffic but blocks unsolicited incoming traffic. If you flag the network as Home or Work, it allows unsolicited incoming traffic from within the local network. Simple!
If you’re a total network wizard, you can click Manage Rules in the firewall’s settings dialog. But, even for me, the dialog that lets you create custom firewall rules is daunting. Most users shouldn’t touch it.
The WebAdvisor component is what serves to divert your browsing from malicious and fraudulent pages, but there’s more to it than that. Its browser toolbar icon changes color to reflect the current site’s status, green for safe, yellow for iffy, red for dangerous. It can also mark up results from popular search engines with color-coded icons, but by default this only works when you use McAfee’s Safe Search. On Windows, McAfee suggested I use Safe Search; that didn’t happen on the Mac. My McAfee contacts confirmed this and said Safe Search will be available on macOS later this year.
To get the full advantage of WebAdvisor’s Wisdom, click the browser extension’s toolbar button and click the Settings gear. On the preferences tab on the resulting page, scroll down and select “Tell me if a search is safe in any search engine.”
Pointing at a red warning icon with the mouse gets you a popup window with more detail. From that window or the toolbar icon you can open a full report on the site. The report isn’t as detailed as what you get from the similar feature in Norton 360 Deluxe for Mac. In fact, as far as I can tell the site report just shows the categories that triggered the warning, which are also found in the popup.
By default, WebAdvisor blocks risky sites and warns about suspicious sites. To change those settings, you go through the main McAfee app, not through the extension. It also blocks sites matching certain categories, among them pornography, hacking, and spyware. It’s not parental control as such, just a way to keep your browser from raunchy sites as well as dangerous ones. ESET Cyber Security for Mac, Trend Micro, and Sophos include a simple form of parental control, blocking various unwanted categories.
In testing with a half-dozen undeniably pornographic sites, WebAdvisor did nothing at all. I checked in with my McAfee contacts and learned that this feature isn’t working at present. They explained that the WebAdvisor functionality found in Windows will be fully integrated into the macOS product “by this year end.”
Generous Basic Protection
McAfee AntiVirus Plus for Mac covers every Mac in your household with a single subscription, which is great. It also covers all your devices on other platforms. It earned a perfect score in our real-world phishing protection test, and its bonus features include a simple firewall and the multifaceted WebAdvisor, which keeps your browser from visiting the wrong sites. Even so, we’d be happier seeing verification of its capabilities by the independent antivirus testing labs.
If you need straight antivirus protection for your Mac, Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is a top choice, with perfect and near-perfect lab test scores. Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac is a full security suite that’s packed with many more features than just protection against malware. Norton 360 Deluxe for Mac also includes suite-level features, most notably a no-limits VPN. Kaspersky and Norton each earned a perfect score from one lab. These three are our Editors’ Choice picks for Mac antivirus.