Since my last review, the macOS product has undergone a redesign that makes it look a lot more like the Windows version. The main window features a simple menu down the left, like Avira Free Security. But where the Windows product just has Status, Security, Privacy, and Performance down the left side, the macOS edition adds two or three submenu items below each. Just as in the Windows edition, the rest of the window features oversized icons representing Security, Privacy, and Performance, with a button to run what Avira calls a Smart scan.
What macOS Versions Does Avira Require?
Most Mac antivirus products need to run on recent versions of macOS. It only makes sense, given that Apple keeps adding security enhancements. Even so, Avira is the first I’ve encountered that explicitly requests macOS 10.15 (Catalina). Norton 360 Deluxe for Mac does require the current macOS version or the two previous, which at present means it implicitly requires Catalina.
If you’re stuck using an old operating system for some reason, you may need to consider a different Mac antivirus. ClamXAV for Mac support goes back to Yosemite (10.10), Intego works back to Mavericks (10.9), and ProtectWorks can function on Mountain Lion (10.8).
There’s a big range of prices for Mac-based antivirus support. At the high end, Intego Mac Internet Security X9 lists at $99.99 per year to protect three Macs, and Norton 360 Deluxe for Mac asks $104.99 per year for five cross-platform licenses. Granted, these two are security suites. Norton goes way beyond the features offered by a simple antivirus utility.
The most common pricing plan among products we’ve reviewed is $39.99 per year for one license and $59.99 for three. You don’t have to pay a thing for Avira. Like Sophos Home for Mac, it’s free.
Scanning and Scheduling
On the MacBook Air I use for testing, a quick scan finished in less than a minute, and the full scan took 26 minutes, just slightly quicker than the current average. Out of the box, Avira schedules a weekly quick scan. You can schedule additional scans, quick or full, on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Clicking Protection Options in the left-rail menu brings up a very simple page with two options: Real-time Protection and USB Protection. You can turn off the Real-time Protection system, but don’t! USB protection, meaning automatic scanning of any mounted USB drive, is unavailable unless you upgrade to the feature-complete cross-platform Avira Prime suite.
Lab Results Look Good
When evaluating Windows antivirus utilities for malware protection, I rely on a wide range of testing apps that I’ve coded and recoded over the years. I don’t have anything similar for the macOS platform, as my many hand-coded testing tools and my coding skills are both Windows-only. For Mac antivirus, I necessarily rely heavily on the independent testing labs to know which products are the most capable.
Two of the independent antivirus testing labs I follow report on macOS products, and both have Avira on their test roster. Avast, Bitdefender, Clario, and Trend Micro also show up in reports from both labs, but over half the products I track don’t even have one lab result.
The experts at AV-Test Institute rate antivirus utilities on three criteria: how well they protect against malware, how little they impact performance, and how carefully they avoid interfering with usability by flagging valid programs as malicious. With six points available for Protection, Performance, and Usability, the maximum score is 18.
All the products I follow score 5.5 or 6 for Protection; Avira is in the 5.5 group. It also scores 5.5 for Performance. A full six points in Usability mean it exhibited next to no false positives. It’s 17-point score is quite good. Only Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac took 18 points in the latest test.
AV-Comparatives certifies Avira for malware protection, with 99.8% protection against macOS malware, down from its 100% score in the previous test. It does edge out Trend Micro’s 99.6%, but all the other products scored 100%.
Like Avast, Bitdefender, Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac, and almost all the tested products, Avira detected 100% of the Windows malware used in testing. Of course, these samples couldn’t infect a Mac, but removing them prevents your Mac from becoming a carrier.
I ran my own simple test of Avira’s ability to detect Windows malware, challenging it to clean up a USB drive containing the samples from my Windows-centered testing. It eliminated 30% of the samples as soon as I opened the malware folder on the thumb drive. A fast scan caught another 60%, for an impressive total of 90% detection, including every single ransomware sample. That’s better than all other recent scores except for Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus for Mac, which caught 100 % of the Windows samples.
Protection Against Phishing and Malicious Sites
Phishing pages are frauds that attempt to steal your login credentials by imitating sensitive websites. It’s easy to craft a fake bank site and fool people into giving away their passwords. Plenty of users don’t have any real clue about how to spot a phishing scam. Certainly, creating a phishing page is vastly easier than coding a Trojan that can actively steal those passwords and exfiltrate them, all while dodging discovery by antivirus programs.
In addition, malware programs are platform-specific, while phishing works on any platform. If you’re foolish enough to log into a fake banking page on the browser built into your high-tech auto, you lose your credentials just the same as if you entered them in a browser on your Mac. Preventing access to such pages, or to pages containing malicious code, can be the first line of defense for an antivirus tool, whether it’s Mac or Windows antivirus.
Avira Free Antivirus does not in itself protect against malicious or fraudulent URLs. It used to point users at Avira’s Browser Safety extension for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Opera (sorry, Mac purists—there’s no Safari extension). That pointer is no longer present, but the extension is free and easily available. I installed it for Chrome and proceeded to test Avira’s browser-based protection. If you’re going to use Avira’s free antivirus for macOS, be sure to pair it with the free Browser Safety extension.
For this test, I gather the newest phishing URLs I can find, including ones that haven’t yet been analyzed and blacklisted. I use one of my hand-coded tools to launch each URL and record results in three browsers, Chrome, Firefox, and Edge, each protected by the browser’s own built-in protection. As for the Mac product under test, my analysis tool works strictly on Windows, so I test by hand on the Mac. I’ve grown quite adept at the button-mashing involved in copy/pasting each URL from the list to the browser. I ran this test simultaneously with my test of Avira Free Security on Windows.
For testing purposes, I discard any URL that doesn’t load properly in any of the browsers, and any URL that doesn’t actively attempt to capture login credentials. Analyzing the confirmed phishing pages, I found that Avira’s detection rate came at 91%, exactly as it did under Windows. It makes sense that the scores match since both used the same Chrome extension.
Avira’s 91% brings it into the top half, score-wise. Even so, others have scored still higher. Webroot, Bitdefender, McAfee AntiVirus Plus for Mac, and Avast stepped off the top scores, with 100%, 99%, 98%, and 97% respectively.
As it does on Windows, Browser Safety also actively blocks ads and prevents advertisers and others from tracking you. A small numeric overlay on the toolbar button lets you know how many trackers it found on the current page. You can click for more detail, but you don’t get the option to fine-tune what it blocks the way you do with Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and others.
With Avira’s Windows-based free security tool, you click Privacy in the left-rail menu to view a page of privacy-related features. These include feature-limited versions of Avira’s VPN and password manager, as well as secure deletion file shredder and a tool to tune privacy settings in Windows and popular apps.
In the macOS edition, you access the VPN and password manager via submenu items in that left-rail menu. Clicking the button to get VPN support sends you off to download the separate free edition of Avira Phantom VPN. Using the free edition, you’re limited to 500MB of bandwidth per month and you can’t choose your VPN server location. These limitations mean you can’t rely on using the VPN regular
Clicking for the password management component sends you to its online home. You log into your Avira account and, on first use, create a master password. Be sure to install the browser extension to get the full range of features. This tool handles basic tasks like capturing login credentials you enter, replaying them as needed and syncing across all your devices. You can enable two-factor authentication, which functions by texting a code to your smartphone. But it doesn’t offer form-filling, secure sharing, digital inheritance, or other top-tier features. See our review of Avira Password Manager to learn more.
The third macOS privacy feature, Cookie Cleaner, isn’t available unless you upgrade to Avira Prime. This feature would be less useful under Windows, because on that platform all modern browsers support clearing cookies and other saved data by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Del. You can still access cleanup features in browsers on macOS, but there isn’t a universal key combo. Even so, I wouldn’t purchase Prime just to get the Cookie Cleaner.
Under Performance in the left-rail menu you find Junk Cleaner, Uninstaller, and Startup Apps. Junk Cleaner is available; the other two require an upgrade.
Similar to the Optimizer in the Windows product, Junk Cleaner searches for files that you can delete to free up disk space. You can proceed straight to cleanup or pause and view the app’s findings. On my test Mac it reported finding cache files, downloads, logs, and files in the trash; by default, it selected all but downloads for deletion. Just as in the Windows product, it reported how much space it freed and offered to free up even more space if only you upgrade to Prime.
The macOS antivirus now has a Smart Scan feature, just like the Windows version. On Windows, this scan covers Privacy Issues, Performance Issues, Viruses, Outdated apps, and Network threats (though the free edition won’t deal with findings in some of these areas). The Mac edition is simpler, sticking to Security, Privacy, and Performance.
A Smart Scan on my test Mac ran in just a few minutes. For security it reported finding no viruses. In the privacy realm it detected nearly 300. And the performance scan, equivalent to the Junk Cleaner, found 140MB in junk files. After cleanup, it reported that it merely removed about 30MB of junk files and no trackers. Completing the cleanup would require an upgrade to Avira Prime, which was disappointing.
Should You Get Prime?
At the bottom of the main screen’s left-side menu is a highlighted item titled “Get Prime.” Clicking it gets you a laundry list of the virtues of Avira Prime, which costs $99.99 per year for five licenses. You may also see a recommendation for Avira Prime Family, at $129.99 per year for 25 licenses.
If you’re strictly a macOS household, I don’t see any reason to go for Prime. Personal tech support is nice—free users only get FAQs and community support forums—but not $99.99 per year nice. Windows users get more benefits from Avira Prime.
Free and Simple
Too many Mac users have experienced years of hearing the mantra, “PCs get viruses; Macs don’t.” Even if they now admit that’s not the case, they still may resent having to pay for antivirus. Avira Free Antivirus for Mac does a good job (verified by independent testing labs) at no cost. Avast and Sophos also offer free antivirus utilities for macOS, so you may want to sample the options before you settle on a free protector.
If you have a little cash to splash on antivirus for your Mac, there are several choices. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac earns a perfect score from one lab and a near-perfect score from the other. Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac and Norton 360 Deluxe for Mac both earn perfect scores from one lab. Bitdefender includes such advanced features as ransomware protection for your documents and backups. Kaspersky is a full suite, with components including parental control and network protection. With Norton 360 you get five cross-platform licenses and five no-limits VPN licenses. These three are our Editors’ Choice products for Mac antivirus.