Long-time Windows users like myself know that going without antivirus software is just plain crazy. But even though it doesn’t always seem like it, Apple computers need protection too. So it couldn’t hurt to go with a name that’s famed in the Windows world, right? This is definitely true of Windows security star Bitdefender. While Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac may not offer the bonanza of added features that its Windows cousin does, it does go beyond most of its Mac competitors.
Right from the start, it’s clear that Bitdefender brings more than the minimum antivirus protection to your Mac. You should definitely accept the installer’s offer to enable Safe Files ransomware protection (more about that later) and to protect Time Machine backups against tampering. Once the product itself is installed, you’ll also want to enable the TrafficLight browser extension, which identifies dangerous websites.
The macOS product’s main window resembles that of Bitdefender Antivirus Plus on Windows, but simplified. There’s no left-rail menu, and no secondary pages with detailed configuration for protection and privacy. A status banner occupies the top portion of the screen, with three big buttons below that launch Quick, System, and Custom antivirus scans.
As with the Windows product, Bitdefender on the Mac defaults to running in Autopilot mode. That means it does its job as quietly as possible, keeping user interaction to a minimum. If you turn off Autopilot, your security status changes and the program enjoins you to turn that feature back on. Most users shouldn’t turn it off.
Pricing and OS Support
For $39.99 per year, you can install Bitdefender on a single Mac; raising that to $59.99 extends protection to two more systems. ESET and Kaspersky precisely match this pricing scheme. Webroot is similar, but you get three licenses for less—just $49.99. As for McAfee AntiVirus Plus (for Mac), it also costs $59.99 per year, but that subscription includes protection for every macOS, Windows, Android, and iOS device you own.
Sophos Home (for Mac) and Avira are totally free, which is handy if you didn’t budget for Mac antivirus. Intego lists for $99.99 per year to protect three Macs. That sounds high, but it’s more of a security suite than a mere antivirus. Norton is also a suite, which makes its price ($89.99 per year for five licenses) seem more reasonable.
If your Mac is brand-new, it has the very latest and greatest operating system. Good for you! But if you’re running an older version, your need for antivirus is even greater. Like Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac, Bitdefender works on anything from Mavericks (version 10.9 of the OS) to the present. ESET goes beyond that, almost ten years back, with support starting at Snow Leopard (10.6). Others require a much more recent version. With Avira, you need El Capitan (10.11) or better, and several others require at least Yosemite (10.10).
Excellent Malware Protection Scores
I have an elaborate set of hand-coded tools, developed over a period of years, that help in my hands-on Windows antivirus testing. On a Mac, they’re worth exactly nothing. Oh, I can run a few tests manually, but for the most part I have to rely on reports from the major labs. Five of the labs report on Windows antivirus products, just two on Mac products
Both the testing labs that I follow for macOS antivirus include Bitdefender in their testing roster, and both give it excellent scores. Like all the products in the latest test by AV-Comparatives, Bitdefender achieved 100 percent success protecting against Mac-specific malware. Because it’s possible for a Mac to act as a carrier for malware that attacks Windows, the researchers also check how well each antivirus detects Windows threats. Bitdefender also managed 100 percent in this test, and almost all products detected better than 90 percent. The one exception was Intego, whose 28 percent detection rate makes sense given that, unlike the rest, Intego has always focused on Mac protection, not Windows.
Both AV-Comparatives and AV-Test Institute certify Bitdefender for Mac antivirus protection. Bitdefender also achieved 100 percent protection in this lab’s test, with no false positives.
AV-Test’s team also checked each antivirus against a collection of Mac-centered PUAs (Potentially Unwanted Applications) and against Windows malware. In both these tests, Bitdefender took the top score, greater than 99 percent. As with the Windows product, in other words, its lab scores are superb.
Windows Malware Protection
ESET, Intego, Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac, and a few others include the ability to automatically run scans on a predetermined schedule. Bitdefender omits this feature, because its real-time protection should catch any new malware before such a scheduled scan. That does mean that it’s important to run a full System Scan as soon as you’ve installed the product, to make sure your Mac is clean.
A full scan with Bitdefender took 18 minutes, the same as Avira, and less than half the average time among current Mac products. Running a quick scan, which looks for active malware and checks system areas typically used by malware, took just one minute. That’s fast, but Norton’s quick scan took just 30 seconds, and Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (for Mac) finished in 15 seconds.
All the products I’ve reviewed recently promise that they’ll detect and remove Windows malware too, so your Mac doesn’t become a Typhoid Mary. When I opened a folder containing my Windows malware samples, Bitdefender didn’t react immediately, so I scanned the folder. It detected and quarantined quite a few, but reported itself unable to quarantine a handful. After I used Finder to delete that last handful, I found that Bitdefender wiped out 75 percent of the Windows samples. That’s pretty good, but Webroot eliminated 86 percent of them, and Sophos got them all.
Superb Phishing Protection
On a Windows system, Bitdefender blocks access to fraudulent and malicious websites at the network level. No internet-aware program, browser or otherwise, can access a site that Bitdefender has flagged as dangerous. The macOS version functions as a browser extension in Chrome and Firefox, and my testing shows that it does a very good job.
Sites that host malware tend to be locked to a specific operating system—most often Windows. Phishing sites, though, are totally inclusive. No matter how you’re browsing the web, whether from a laptop, a game console, or a smart refrigerator, if a phishing site tricks you into giving away your security credentials, you’re hosed.
To test how well an antivirus utility protects against phishing, I start by collecting the newest phishing URLs I can find on the web, looking in particular for ones that haven’t made it onto blacklists. I use a hand-coded test utility to simultaneously launch each URL in four browsers, one protected by Norton and one apiece by the antiphishing protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. As for the Mac products, well, my utility works only in Windows, so on the Mac my testing involves a lot of fancy cut-and-paste into the browser’s Address bar.
The fraudsters are constantly trying new tricks to get past phishing protection; some days they do better than others. As a consequence, I report results as the difference between the product under testing and the other browsers, rather than as a hard number. In my Windows testing, I find that hardly any products do better than Norton, and the same proved true on the Mac. Bitdefender was the only product that outscored Norton, with a detection rate 5 percent higher. It also handily beat the three browsers.
Here’s something interesting, though. I tested protection by Bitdefender’s Windows antivirus simultaneously, and it fared even better, beating Norton’s detection rate by a full 12 percent. That’s the best score ever in this test. You’ll also notice in the chart that Symantec Norton Security Deluxe (for Mac) scored distinctly lower than its Windows counterpart.
TrafficLight for Search Result Protection
If you try to navigate to a fake or dangerous site, Bitdefender’s TrafficLight browser extension steers you back to safety. TrafficLight also marks up search results, using green and red icons to identify safe and dangerous links. If you stay away from red-light links, you should be safe.
Clicking the red icon opens a page with detailed information about why the link is dangerous. You get a laundry list of reasons, with relevant icons highlighted. In most cases it’s phishing or malware. But other reasons include Facebook scams, sending unsolicited email, and piracy.
One warning; at the moment, TrafficLight doesn’t work correctly with the specific combination of Google on Safari. It works with Google in other browsers, however, and with other search engines in Safari, however.
Ransomware Protection Keeps Files Safe
Ransomware is a growing threat, and ransomware protection is showing up in more and more security products. Some add a monitoring layer that looks for behavior that suggests encrypting ransomware. Others, Bitdefender included, balk ransomware activity by limiting access to the folders typically affected by ransomware.
A ransomware attack doesn’t aim to disable your computer. The perpetrators know you’ll need a working computer in order to pay up. Ransomware usually attacks documents, images, and other personal files, working in the background until its dirty deeds are done. Bitdefender’s Safe Files feature defaults to protecting your Desktop, Documents, Downloads, and Pictures folder; you can add any other folders in which you routinely keep important documents.
Known and trusted applications can access your files just as they always would, but when an unknown program attempts to create or modify files in a protected folder, Safe Files prevents the change and pops up a warning. If you recognize the program, if it’s something you’re actively using, you can add it to the trusted list. If not, let Bitdefender keep blocking the attack.
Under Windows I had no trouble seeing this feature in action. I used a couple of programs guaranteed to be unknown, a simple fake encryptor and a tiny editor that I wrote myself. I don’t have anything similar for the Mac in my bag of tricks, but I have no doubt the feature works in just the same way.
Savvy Mac users know that Time Machine keeps regular backups, theoretically insulating them against ransomware. Got your files encrypted? Just restore from backup! But since the Time Machine backup drive is often left connected to the Mac, there’s a possibility that backups could be compromised by a ransomware attack. Just as it prevents unauthorized access to your documents, Bitdefender also protects your Time Machine files.
A Fine Choice
Bitdefender has long been a name to conjure with in the world of Windows security software, and Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac carries on that tradition. Two labs certified its protection with their very best scores. In my own hands-on test of antiphishing prowess, it beat all other Mac-based contenders. And it even protects your files and backups against ransomware. It doesn’t have the posse of security bonus features found in its Windows equivalent, but that’s not anything to worry about. Bitdefender is an Editors’ Choice for Mac antivirus. With scores nearly as good as Bitdefender’s and even more features, Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac is also an Editors’ Choice.