Rotten Apples: Mac Anti-malware

(c) Depositphotos / eggheadphoto

Macs get Malware.  There, let the flames begin.  There’s still an impression that Macs are somehow immune and you don’t need any sort of protection.  While it’s true that viruses are very rare, malware (i.e. anything I don’t want running on my system) is quite common.  So what’s the state of Mac Antimalware these days?

Back when I ran windows, buying antimalware software was a no-brainer.  But the mac has been different – there’s far less malware, the OS is harder to infect (though Windows 10 closed a lot of the gap), and Apple does a decent job with XProtect of killing the truly malicious software that’s been discovered.  If you remove Java and Flash (you should) and stay off the seedy side of the Internet, your risk of infection is pretty low.

Yet in the past month, I’ve removed malware from two of my friends’ macs.  One was a bit out of date (and had several infections) but the other was current and fully patched.  In both cases it was a form of adware – something that monitored all internet traffic, phoned home, and inserted ads on web pages.  At least one appears to have been installed from a malicious phishing link, but the others infection path wasn’t clear.  After removing it, they both asked me about installing antimalware software, and that’s a challenge.

Over the past year I’ve been searching for a solution that would provide key features:

  • Antiphishing (privacy friendly URL filter)
  • Antimalware (including adware)
  • Stable
  • Low overhead
  • Proactive updates before Apple updates break things with new releases
  • Priced based on the risk (i.e. lower than Windows – but don’t expect free)
  • No spyware/adware/etc

Unfortunately, in my search, I’ve yet to find a package that does it all.  I looked at nearly every vendor, including Norton, Kaspersky, Bitdefender, Intego, Trend Micro, Sophos, ESET and Malwarebytes among others.

None of them provided privacy-friendly anti-phishing.  All did a pretty good job at antimalware, but only some covered adware.  Most caused stability and performance impacts that weren’t acceptable.  Some were good at being current, others were really bad.  The best were overpriced for the risk, and a number of free ones had things that made me wonder about privacy.  There were a couple I didn’t even look at let alone install (not listed above), as they are nearly malicious in their own right and require nuking the machine from orbit to remove.

In the end, I picked an updated version of my old standby – and the one I used to remove the adware: Malwarebytes.  They’ve recently added real-time protection/prevention capabilities, which is a big boost.  On the mac, I think it’s moderately overpriced versus the risk and functionality, but not grossly so.   A privacy friendly URL filter remains a wish-list item.  For the threat that I see, which is primarily adware, it’s the most optimal overall solution for personal or small business use.

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