Those who’ve used ESET’s Windows-based antivirus are familiar with the company’s blue-eyed cyborg mascot that gazes serenely from the product’s main window. That mascot makes an appearance during installation of ESET Cyber Security (for Mac), and in the About box, but it’s not a constant presence. Despite the partial absence of this watchful figure, Eset’s Mac security software gets excellent scores from the independent testing labs, and includes a few useful bonus features. It fared poorly in our own antiphishing tests, however.
As expected, getting the product installed on the Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch I used for testing was a snap. Note that there are a few decisions to make during installation. By default, your local antivirus connects with ESET LiveGrid online analysis engine; you can choose to forego this connection, but it’s not advised. As with other ESET products, the installer makes you actively choose whether the antivirus should detect low-risk PUAs, or potentially unwanted applications. After the install completes, you must update the antivirus signatures, at which point ESET Cyber Security’s protection is fully active.
The spacious main window displays two large monitor-shaped icons representing the security of your computer and of your web and email protection. A checkmark on a green background means all’s well. Anything else indicates a configuration problem. You can click either of those icons to dig in for more detail. There’s also a simple menu down the left side for full access to the program’s features.
Scanning and Scheduling
The default smart scan looks for active malware and scans locations most likely to harbor malicious programs. On my test system, this scan took 21 minutes to complete. That’s quite a bit longer than the quick scan in most competing products. Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac finished a quick scan in one minute, for example. Norton’s quick scan took 30 seconds, and Webroot’s just 15 seconds.
You can also choose a custom scan of specific drives or folders. Other links let you launch an in-depth scan, scan removable media, or repeat the most recent scan. On that same test system, an in-depth scan took 38 minutes, which is a few minutes less than the current average of 42 minutes. Trend Micro’s full scan went on for over three hours, while Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (for Mac) finished a full scan in just two minutes.
Most Mac antivirus products that include scan scheduling offer a simple choice of daily or weekly scans. ESET offers much more. Out of the box, it schedules a quick antivirus scan at user logon and after any signature updates, and a check for new updates at user logon and once per hour. You can add your own scheduled scans and updates, and you can even use the scheduler to launch any application of your choice. Tasks can run daily, weekly, or at a user-defined interval. You can also set tasks to run when certain events occur, such as user login, threat detection, and the first time ESET launches each day. It’s quite elaborate.
It’s only fair to note that many other vendors entirely omit scheduled scanning, elaborate or otherwise, reasoning that Mac users don’t like complexity, and that real-time protection should catch any malware that turns up after an initial full scan. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac, Kaspersky, and Sophos all skip scan scheduling.
To get a feel for ESET’s real-time protection, I copied my Windows malware collection to a USB drive and plugged it in to the Mac test system. ESET immediately popped up and offered to scan the drive, something few other tested products do. The scan eliminated 79 percent of the samples, which is decent. Note, though, that Sophos Home (for Mac) wiped out 100 percent of those samples in a scan that it launched automatically the moment I plugged in the USB device. In addition, ESET reported itself unable to automatically clean many of the samples, requiring me to decide what to do about them.
Pricing and OS Support
You pay $39.99 per year for a single ESET license, or $59.99 to protect three devices. Pricing for Bitdefender and Kaspersky is similar, as it Webroot’s, though its three-license price is $49.99. Trend Micro also costs $39.95 for a single license, but if you want more than one, the price jumps to $79.95, which lets you mix and match three licenses, antivirus for Mac and security suite for Windows.
To protect three Macs with Intego Mac Internet Security X9 will run you $99.99 per year—at least, that’s the list price. For $89.99 per year you can install Norton on up to five devices running macOS, Windows, or Android. To be fair, with these higher prices you get significantly more features. No ready cash? You can protect your Macs with Avira or Sophos without paying a penny.
ESET supports more operating system versions than the other Mac antivirus tools I’ve reviewed, going all the way back to Snow Leopard (10.6). McAfee, Norton, and Trend Micro all require Yosemite (10.10) or better. And if you want to use free protection from Avira Free Antivirus for Mac, you need at least El Capitan (10.11).
Very Good Malware Protection Test Results
The independent testing labs around the world provide an invaluable service by putting many antivirus products through rigorous testing. I rely on their reports, when available, for my Windows antivirus reviews. None of my hand-coded testing tools work under macOS, so the labs are more important than ever here.
ESET protected against 98.4 percent of the Mac malware samples that researchers at AV-Test Institute threw at it. That’s pretty good, but Bitdefender, Intego, Kaspersky, and Symantec managed 100 percent protection. Like Bitdefender and Kaspersky, ESET took the highest possible score in two additional tests, one using lower-risk Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUAs) and another using Windows malware.
In testing by AV-Comparatives, ESET earned the best possible scores. Like Avira, Bitdefender, and Kaspersky, it attained 100 percent protection in the Mac malware test and in a separate test using Windows-focused malware. Both labs certify ESET for Mac malware protection.
Malware Protection Online
ESET’s email protection is enabled by default. It works independently of any email client, sniffing out malware as it arrives via POP3 or IMAP. It doesn’t directly handle web-based email accounts, but as soon as you save an iffy attachment to disk, the real-time antivirus should eliminate it.
Likewise, this product’s protection against malware-hosting URLs and fraudulent URLs isn’t limited to any specific browser. You don’t need an extension like that required by Avira, Bitdefender, McAfee AntiVirus Plus (for Mac), and many others. If it detects a dangerous URL, it replaces the content with a warning, regardless of which browser you’re using.
The malicious URL blocking test that I use for Windows-based security products doesn’t really apply here, because almost all of the URLs in question focus on Windows-specific malware. However, phishing websites are platform agnostic. If you connect with a phishing site from your NeXT box or Linux computer and give away your credentials to the fraudsters, you’re just as hosed as if you did the same from a Windows or macOS box.
To evaluate a security tool’s ability to detect and block phishing, I start by gathering hundreds of very new possible frauds from websites devoted to phishing protection. Using a test utility I wrote myself, I simultaneously launch these URLs in four browsers. Three use the phishing protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer, while the fourth relies on Norton for protection. As for the Mac antivirus, my Windows-only utility is no help, so I’ve become very adept at copy/pasting URLs into the browser.
In the same test, Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac simply identified every bad website as dangerous, without distinction. ESET, on the other hand, broke down its reasons for blocking sites. Among its notifications were “Potential phishing attempt,” “Potentially unwanted content found,” “Threat found,” and “Access denied.” I count all of these as successful detection, since it’s not uncommon for a phishing page to also host malware.
Phishing is very much a cat-and-mouse game. The fraudsters keep coming up with new tricks, and the security companies keep finding ways to evade those tricks. That being the case, I report my test results not as hard numbers, but as the difference between the tested product and the rest. ESET’s detection rate lagged 25 percentage points behind Norton’s, putting it in the bottom half of tested products. However, it did do better than all three of the browsers alone.
Whether on Windows or macOS, few products beat Norton in this test. Bitdefender is the only Mac antivirus to manage that feat, coming in five percentage points above Norton. Note that not even Symantec Norton Security Deluxe (for Mac) could match the antiphishing prowess of Norton on Windows. Conversely, Bitdefender’s Windows application, which I tested simultaneously, beat Norton by an even greater margin.
In the Windows realm, it’s not uncommon for simple antivirus utilities to pile on a ton of bonus features. Sometimes the only way to understand that a product isn’t a security suite is to realize that the company offers an even more comprehensive product that is undeniably a suite. That’s not something that seems to happen in the world of macOS security. However, ESET does offer a handful of useful bonus features.
Windows app ESET NOD32 Antivirus includes an elaborate Device Control system that lets you create detailed permissions for many types of devices, among them card readers, imaging devices, USB drives, and Bluetooth devices. You could, for example, ban the use of removable drives, but create exceptions for specific devices you’ve verified as safe.
Eset’s Mac equivalent of Device Control is much, much tamer. You can use it to block the use of five media types: CD-ROM, Firewire, USB, iOS, and Other. Blocking a type is an all-or-nothing proposition. If you want to connect otherwise-blocked media, you must temporarily disable this feature.
A page titled Tools includes the scan schedule mentioned above, along with a list of running processes that shows Risk Level and number of users, data drawn from ESET’s cloud database. This is also the spot to view log files, protection status, and any quarantined threats. Finally, there’s an option to send a suspect file to ESET’s researchers for evaluation.
ESET goes out of its way to make sure you are a successful user. The Help tab includes a link to open a help ticket, with the ability to copy and paste details about your OS, hardware, and ESET installation. There’s even a page that links to ESET’s online cybersecurity training—access to this training is a perk of your subscription.
A Helpful Antivirus
Two independent testing labs certify ESET Cyber Security (for Mac) as a capable Mac antivirus, which is good. But then, both labs also certify Bitdefender, Intego, Kaspersky, and Sophos. And while Bitdefender earned the best possible score in every test, ESET didn’t quite reach 100 percent in one test. It does offer an excellent help system and some bonus features not found in the competition—including security training—but in our hands-on phishing protection test it didn’t do so well.
You can get very good antivirus protection for your Mac from ESET, but Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac remain our Editors’ Choice products in this realm.