Security companies handle macOS antivirus protection in a variety of ways. Some just offer a Mac-specific antivirus tool. Others include Mac protection in a cross-platform suite. McAfee is unusual in that all of its products, from antivirus all the way up to feature-packed mega-suite, are cross-platform. Subscribing to McAfee AntiVirus Plus (for Mac) means getting antivirus protection for every macOS, Windows, Android, and iOS device in your household.
As with many cross-platform security products, McAfee starts the installation process online. You log in or create your account, enter your registration code, and download to your Mac. During the process, you receive a serial number. Save it. If you have to 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 malware gets past an existing McAfee installation, McAfee’s trained experts will remotely remediate the problem. Virus removal service normally costs $89.95, so this is a good deal. If the experts can’t fix the problem, McAfee refunds your purchase. You must sign up for automatic subscription renewal to get this pledge, but that seems reasonable.
McAfee AntiVirus Plus and the other Windows-facing products got a user-interface makeover earlier this year, going from a green-tinted collection of large rectangular panels to a blue-tinted layout with a menu across the top. The macOS product doesn’t look much like either of these. A left-rail menu offers access to all the program’s features, and a status bar across the bottom reports details on the most recent scan and update. The rest of the window reports security status. If any essential feature gets turned off, the top banner turns red and advises launching Preferences to fix the problem.
Pricing and OS Support
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. Symantec Norton Security Deluxe (for Mac) is also cross-platform, supporting macOS, Windows, and Android, but your $89.99 per year Norton subscription gets you five licenses, not an unlimited number.
Bitdefender, ESET, and Kaspersky all cost $59.99 per year, but that gets you three installations, compared with unlimited licenses for McAfee. Of course, you can also get antivirus protection for your Mac with zero cash outlay by choosing Avira Free Antivirus for Macor Sophos Home, both of which are free.
Like Trend Micro, McAfee requires a fairly recent operating system, Yosemite (10.10) or higher. Norton’s support for the current macOS and the two previous versions means it has the same requirement, at least until macOS High Sierra arrives. For those who, for one reason or another, run an old operating system, Intego, Webroot, or ESET Cyber Security (for Mac) may be a better choice, with support back to Mountain Lion (10.8), Lion (10.7), and Snow Leopard (10.6) respectively.
Good Malware Protection Test Results
The team of researchers and testers at an independent antivirus testing lab can throw a lot of resources at the task of determining the efficacy of an antivirus tool. I follow five such labs for my Windows antivirus reviews; just two of them release regular reports on Mac antivirus, however. Furthermore, since my hands-on testing setup, developed over a period of years, is mostly Windows-based, those two sets of lab results are more important to my Mac antivirus reviews.
In the latest Mac antivirus test from AV-Comparatives, all tested products achieved certification, because they all protected against 100 percent of the malware samples. McAfee is no exception; it shared in that perfect score. I also look at results from AV-Test, but that lab didn’t choose to include McAfee in testing.
It may seem odd to test a Mac antivirus using samples designed to infect Windows, but since it’s possible for your Mac to serve as a conduit for infection, AV-Comparatives runs a separate test using Windows samples, of which they have plenty. Avira, Bitdefender, ESET, and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac took 100 percent in this test as well. McAfee didn’t quite reach the top, with 94 percent detection.
Scans and Schedules
McAfee’s 94 percent detection in the Windows malware test by AV-Comparatives started looking pretty good after I challenged it 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.
McAfee reported scanning almost four times as many items as there were files on the drive, which seems a little odd to me. In the end, it removed just 25 percent of the actual samples. Intego, at 18 percent, is the only product that scored lower in this simple sanity check. Sophos Home (for Mac), on the other hand, detected and eliminated 100 percent of those samples.
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. On the Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch that I use for testing, McAfee’s full scan finished in 34 minutes—the same as Kaspersky. I observed that while the full scan displays what looks like a progress bar, it’s really just a static bar. The only indication of progress is the ever-climbing number of items scanned.
McAfee’s time for a full scan is better than the current average of 42 minutes, but quite a few products completed the full scan in a shorter time. Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (for Mac), in particular, did the job in just two minutes.
Like ESET, Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac, and a few others, McAfee schedules a weekly full scan. If you don’t do anything, you’ll still get a regular full scan. You can turn off scheduled scanning, or change it to daily or monthly, but you can’t add multiple scheduled scans.
The installer automatically installed McAfee’s SiteAdvisor plug-in for Safari, so I figured it was all ready for my antiphishing test. This particular test is totally platform independent, because fraudsters can trick you into giving away your login credentials on any browser or platform whatsoever.
However, I noticed something a little odd about the installation. The McAfee M icon did appear in Safari’s toolbar, but it was grayed out. Clicking it revealed a menu of choices that did nothing. And it didn’t mark up search results in the way I’ve come to expect, flagging good, iffy, and dangerous links with green, yellow, and red icons.
I logged in to McAfee’s website and connected with a tech support agent. The agent made many suggestions, none of which worked, and finally suggested reinstalling the product. I ended the chat and performed the suggested uninstall and reinstall operation. When that didn’t help, I connected with another agent. This agent wanted to use LogMeIn, as the other agent had been doing, but could not get it to work. So, I acted as the agent’s puppet, performing many tests, tweaks, and other maneuvers. In the end, I spent over three hours working on the problem, with no success.
The next day, my regular McAfee contact explained that SiteAdvisor has been nonfunctional ever since the release of Safari 10.1 in March. That update disabled a Safari feature called NPAPI, and SiteAdvisor doesn’t work without NPAPI. Is it just me, or is that information something that every tech support agent should know? I certainly resented wasting three hours trying to solve an unsolvable problem.
McAfee says that SiteAdvisor should work just fine in the next version of this product, due in a month or so. Actually, it should be even better, supporting Chrome and Firefox too, not just Safari. Until then, however, McAfee’s vaunted protection against dangerous websites is simply dead in the water, at least for Mac users.
You can see in the chart above that Intego also has no score for the antiphishing test. That situation is different; Intego simply doesn’t attempt to divert the browser from dangerous sites. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac earned the best score in this test, beating long-time antiphishing champion Norton by five percentage points, and Kaspersky came very close to Norton’s detection rate. Note that I’m referring to Norton running on Windows; Norton’s Mac edition didn’t perform nearly as well.
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. McAfee handles both tasks.
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, as long as it comes from within the local network. Simple!
As for application control, it’s off by default. When the firewall sees an unknown or modified file attempting internet access, it doesn’t interfere. For a little more hands-on control, you can set it to prompt you when it encounters an unknown program attempting network access. If you enable that feature, I advise checking the box that tells it to trust all programs signed by Apple. Otherwise you’ll get an undue number of popups, as I saw when I tested Norton’s application control.
The typical firewall popup lets you choose whether to allow or block a program’s request for network access, and to optionally remember that decision. McAfee handles things a bit differently. You can let the program run with full network access, let it run without network access, or block its execution entirely. The second choice, run without network access, is what most firewalls would call blocking.
When you click the Always button, McAfee creates an application rule, so you don’t have to respond about the same program more than once. You can also dig into the list of application rules, which is handy if you block a legitimate program by accident.
Wait for the Next Version
It’s great that McAfee AntiVirus Plus (for Mac) covers every Mac you own with a single subscription, and also covers all your devices that run on other platforms. AV-Comparatives certifies its Mac protection, and it includes a two-way firewall. However, none of the web protection supplied by the SiteAdvisor Safari extension is working right now—it hasn’t worked for months. A new version is looming on the horizon, and I’ll review it when it arrives. For now, if you’re considering McAfee, I’d suggest waiting for that new version.
If you need straight antivirus protection for your Mac and don’t want to wait, Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is an Editors’ Choice. Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac, also an Editors’ Choice, is a full security suite that’s packed with many more features than just protection against malware.