Mac antivirus products come in two main flavors. Some focus solely on the Mac platform, while others, like Norton 360 Deluxe (for Mac), are simply the macOS manifestation of a multi-platform product. The macOS edition doesn’t have every feature that you get on Windows, but it goes way beyond simple antivirus. It includes a firewall, exploit prevention, and a file cleanup scanner, among other things, as well as full-featured VPN protection. You can use your licenses to protect up to five macOS, Windows, Android, or iOS devices. Norton 360 Deluxe costs more than a simple Mac antivirus, but it’s well worth the price.
You may have noticed that I’m not calling it Symantec Norton 360. The company recently sold off the Symantec name, along with its enterprise business, to Broadcom. The consumer product line remains the same, under the new company name NortonLifeLock.
Signup and Installation
To start, you create a Norton account online and register the subscription you bought. You can then download and install Norton protection on your Mac, or email a link to install it on another device. Like Intego Mac Internet Security X9, Norton requires a reboot to complete the installation. All the other Mac antivirus utilities I’ve evaluated install without a reboot.
The Norton 360 name reflects an emphasis on omnidirectional protection for your devices, your identity, your data, and more. You manage this protection through the My Norton dashboard. Here you can see all the security elements: Device Security, Dark Web Monitoring, Secure VPN, Password Manager, Parental Controls, and Cloud Backup. I’ll cover these in detail below.
Don’t get too excited about seeing Cloud Backup in the list. While you can access backups from your Windows devices online, there isn’t a component to back up files from your Mac. Likewise, you can click to manage Parental Controls online, but there’s no local agent to enforce rules on the Mac.
Dark Web Monitoring is a wholly online service, so it doesn’t matter what platform you’re using. Norton 360 Deluxe doesn’t include a LifeLock subscription the way higher protection tiers do, but the Dark Web feature does get some information from LifeLock. I cover these alerts in detail in my full review of Norton 360 Deluxe.
Clicking Device Security brings up the familiar local protection window. As with the previous edition, it has a white background with a security status indicator occupying the top part of the main window and five green icons across the bottom: Security, Scans, LiveUpdate, Clean, and My Norton. Clicking My Norton takes you back to the dashboard, as on other platforms. When you click one of the other icons, its details and settings slide in from the side to replace the status indicator. It looks a lot like the Device Security component in the Windows edition.
Norton also prompts you to install its protective extensions for Chrome and Firefox. These include: Safe Web, which keeps you away from dangerous and fraudulent sites; Safe Search, which suppresses dangerous links in search results; Norton Home Page, which puts Safe Search front and center; and Password Manager, which I’ll discuss below. Safari just gets a Safe Web app.
Much less obvious is a new feature that blocks access to malicious URLs by programs other than browsers. Called StarPulse, this is one of the very few enhancements to the macOS product since my last review.
Pricing and OS Support
You pay $99.99 per year for a Norton subscription, which lets you install protection on up to five macOS, Windows, iOS, or Android devices. Among current Mac antivirus products, only Intego costs as much, though its $99.99 list price only gets you three licenses. However, both Norton and Intego offer more than simple antivirus protection. Norton’s price looks particularly good when you consider that it includes five licenses for Norton Secure VPN, which costs $79.99 per year after the first year.
A Norton AntiVirus Plus subscription can also be used to install protection on your Mac, but it’s not a good deal. Protection on macOS is exaclty the same as Norton 360, but without the VPN, and with just a single license. You pay $59.99 per year for that subscription.
The low end of the price range for the Mac antivirus products I’ve covered is precisely zero. You don’t have to pay a penny for Sophos Home, Avast, or Avira. As with Windows antivirus, the most common single-license yearly price is $39.99, and several products, including Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac, offer three licenses for $59.99. That same $59.99 per year lets you install McAfee antivirus on all the macOS, Windows, Android, and iOS devices in your household. There’s quite a spread here, both in pricing and in what you get for the price.
A ridiculous number of Windows computers still run antique versions of the OS, including the soon to be defunct Windows 7. Old versions are much less common on Macs, as most Mac users keep up with the latest iteration. Norton supports the current macOS plus the two previous versions, so now that macOS Catalina (10.15) is out, you’ll need High Sierra (10.13) or better. Trend Micro also requires High Sierra.
Those stuck on an outmoded Mac operating system, perhaps due to antique hardware, should probably consider Webroot or ProtectWorks AntiVirus for Mac, which extend support back to Lion (10.7) and Snow Leopard (10.6), respectively.
Norton’s malware scan and real-time protection should take care of any malware attack, but on the off chance it doesn’t, the company’s Virus Protection Promise kicks in. You only qualify for this service if you enable automatic renewal, which seems reasonable. Norton’s tech support experts will analyze your problem and, if necessary, remote control your computer for a hands-on malware battle. In the unlikely event that malware wins the fight, you can apply for a refund. McAfee AntiVirus Plus for Mac offers a similar promise.
Top Scores From One Antivirus Lab
When I test Windows antivirus products, I evaluate their reaction to real-world malware, and to very fresh malware-hosting URLs. I have a collection of hand-coded tools to help with running tests and recording results. None of those tools function on a Mac, and my malware collections are specific to Windows, so I can’t apply the same level of hands-on testing to macOS security products. Fortunately, a couple of the big international antivirus testing labs include macOS products in their testing.
Two of the labs that I follow regularly report test results for Mac products, but only one of them includes Norton in its collection of tested products. Specifically. the latest report from AV-Comparatives doesn’t include Norton.
As it does with Windows antivirus utilities, AV-Test Institute rates Mac antivirus tools in three categories: Protection, Performance, and Usability. In layman’s terms, that means accurate protection against malware, small effect on performance, and few false positive results (valid files or websites identified as malicious).
Products can earn up to six points in each category, and Norton swept the field, for a perfect score of 18 points. Bitdefender, Trend Micro, and Vipre Advanced Security (for Mac) also managed a perfect 18 points in this test.
Bitdefender and Trend Micro earned the highest scores from both AV-Test and AV-Comparatives, making them the lab test darlings. Avast Security for Mac, Avira and Kaspersky also earned certification from both labs.
Schedules and Scans
Like most Mac antivirus products, Norton lets you choose between a full scan of your entire Mac and a quick scan that just looks at common malware locations. The time required for these scans varies wildly from product to product, but Norton is faster than many. Its quick scan proved to be truly quick in my testing, finishing in less than two minutes. Malwarebytes for Mac Premium ran even faster, with a 30-second quick scan, but Webroot beat the pack, completing a quick scan in just five seconds.
The average full-scan time for recent Mac antivirus tools is just under 40 minutes. Norton finished a full scan of the MacBook I use for testing in 14 minutes, way ahead of that average. Here again, Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus for Mac proved even quicker, completing its full scan in two minutes. At the other end of the scale, ESET took an hour and a half and Sophos took two hours to plod through a scan on the same Mac.
I copied the malware collection from my Windows antivirus testing to a thumb drive and challenged Norton to clean up the mess. It didn’t do so well, detecting just 54 percent of my assorted threats. On the plus side, it managed to disinfect two samples, removing only the malicious code.
It’s true that Windows malware can’t hurt your Mac, but eliminating it ensures that your Mac won’t be a carrier bringing infection to other devices on your network. Sophos and AVG AntiVirus for Mac caught 86 percent of Windows malware, ESET got 93 percent, and Webroot wiped out 100 percent of the samples.
In theory, once you’ve installed your antivirus and completed a full scan, real-time protection should handle any new infestations that crop up. That being the case, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Sophos Home Free for Mac, and a few others don’t bother with scheduling scans. Norton, on the other hand, lets you schedule a weekly scan for the day and time of your choice. You can choose whether to schedule a full system scan, a scan of all user folders, or a scan of just the startup disk.
Successful Phishing Protection
Phishing websites are convincing frauds that masquerade as anything from financial sites to senior dating sites, hoping to steal login credentials from unwary victims. Where malware coders must tune their attacks to one operating system, or even a particular operating system version, phishing is totally platform-agnostic. If you fall for a phishing scam and give it your credentials, you’re hosed, whether you succumbed on your Mac or on an internet-aware rice cooker.
To test a product’s ability to detect and deter phishing sites, I start by scraping hundreds of reported frauds from phish-tracking websites. I set up four browsers, one protected by the product, the other three by the antiphishing built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. I launch each suspected phishing URL in all four browsers at once and note what happens. For this test, any URL that fails to load in all four browsers or that doesn’t clearly fit the phishing profile gets axed.
I tested the macOS product at the same time I Norton AntiVirus Plus on Windows. It missed a few that the Windows edition caught, but still came out with an impressive 94 percent protection. As for the Windows edition, it detected 99 percent of the frauds.
On the Mac, Kaspersky and Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac top the antiphishing chart, with 100 percent detection. Bitdefender, McAfee, and Webroot come in at 99, 98, and 97 percent respectively. Those are the only macOS security products that outscored Norton.
A Thorough Firewall
Like Intego and McAfee, Norton includes a firewall on the Mac. It warns when you’re connected to an insecure network, and automatically configures protection when you return to a trusted network. By default, it allows all outgoing network connections and blocks unsolicited incoming connections.
As on Windows, Norton goes beyond simple firewall features, adding active protection against exploit attacks on vulnerabilities in the operating system and popular applications. You can view the lengthy list of attacks it recognizes, though these won’t mean much to most users. A feature called DeepSight blocks any contact coming from a list of known attackers reported by other Norton instances.
Application blocking, disabled by default, keeps unauthorized programs from using your network and internet connections. If you turn it on, you get a pop-up query each time Norton sees a new program attempting a connection. When I turned it on for testing, it didn’t generate many popups, to my relief. I did have to give permission for Chrome and Firefox to access the internet, and even for its own Safe Web component, but that was about it.
Norton’s Windows firewall is vastly more sophisticated. To start, it automatically configures permissions for a huge collection of known and trusted programs. The Mac edition clearly doesn’t. When the Windows version doesn’t recognize a program, it monitors that program closely for suspect behavior and cuts the network connection if it detects abuse.
Even though it doesn’t come up to the level of the Windows firewall, the firewall in Norton’s Mac edition does more than most. If you enable application control, be prepared for a few pop-ups to start. Once those are past, it should be smooth sailing.
Decent Password Management
The inclusion of Norton Password Manager isn’t precisely a bonus, since you can get it for free, but it’s a nice addition. Read my review for full details. Briefly, Norton Password Manager handles basic password manager tasks such as password capture, password replay, and filling web forms, and it can sync your data across all your Windows, Android, iOS devices, and macOS devices. It now includes an actionable password strength report with automatic password updates for a growing number of popular sites. However, it lacks advanced features, among them secure password sharing, digital inheritance, and two-factor authentication.
No matter how big your device’s hard disk, it eventually gets full. Norton Clean aims to reclaim some disk space for you by deleting files you don’t need. It can remove duplicate files, including duplicates in your photo collection and iTunes account. It separately flags similar files, for example 720p and 1080p versions of the same movie. Finally, it gets rid of junk files left by applications and other temporary files.
On my test system it quickly found many unnecessary files. I let it eliminate the junk and temporary files, and I deleted all but one from each set of true duplicates.
The same wasn’t true for the files Norton reported as similar. I found many that shouldn’t be deleted. For example, I took a bunch of screenshots showing the product’s own onboarding features tour. It matched up many of these as similar, even though each depicted a different phase of the tour. Before deleting files marked as similar, rather than duplicate, you should review them carefully.
Over the last few years, consumers have become more and more aware of the need to enhance local antivirus protection with a virtual private network, or VPN. Security companies have responded by creating their own VPNs or licensing VPN technology, and many have begun to add the VPN as a security suite component. However, all too often suite users get nothing more than the equivalent of the company’s free, feature-limited VPN.
As an example, the entire Panda product line, starting with the free antivirus, includes a VPN. However, in every product except the expensive top-tier Panda Dome Premium, VPN use is limited to 150GB per day. Kaspersky and Bitdefender also offer bandwidth-limited VPN support, and charge $4.99 per month (Kaspersky) or $49.99 per year (Bitdefender) to lift that limitation.
With Norton, you get the full power of Norton Secure VPN on all five of your devices. After a first-year discount, you’d pay $79.99 per year as a standalone. Getting it as part of Norton 360 is a huge bargain.
You can read PCMag’s review of Norton Secure VPN for a deep dive into this product. Briefly, it’s a simple but effective VPN, with a decent number of servers in a variety of locations. It earned better than average results in our speed tests, the company maintains a no-log policy for your privacy, and as a bonus it can block ad trackers. However, it lacks advanced features and bans BitTorrent. You could do better choosing a standalone VPN, but you won’t go wrong using it as part of Norton 360.
A Security Bargain
With Norton Security 360 Deluxe, you get the antivirus protection your macOS devices need, and quite a bit more. At $99.99 per year, the suite looks expensive, but the price gets you five licenses, including five installations of Norton’s powerful VPN. Considering the standalone price of the VPN, this product is a bargain. One test lab has certified it as effective, and after you’ve installed it on all your Macs you can use the remaining licenses on your Windows, Android, or iOS devices.
Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac also includes suite-level features, though with a different feature set from Norton, and it’s priced the same as many standalone Mac antivirus utilities. In addition, it has certifications from two independent labs to Norton’s one. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac also earned two lab certifications. Along with Norton 360 Deluxe, these are our Editors’ Choice picks for macOS antivirus.