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  • Pros

    Certified by one independent testing lab. Fast scan. Firewall blocks exploit attacks.

  • Cons

    Expensive. So-so scores against phishing sites and Windows malware. Firewall's application control generates tons of pop-ups.

  • Bottom Line

    Symantec's Norton Security Deluxe delivers excellent Mac antivirus protection with a powerful firewall, and you can use your licenses to protect your Android, iOS, and Windows devices, too.

Antivirus protection under the Norton name has been around since the days of DOS and dinosaurs. Back in the late '80s, before Symantec acquired Norton, Symantec Antivirus was a completely separate choice for protecting Macintosh computers. These days, Security Deluxe (for Mac) from the combined Symantec and Norton goes far beyond those early attempts. While this excellent software is not as full-featured as the corresponding Windows edition, it offers far more than simple malware protection, with a firewall, exploit prevention, phishing detection, and more.

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Signup and Installation

To start, you create a Norton account online and register your purchase. You can then download and install Norton protection on your Mac, or email a link to install it on another device. For testing purposes, I installed Norton on an Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch. Like Intego, Norton requires a reboot to complete the installation. All the other Mac antivirus utilities I've evaluated install without a reboot.

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Once the system reboots, Norton prompts you to install several extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Just keep clicking where it tells you to and you'll soon have all your browsers protected. It also launches a quick tour of program features. If you miss the tour, you can launch it again from the Help menu.

The main window has a white background with a security status indicator occupying most of the real estate and five green icons across the bottom: Security, Scans, LiveUpdate, Advanced, and Add Devices. When you click one of the icons, its details and settings slide in to replace the status indicator. The color scheme is much the same as that of the Windows-centered Symantec Norton Security Deluxe, but the two aren't much alike beyond that.

Quite a few features of the Windows edition don't show up on a Mac. Among them are the Identity Safe password manager, a spam filter, a file cleanup utility, and a startup program manager.

Pricing and OS Support

You have to pay $89.99 per year for a Norton subscription, which lets you install protection on up to five macOS, Windows, or Android devices. Of current Mac antivirus products, only Intego costs more, listing at $99.99 per year for three licenses. However, both Norton and Intego offer more than just antivirus protection. On the other hand, Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac is also a full security suite, and its pricing matches that of many standalone Mac antivirus utilities.

SecurityWatchThe price range for my current collection of Mac antivirus products starts at zero. You don't have to pay anything for Sophos Home or Avira Free Antivirus for Mac. As with Windows antivirus, the most common single-license yearly price is $39.99, and several products offer three licenses for $59.99. That same $59.99 per year lets you install McAfee antivirus on all of your macOS, Windows, Android, and iOS devices. There's quite a spread here, both in pricing and in what you get for the price.

Symantec Norton Security Deluxe (for Mac) Main Window

Support for old versions is a bugaboo in Windows. XP is dead, and Vista is on the way out, yet tons of PCs still run these outdated platforms. Mac users, in my experience, are more likely to keep up with the latest versions of their OS. Norton supports the current macOS plus the two previous versions, so once macOS High Sierra comes out, you'll need El Capitan (10.11) or better, the same as what Avira supports now. Those stuck on an old operating system should probably consider Webroot or ESET Cyber Security (for Mac), which extend support back to Lion (10.7) and Snow Leopard (10.6), respectively.

Good Scores From Malware Protection Labs

I like to get my hands dirty, hitting Windows antivirus products with real-world malware and noting their reactions. Alas, most of my testing regimen just doesn't carry over to macOS. Fortunately, a couple of the big international antivirus testing labs test Mac antivirus too.

Two of the labs that I follow test Mac products, but only one of them includes Norton in its collection of tested products. The latest report from AV-Comparatives doesn't include Norton.

Lab Test Results Chart - Symantec

The Mac malware protection test is the most important one from AV-Test Institute, and Norton aced that one, with 100 percent protection. Bitdefender, Intego, and Kaspersky also took 100 percent in this test. Norton also earned the top score in the PUA, or potentially unwanted application, test.

You might think it strange to test Mac antivirus with Windows malware, but both labs do so. Many small networks have both Windows and macOS computers; you wouldn't want your Mac to serve as a conduit for Windows malware for infection. Norton didn't do so well in this test. It caught more than 70 percent of the Windows samples, but five other products took the best possible score, more than 99 percent. Of recent products, only Intego scored lower than Norton against Windows malware, with zero percent detection.

Schedules and Scans

Like many Mac antivirus products, Norton lets you choose between a full scan of your entire system and a quick scan that just looks in the most likely places. The time required for these scans varies wildly from product to product, but Norton is on the speedy end of the spectrum. Its quick scan proved to be truly quick in my testing, finishing in 30 seconds. Only Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (for Mac) is faster, taking just 15 seconds for a quick scan in my testing.

The average full-scan time for recent Mac antivirus tools is 42 minutes. Norton finished a full scan of the MacBook I use for testing in just 10 minutes. Here again, Webroot is even quicker, completing its full scan in two minutes. At the other end of the scale, Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac needed more than three hours to grind through a full scan of the same laptop.

I copied the malware collection from my Windows antivirus testing to a thumb drive and challenged Norton to clean it up. It didn't do so well, detecting just 64 percent of my assorted threats. It's true that Windows malware can't hurt your Mac, but, as I said above, eliminating it ensures that your Mac won't be a carrier bringing infection to other devices on your network.

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, and Sophos Home (for Mac) eschew scheduled scans. Symantec votes with the majority, letting you schedule a weekly scan on the day and time of your choice. You can also choose whether to run a full system scan, a scan of all user folders, or a scan of just the startup disk.

Norton Phishing Protection: Better on Windows

Phishing is the term we use for websites that masquerade as financial sites or other sensitive sites, hoping to steal login credentials from unwary victims. Unlike malware, which generally must be tuned to a specific operating platform, phishing works on any platform and any browser. All it requires is an inattentive user.

I use the Windows-based Norton Security as a touchstone for my phishing tests, because it has consistently displayed a high detection rate over many years. I also compare each product's detection rate with the protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. I didn't want to assume that the Mac edition would provide the same protection, so I went ahead with this test Norton versus Norton test.

Phishing Results Chart - Symantec

By observation, Norton on the Mac offers not one but two layers of protection against phishing, with two very different looks. One layer replaces the problem URL with a warning page that flags the URL as suspicious, malicious, or fraudulent. The other displays a pop-up window titled Norton Rating, with a link to view a full Norton Safe Web report on the site. I counted both as successful detection.

On the Mac, Norton's detection rate was distinctly better than that of the three browsers alone, but it came in 14 percentage points lower than Norton on Windows. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac fared best in this test, beating Norton by 5 percentage points. Kaspersky also did well, lagging just one point behind Norton.

Symantec Norton Security Deluxe (for Mac) Phishing Blocked

As noted, Norton Safe Web displays a warning when you visit a page that has dangerous content. It also marks up search results from popular search sites. Point at a red warning icon and you get a red popup reporting the number of threats. Click the pop-up to visit a very detailed report on Norton's analysis of the page. Quite a few other Mac antivirus utilities mark dangerous links, but few come close to Norton for details on just why a site got red-flagged.

A Thorough Firewall

Like Intego and McAfee AntiVirus Plus (for Mac), Norton offers firewall protection 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.

Going beyond the other firewalls, Norton includes active protection against exploit attacks on vulnerabilities in the operating system and popular applications. You can view the impressive list of attacks blocked, and even dig in for an online page describing each. A feature called DeepSight blocks contact coming from a constantly updated list of known attackers.

Application blocking, disabled by default, prevents 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, I made sure to check the box that automatically allows access for Apple-signed programs. Even so, it generated a huge number of pop-ups, significantly more than McAfee or Intego Mac Internet Security X9. I had to turn the feature off because it was interfering with my other testing.

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; it asked me whether to allow Chrome and Safari to go online. 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 an initial flurry of pop-ups. Once those are past, it should be smooth sailing.

Excellent for Mixed Households

Your $89.99 per year subscription to Symantec Norton Security Deluxe (for Mac) does let you install protection on five devices (macOS, Windows, iOS, or Android), but it's still a higher entry price than most. In addition, you get a lot more when you use one of your licenses to install protection on a Windows box, or even an Android device. While Norton is excellent, there are even better choices, however—especially if you have a Mac-centric household.

Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac is also a suite, 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, and it took the top score in every lab test. While Norton is a very good product, Kaspersky and Bitdefender are our Editors' Choice winners for Mac antivirus.

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Neil Rubenking By Neil J. Rubenking Lead Analyst for Security Twitter Email

Neil Rubenking served as vice president and president of the San Francisco PC User Group for three years when the IBM PC was brand new. He was present at the formation of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, PC Magazine brought Neil on board to handle the torrent of Turbo Pascal tips submitted by readers. By 1990, he had become PC Magazine's technical editor, and a coast-to-coast telecommuter. His "User to User" column supplied readers with tips… More »

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