Avast vs Sophos Mac security apps on test

security watch

The recent ransomware attack on Apple Macs has brought security to the forefront of the Mac community and you might be thinking it is time to install Mac security software to keep your computer safe from malicious threats. On test are two free security applications from Avast and Sophos.

Avast Free Mac Security

Avast Free Antivirus for Mac has been renamed Avast Free Mac Security. This may reflect the fact that Macs don’t get many, if any, viruses. However, they do get other typs of malware, PUPs (potentially unwanted programs), and adware. The name indicates that this is not just antivirus and it is a complete security solution.

The software did not get off to a good start and this is because the installation comes with SecureLine, which is a VPN. When you install the free Avast Free Mac Security, there are two extra items that are preselected, Avast Online security, which is a browser extension to check that websites are OK, and SecureLine.

After accepting the defaults and installing all three apps, you find that SecureLine is not free. It is a one-week trial, after which you must pay for the application. An uninstaller utility is provided with Avast Free Mac Security, but it uninstalls everything. So then I had to reinstall Avast Free Mac Security again, which involved downloading it again, in order to install it and this time deselect the SecureLine VPN.

It was unnecessary hassle that could have been avoided by pointing out SecureLine was a trial and asking if I wanted to install install it.

Once Avast Free Mac Security is installed, it adds an item to the menu bar that can be used to get status information, such as whether the security is enabled or disabled, view recent messages like Mac malware alerts, and open the application window.

Avast Free Mac Security

Mac Security has a file system shield, a mail shield and a web shield. The file system shield protects against malware in files and apps and it also reports PUPs. The mail shield checks incoming emails in apps like Mail (not web-based mail like Gmail) and removes malicious attachments. The web shield monitors browser activity for security threats from known malicious or infected websites.

Real-time protection is provided, so malware should be detected and dealt with straight away, but you can also perform a complete scan of the system, just removable volumes, or the files or folders you select. Scans can include Time Machine backups, too.

Avast Free Mac Security

According to AV-Test, a company specialising in testing security software, Avast’s protection is excellent and it detected 100% of the malware samples. However, it is also a slow performer and it affects the speed of your Mac more than other security software. I’ve been running it for a week and the Mac isn’t noticeably slower. Maybe a tiny bit, but nothing to be concerned about.

An Avast online account provides access to information about Avast installations on your computers and devices, news, and forums. Overall, this is a good security program that is nicely designed and effective.

Title: Avast Free Mac security 
Requirements: Any recent version of OS X, 750MB disk space.

Sophos Home

Sophos Free Mac AntiVirus has also been updated and renamed, and it is now called Sophos Home. Wouldn’t Sophos Home Security be a better name? To get the free software you are first required to create an account at the Sophos website. You confirm this by responding to an email, and then you can log in and download the software.

Your online Sophos account that is accessed using a web browser acts as an overview of the security of all your computers and devices running the Sophos software. It also has some remote control features and you can turn on or off the automatic virus protection, web protection and potentially unwanted app detection (PUPs).

You can also initiate a malware scan of any computer linked to your Sophos Home online account through the web browser. If the computer is offline, the scan will be run the next time it is powered up. This remote control facility will be useful to people that are in charge of several computers, presumably your partner's and kids' as this is a home user service. There's no reason why a small office couldn't use it though.

The Mac app is very basic. It has few features or settings and just one screen. There are three switches to turn on or off the virus protection, web protection and potentially unwanted app detection.

Sophos Home Mac security
Configure the software on the website

This simplicity is deceptive because the app is actually controlled from your account on the website. You can configure the web shield and what types of web content Sophos Home blocks, set exceptions for malware scans like folders or files that should be skipped, view threats that have been dealt with and other events.

Real-time protection is active and there is a single Scan Now button that performs a complete system scan. That is thorough, but time consuming. It would be useful to have some other options, such as the ability to select a folder for scanning, like Downloads. A quick scan of the most likely locations to contain malware would also be useful, but it is all or nothing.

Sophos Home Mac security

In theory, the real-time protection should catch everything, but it is sometimes useful to perform quick scans, if only to reassure yourself that everything is OK.

AV-Test results show that Sophos Home has good detection capabilities and it detected 100% of the malwarein the test. It offers better performance than some security software and this makes it attractive if you need an app that is not going to slow down your Mac.

Title: Sophos Home
Requrements: Mac OS X 10.8 or later, 1GB RAM, 1GB disk space.


These two applications perform the same function and secure your Mac, but they work in very different ways. Configuring and running Sophos Home through a web browser takes a bit of getting used to, but it has a clear advantage when there are multiple computers. You can configure them and initiate scans remotely using a browser on any computer.

Avast also has an online account with some useful features, but I like Sophos better. In addition to this, Sophos Home has less of a detrimental effect on the Mac’s performance. Sophos Home is the winner of this head-to-head contest, but there really isn't much in it. Both provide good Mac security and help with Mac malware removal.





Sophos can scan individual folders or programs. Just right click on the item and a menu pops up asking if you want to scan this item with Sophos. Sometimes it is located in "Other" options when right clicking. Therefore it is not always "All or nothing"

After upgrading my MacBook Pro to Sierra I found that my Time Machine backups (to a Time Capsule) were failing. It's a known Sophos Home Security issue but they haven't fixed it yet - a solution was promised for October but didn't arrive. If you use Time Machine (and most of us do) then that makes Sophos unusable until they fix it. I'm testing Avast.

The system requirements for Sophos Home is Mac OS X 10.8, 10.9, 10.10, or 10.11. It does not mention macOS Sierra 10.12. Hopefully there will be an update soon.

Sophos will scan individual files and folders. Right-click/Services/Scan with Sophos Home.

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