Avast One Essential for Mac – Review 2021 | #macos | #macsecurity


The days when Mac users blithely assumed no virus could harm them are long gone. Sure, Windows is a more popular target, but there’s still money to be made with attacks that target macOS. Antivirus protection for your Mac is a must. Even so, you may resent having to pay for additional protection. With Avast One Essential, you don’t pay a penny, and this isn’t a bare-bones antivirus, but rather a suite of security and privacy tools. Even in this free edition you get a surprisingly rich collection of features.

Where Can You Buy Avast One Essential?

This new Avast One product line releases initially only in the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia. All of Avast’s previously released products remain available for download or purchase in other markets—but also in the four markets where Avast One is being released. However, when you can get the new Avast One Essential for free, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to settle for the smaller feature set of the older Avast Security for Mac instead.

There’s no visible connection between the release of this new product line and the pending merger of Avast with NortonLifeLock. Note that once that merger is complete, Norton will own Avast, Avira, AVG, and BullGuard.

A New Look

Just as on Windows, this new product looks very different from existing Avast products. Instead of the previous dark background, it’s light and airy, with rounded buttons and whimsical line drawings daubed with pastel colors. Where space permits, the line drawings include happy people. It’s quite a change.

Also as on Windows, Avast doesn’t use the home page to display security status or let you launch a scan. Rather, it devotes the home page to a topic that needs your attention. For example, right after installation it exhorts you to run your first Smart Scan.

Clicking Explore in the simple menu at left brings up a page that gives you access to all the program’s features. It organizes the features into three groups: Device Protection, Smooth Performance, and Online Privacy. This is your go-to page when you have a specific task or feature in mind.

Operating System Requirements

To install this free product your Mac must run macOS 10.13 (High Sierra) or later. Most Mac owners keep the OS up to date, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Other Mac antivirus tools need an even newer OS version. Kaspersky wants 10.14 (Mojave), and Avira requires 10.15 (Catalina).

At the relaxed end of the spectrum, a few antivirus tools still support ancient macOS versions for those who can’t (or won’t) upgrade. Intego works on 10.9 (Mavericks) or higher, while ProtectWorks goes all the way back to 10.8 (Mountain Lion).

Excellent Lab Results

Since I don’t have the resources to put macOS antivirus utilities to the test with real-world malware, any available lab results are like gold for me. Two of the four labs that I follow for Windows antivirus results also publish reports for Mac antivirus, and Avast scored very well with both.

In reports from AV-Test Institute, products can earn six points each for Protection, Performance, and Usability (that last category refers to minimizing occasions when the product identifies a good app or website as bad). Avast takes six points for Protection and Usability in the latest tests, and 5.5 for Performance, yielding a total of 17.5. While that’s not the absolute maximum, it’s enough to earn Avast the designation “Top Product.” Bitdefender also scores 17.5 with this lab, while Norton and Trend Micro reach a perfect 18.

The most important score from AV-Comparatives is the percentage of protection against macOS-centered malware. Like most tested products, Avast earns 100% in this test. It also detects 100% of Windows malware samples. It’s true that malware written for Windows can’t infect a Mac, but the Mac could serve as a carrier. Finally, in a test using lower-risk PUAs (Potentially Unwanted Applications), Avast detects 99%, tying with Bitdefender for the top score.

No product takes perfect scores in the latest tests from both labs. However, Avast and Bitdefender come very close.

Scans and Timing

After the obligatory initial smart scan, I dug into the Scan Center and selected a comprehensive Deep Scan. Avast completed that scan in 21 minutes, speedier than the current average of 27 minutes.

I don’t have the resources or expertise to collect and analyze malware aimed at macOS, not the way I do on Windows. One thing I can check, though, is whether each Mac antivirus product detects and removes Windows malware. That might sound pointless, since Windows programs won’t run on a Mac, but it does eliminate the possibility that the Mac could become a carrier, passing along infected files across the network. As noted, Avast scores 100% in a recent Windows malware test by AV-Comparatives.

When I scanned a thumb drive containing my current set of Windows malware samples, Avast quickly identified 85% of them as malicious. That’s about the same percentage that Avast One Essential detected immediately on launch. The Windows product wiped out more samples as they attempted to install. Naturally that second detection phase couldn’t happen on my test Mac.

Excellent Phishing Protection

Learning to code is a big investment of time, and learning to write malware that can escape the notice of security products requires a high level of skill. Phishing fraudsters don’t bother with any of that. Instead of looking for vulnerabilities in the operating system, they focus on the most vulnerable component—the user. They design websites that look exactly like sensitive sites such as PayPal, or your bank. If you log into the fake, the fraudsters steal your credentials and thereby own your account. Yes, highly observant folks can learn to recognize phishing frauds, but it’s nice to have some help for those days when you’re a little muzzy.

It’s true that the fraudsters get caught and blacklisted constantly, but they just grab their winnings and pop up a new fake site. For testing purposes, I make sure to include reported frauds that are too new for the blacklists. I scrape hundreds of reported phishing URLs and launch each simultaneously in four browsers. The product under test protects one, of course, while the other three rely on phishing protection built into Chrome, Edge, and Firefox.

I discard any URLs that don’t load properly in all four browsers, or that don’t precisely fit the profile of a phishing fraud. For the rest, I record whether each tested product blocked the fraud or missed it. A handy program launches the URLs and records my notes for Windows-based testing. On macOS, naturally that program doesn’t run, so I’ve become quite adept at the button-mashing required to copy and paste the URLs.

The Web Shield component works below the browser level, so it protects any browser you use and doesn’t need to install extensions. When you accidentally direct your browser to a dangerous or fraudulent page, it prevents the connection and pops up a warning. It also displays a warning right in the browser.

In this test, the macOS edition scores exactly the same as the Windows edition, coming in with an excellent 99% detection rate. Bitdefender also scores 99%, while Webroot edges them both out with 100%.

Ransomware Protection for Important Files

Some types of malware steal your personal information, to sell on the Dark Web. You might never even know a data-stealing Trojan attack happened. But you’ll definitely know if ransomware attacks your Mac. After encrypting your important files, this kind of malware demands that you pay a ransom to get them back, typically using cryptocurrency or some other non-traceable payment method.

Avast aims to foil ransomware attacks by banning all unauthorized access to important files. Known and trusted programs get a pass, but any other program attempting to modify or delete those files triggers a warning from Avast. If you launched the new program yourself, you can add it to the trusted list with a simple click. But if you don’t recognize it, block away.

By default, this feature protects the Documents and Pictures folders for the current macOS user account. You can add folders for protection, and you can fine-tune the lengthy list of protected file types. The only significant difference from the similar feature on Windows is that you don’t get the option to enable Strict Mode. In Strict Mode, every program needs your permission to access files, even programs that Avast might consider to be trustworthy.

Premium-Only Features

If you scan down the list of features on the Explore page, you’ll notice that some of the items have a lock icon overlay. The presence of that orange lock means the features are reserved for users of the paid edition. The same is true in Avast One on Windows, but without those lock icons. You learn which features are premium-only by clicking on them.

Under Smooth Performance, you’ll see Disk Cleaner, App Uninstaller, and Photo Cleaner. All three of these features are locked away if you’re using the free edition.

Everything in Device Protection is available to you except for Web Hijack Guard. This somewhat arcane feature aims to foil malicious attacks that try to hijack your PCs DNS requests. When DNS hijacking is active, the perpetrators can undetectably divert your web requests to fraudulent sites.

In the realm of Online Privacy, you get everything for free except Tracking Prevention. This feature relies on technology much like what Avast offers. When high-tech advertisers and snoops try to track you by developing a fingerprint based on data from your browser, Avast foils their attempts by fuzzing that data. Given that Avast sells this technology separately, it makes perfect sense that it’s not included with the free Avast One Essential.

Feature-Limited VPN

As noted, you don’t get any of the performance features for free, but most of the privacy features are accessible. Just as on Windows, VPN protection is the star among privacy features. The browser cleaner and breach scanner round out Avast’s privacy collection.

With Avast shielding your Mac against new attacks, all the data stored on it should be safe. However, the moment that data begins to travel across the internet, antivirus protection loses its power. To protect your data on its travels, you need a Virtual Private Network, or VPN.

The VPN creates a secure encrypted connection between your device and a hardened server managed by the VPN company. No snoop, not even the owner of the shady public network you’re using, can access your traffic. A side benefit is that your network traffic seems to come from the VPN server. That means that a site can’t determine your location based on your IP address. It also can allow you to access content that would normally be restricted.

PCMag has evaluated the standalone Avast SecureLine VPN and found it to be decent, but not outstanding. Read our review for a full understanding of this feature. Briefly, it uses recommended VPN protocols, offers a widespread but somewhat sparse selection of servers (55 locations in 34 countries), and supports macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. Its privacy policy clearly states what information it collects. Reviewer Max Eddy noted that it gathers more data than is needed, and more than most competitors. It doesn’t offer features beyond VPN the way some competitors do, but it earns decent scores in our speed tests on Windows.

With Avast One, the VPN is integrated, not a separate product, but the technology is the same. As is typical, users who aren’t paying don’t get access to the full feature set. You don’t get to choose your server or server location; the VPN makes that choice for you. And the VPN puts a cap on the bandwidth you can use.

To be fair, Avast’s bandwidth limit is more generous than most, allowing 5GB of traffic per week. The free edition of Hotspot Shield VPN allows 500MB per day, a bit less than Avast. With TunnelBear VPN, non-paying users choke out at 500MB per month. On the other hand, you can use ProtonVPN for free with no limits on bandwidth. Avast One Essential users get enough bandwidth to protect quite a lot of interactive internet usage. Just don’t leave the VPN running when you sit back and binge-watch videos all night.

By default, Avast gives you a reminder to turn on VPN protection when you connect with an untrusted network. Turning off that reminder is a bad idea, though you can do it. Setting it to connect automatically, without a reminder, is also a bad idea, since your bandwidth is limited. Just leave this setting at its default.

That’s it for VPN configuration options. You won’t find split-tunneling (the ability to send less-sensitive traffic outside the VPN’s protection) like you get with CyberGhost VPN or SurfShark VPN. There’s no option for the added security of a multi-hop VPN connection. You can’t get a static IP address (useful for evading services that try to block VPN usage). Some VPNs include a kill switch, meaning they cut all connectivity if the VPN connection goes down; not Avast.

It may not be fancy, but it’s free, it’s integrated with the suite, and its bandwidth limits are more generous than many competitors. If you’re using Avast One Essential on your Mac, definitely take advantage of the VPN.

Other Privacy Features

Just as on Windows, the Clear Browsing Data feature checks popular browsers for traces of your web-surfing activity. A snoop could possibly misuse that information, so Avast encourages you to clear it out. The items for cleanup vary by browser. On my test Mac, Avast found cookies, cache, and temporary files for Chrome. Under Firefox it listed website history and temporary files. And all it found for Safari was the browser cache. None of these are checked for removal by default.

You can clear history right in your browsers, with more control over what gets cleared, including the time range to clear. In Chrome and Firefox, you press Shift+Command+Delete to invoke this feature. In Safari, you choose Clear History from the menu. Given what’s built into the browsers, Avast’s feature doesn’t add much value.

Has your password been exposed in one of the data breaches that seem to hit the news every week? Select Data Breach Monitoring on the Explore page to find out. Note that in the Windows edition this feature has the title Password Protection. You can search on any email address, but the free edition only lets you get details for breaches on the email address associated with your Avast account. As for real-time monitoring of new breaches, that, too, is a premium-only feature.

One privacy feature’s absence surprised me. The free Avast Security for Mac has long included a Wi-Fi Inspector. Despite the name, it inspects any network, wired or wireless, and reports all devices connected to that network. For each device, it lists the MAC and IP addresses and, where possible, the device type and name. In addition, it reports any devices whose configuration contains security problems. I confirmed with my Avast contact that this feature is not present in Avast One.

A Good, Free Protector

Avast One Essential for Mac gets excellent marks from both the independent testing labs that I follow, and it earned a near-perfect score in my own hands-on phishing protection test. Bandwidth limits on its VPN component are more generous than many free competitors. And it includes a sprinkling of privacy and security features that go beyond basic antivirus. If you want to protect your Mac without spending money, it’s worth consideration.

For the very best Mac security, you’ll need to open your wallet. Our Editors’ Choice winners in this realm are Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac, Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac, and Norton 360 Deluxe for Mac. Kaspersky and Norton each earned a perfect score from one of the labs, while Bitdefender got excellent marks from both. Bitdefender’s AutoPilot mode lets you set it and forget it. Kaspersky and Norton go way beyond basic antivirus, each adding enough features to qualify as a suite.



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