F-Secure Safe (for Mac) – Review 2020
Everybody knows that Macs don’t suffer malware infestation—and everybody is wrong. There’s no doubt that Windows and Android are more popular targets, but macOS has its share of malware, including ransomware. That’s where F-Secure Safe (for Mac) comes in. It takes a perfect score in our phishing protection test, and it includes a simple parental control system that works across multiple devices. F-Secure hits the basics, but some of its competitors thoroughly outstrip it in terms of features, and it doesn’t currently appear in test reports from the antivirus labs we follow.
In truth, F-Secure Safe is a cross-platform suite, offering protection for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices. As with Norton 360 Deluxe (for Mac), McAfee AntiVirus Plus (for Mac), and several others, this review focuses strictly on the macOS edition.
Getting Started With F-Secure Safe
All management of your F-Secure Safe installation takes place through the My F-Secure online console. Once you create your account and register your purchase, you can quickly see how many days remain on your subscription, as well as how many unused device licenses you have. (See the next section for information on licenses.) You can also tweak your account configuration and manage your billing and renewal settings.
Most importantly, the console is where you go to manage your devices. The app’s attractive display shows your account, with its associated devices. You can release the license for any device you no longer use, making it available to apply on another device. F-Secure offers parental control on multiple platforms, including the Mac. If you’ve assigned devices to children, they show up separately in the console.
How Much Does F-Secure Safe Cost?
F-Secure Safe has more price points than just about any competitor, from $49.99 per year for a single license to $179.99 for 15. The common three-license pack costs $69.99, which is $10 more than three licenses for Bitdefender, ESET, or Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac. You pay $50 per year for 10 Sophos Home Premium licenses. It costs $59.99 for unlimited licenses to install McAfee’s antivirus on your Macs and other devices.
When it comes to protecting your Mac, there’s also the option to pay nothing at all. Avast, AVG, Avira, and Sophos Home Free (for Mac) don’t cost a penny.
F-Secure Safe requires macOS 10.13 (High Sierra) or later—the same as Sophos and Avira. If you’re somehow stuck using an old macOS version, you may want to consider Intego Mac Internet Security X9, which is compatible with versions back to Mavericks (10.9). That’s impressive, but ProtectWorks AntiVirus (for Mac) goes even farther, with support for Snow Leopard (10.6) and later.
No More Lab Results
Two of the independent testing labs whose Windows-centered results we follow also test macOS antivirus products. At the time of our last review, both included F-Secure in their reports, and both gave it good marks. However, neither of the labs reported on F-Secure in their most recent tests.
As with Windows products, researchers at AV-Test Institute evaluate each macOS product on three criteria: protection, performance, and usability. Protection and performance are self-explanatory; a high usability score means the product exhibited few or no false positives (valid programs or websites identified as malicious). With six points possible in each category, 18 points is a perfect score. Avira, Norton, and Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac reached that score in the latest report. F-Secure didn’t appear this time, but it took 17 points at its last review.
In the latest test report from AV-Comparatives, all but one product detected 100% of the macOS-centric malware samples and received certification for success. Here again, F-Secure wasn’t tested, but it came in at 100% last time around.
Avast, Avira Free Antivirus for Mac, Bitdefender, and Trend Micro are the only Mac-centric products certified in the latest tests by both labs. Avira has the distinction of earning perfect scores from both.
F-Secure doesn’t go with the common pattern of quick scan, full scan, and custom scan. You can click Virus scan for a full system scan; or click Choose what to scan and pick a drive, file, or folder. Like Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac, Kaspersky, and several others, F-Secure dispenses with the notion of scheduled scanning. The idea is that once you’ve run an initial full scan, real-time protection will fend off any further malware attacks.
On my test Mac, a full scan with F-Secure took 42 minutes, which is a bit longer than the current average of 36 minutes. Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (for Mac) takes the cake as far as scan speed goes, completing a full scan in 2.5 minutes. At the other end of the spectrum, ESET took an hour and a half.
As noted, F-Secure does aim to detect and remove Windows malware, as well as attacks directed at macOS. I copied my current malware collection to a thumb drive, mounted it on the Mac, and opened the folder. Real-time protection didn’t react, so I ran a scan of the thumb drive.
The scan trashed about three quarters of the samples and marked another sixth or so as riskware. In all, F-Secure detected 89% of the Windows malware samples, pretty close to the 91% it managed last time we tested it. Clario also detected 89%, and Webroot got 100%, but those are the only recent products to match or exceed F-Secure’s score against Windows malware.
Top-Notch Phishing Protection
Malware written for Windows won’t run on a Mac, and vice versa, but phishing is platform agnostic. Fraudsters create phishing sites to gull their marks into giving away secure login credentials. It doesn’t matter if the scam happens on a Windows box, a Mac, or an internet-aware pencil sharpener. I’ve learned from experience that the antiphishing component in Mac security products isn’t necessarily the same as in their Windows equivalents, so I didn’t assume this product would score the same as F-Secure Safe on Windows. Note that F-Secure’s standalone antivirus doesn’t include phishing protection.
For this test, I scour phishing-oriented sites for new reports, gathering the very latest suspects. I use a handy program that I wrote to launch each URL in Chrome, Firefox, and Edge and let me record how the browser handled it. That program doesn’t run under macOS, of course, so I have to copy and paste each URL and manually note how the Mac antivirus handles it. If any browser can’t load one of the URLs, out it goes! Likewise, a page that isn’t clearly designed to steal login credentials goes on the scrap heap.
Last time we tested the Mac edition, it managed 80% detection, a decent score, but nothing to write home about. This time around it earned a perfect 100% detection, the best of any recent macOS antivirus. Its Windows equivalent scored exactly the same.
Until recently, the top dogs in phishing protection on the Mac were Bitdefender, McAfee, and Webroot, with 99%, 98%, and 97% detection, respectively. F-Secure leapfrogged them all to take the very top score.
Firewall Support? Not Really
On the Tools page, the macOS edition includes an icon whose title toggles between Enable Firewall and Disable Firewall as you click it. That doesn’t mean F-Secure offers firewall protection; this feature simply controls the built-in macOS firewall.
At first, I couldn’t see any effect on the firewall’s status. I found that I needed to quite System Preferences and re-launch it to see that indeed F-Secure turned the firewall on or off. I don’t see any real benefit in using F-Secure to toggle the status of this built-in feature.
Multi-Device Parental Control
With F-Secure Safe, you handle parental control configuration online, in the My F-Secure console. Settings apply to all devices associated with the same child account. Note that to configure parental control for a child’s Windows or macOS user account, you still must log into that account. Awkward! But the remote configuration system does mean that the child can’t simply turn off parental control. Note that if you’ve given Administrator privileges to an older child, for convenience, time limits don’t apply.
The content filter offers to block 15 categories, color-coded red for dangerous, yellow for iffy, and blue for innocuous. That last color code includes Social networks, Anonymizers, and Unknown. Be sure to block Anonymizers—otherwise a smart teen could totally defeat F-Secure.
The content filter does rely on a browser extension for its power, which means that a smart child can simply install a less-popular browser such as Brave. By observation, your kid can’t disable the Safari extension without uninstalling F-Secure, an action that requires Administrator privilege. But removing the extension from Chrome, Edge, or Firefox is a snap.
F-Secure also gives parents two ways to control screen time. First, they can set a maximum amount of device usage—separately for weekdays and weekends. Parents can also define bedtimes for weekdays and weekends. Bedtime is a single span during which access to devices isn’t permitted. Note, too, that time limits aren’t cumulative across platforms. If your kid runs out of time on one device, she can just switch to another.
This parental control system is cross-platform, and remotely configured, which is good. However, it doesn’t compare with the very full-featured parental control systems in Bitdefender, Norton, or Kaspersky.
A Good, Basic Antivirus
As with the Windows-based F-Secure Anti-Virus, F-Secure Safe (for Mac) focuses on the basic task of cleaning up malware and preventing future infestations. Its one nod to bonus features is a simple parental control system that functions across multiple devices. It’s a good, basic Mac antivirus, though at present it doesn’t have any labs vouching for its effectiveness.
Symantec Norton 360 Deluxe (for Mac) is a full security suite, and it comes with a VPN that’s not limited in features or bandwidth. 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. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac also earned two lab certifications, scored high against phishing frauds, and includes ransomware protection. These three are our Editors’ Choice winners for antivirus protection under macOS.