Avast ports Windows shields to Mac

Avast may be best known for its Windows security suite, and new changes to its Mac antivirus indicate that its taking Mac security seriously, too. But will Mac owners?

Avast will introduce the latest version of its Mac security suite as early as tomorrow, just a few weeks after Flashback, the third major OS X security scare in a year.

The company touts an unblemished record of blocking the virulent malware as evidence that its suite is a must-have.

Currently available from Download.com in beta, Avast Free Antivirus 7 for Mac (download) brings to the Mac several features that have made the Windows version one of the best free security suites. Along with an up-to-date version of the Avast antivirus and anti-malware engine and a redone interface, it ports Avast's Web Shield to the Mac. Web Shield protects against the kind of drive-by downloads that Trojans like Flashback can use to spread. Updates to the File Reputation Shield and Mail Shield are included; the WebRep browser add-on for increased browser security is now available for Mac builds of Safari, Firefox, and Chrome; and the suite now automatically updates its antivirus engine and program files.

There are more similarities with the Windows version, which aren't particularly surprising. You must register to run the free suite, and you can opt out of anonymously contributing data to Avast's community-supported security database. Opting out does not prevent you from gaining the security benefits of the community, though. You can read the review of the Windows version of Avast here.

During a few hours of testing, I didn't experience any system sluggishness or other behavioral oddities. The stable versions of Safari, Chrome, and Firefox all worked well with the WebRep add-on. Scans were reasonably quick, although the Mac Mini I use for testing was recently reformatted and so it didn't have many non-system files to be scanned. For a free security suite with a minimal footprint, there are a lot of reasons for even skeptics to give this a shot.

The full Avast for Mac review will be available after the suite leaves beta.

Updated at 8:12 a.m. PT to clarify the expected release date.