updated 11/14/2011 3:42:05 PM ET 2011-11-14T20:42:05

Free anti-malware apps for Android smartphones are almost totally ineffective in detecting threats, according to German security firm AV-Test.

In a study of seven free AV products for Android, AV-Test determined that most of the apps, when tasked with blocking a sample of 10 pieces of Android malware, were useless.

Four of the free threat-detecting apps were so unreliable, in fact, that they found zero malware during a manual scan; only one of them, Privateer Lite, improved its score to a paltry 10 percent during a real-time scan. The other products, Kinetoo Malware Scan and BluePoint Antivirus Free, came in at 6 percent and 1 percent, respectively. The best of the anti-malware apps was Zoner AntiVirus Free, which detected 32 percent of threats during a manual scan, and 80 percent during a real-time scan.

The free AV apps are all found in the official Android Market, and were tested on a Samsung Galaxy Tab.

"The circulation of obviously near to useless security apps endangers those who trust them" and rely on them to keep their Android devices safe, AV-Test wrote in the study, titled "Are free Android virus scanners any good?"

Though AV-Test's study is shocking, it is by no means conclusive: widely used free Android AV apps the firm did not test include AVG Antivirus Free, BitDefender Mobile Security, Lookout Mobile Security and Norton Mobile Security.

Still, it's alarming, especially considering the number of serious threats Android users face. In recent months, Android-specific malware has emerged that can steal calls and texts and even communicate with blogs to receive its attack instructions. While the study came down hard on free Android AV software, it showed that paid commercial apps from F-Secure and Kaspersky Lab "detected all threats without a problem."

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