What is the SmartScreen Filter & How Does it Work?

When using Internet Explorer or Windows 8, you can encounter warning messages when trying to download or run specific files. You get warnings stating that the file "is not commonly downloaded and could harm your computer" or that "running this program might put your PC at risk". Why does this happen, what does it mean and what are the options you have? This article will answer these questions.

The SmartScreen Filter Error Messages

First, let’s go through the possible error/warning messages and what they tell you. In the desktop version of Internet Explorer, you can get messages saying: the file "is not commonly downloaded and could harm your computer" or "SmartScreen Filter has little to no information about this unsigned program. Running this program might harm your computer".

Here’s how the message looks in the Metro version of Internet Explorer.

In Windows 8, the messages are somewhat similar. They state: "Windows SmartScreen prevented an unrecognized program from starting. Running this program might put your PC at risk".

So... why does this happen? What is this SmartScreen being mention? Let’s find out!

What is the SmartScreen Filter?

This feature was introduced with Internet Explorer 8 to improve security. If a file you are about to download is generally downloaded by a reasonably large number of people and considered to be safe, it lets you download it without any problems or warnings. If a file has not been downloaded before by others or, it was downloaded by a very small number of people, then it warns that it might not be a safe choice. Also, SmartScreen Filter checks websites you visit against a continuously updated list of reported phishing sites and malicious software sites. If it finds a match, it shows a warning, notifying that the site has been blocked for your safety. The same with malicious files downloaded from the Internet.

This can be annoying, when downloading less popular files, like our RegistryED but it can keep you safe when viruses or other forms of malware are trying to get themselves downloaded on your computer.

Windows 8 also uses the SmartScreen Filter in Windows Explorer, to double check the executable files you are trying to run and use. The same principles are applied, as in Internet Explorer.

Is SmartScreen Filter Any Good?

Considering the fact that this feature might annoy you from time to time, a good question to ask is: Is it worth it? Does it really work?

The answer is a definite Yes!. According to some security studies, Internet Explorer is the most secure browser, mainly due to this feature. Here is a good example of such a study: Internet Explorer 9 outperforms competing browsers in malware blocking test.

Another good example of how SmartScreen Filter helps keep your computer and data more secure, can be found in this screenshot tour: How browsers and security software can keep you safer online.

How to Download Files & Bypass the SmartScreen Filter?

However, it can happen that Internet Explorer blocks you from downloading a legitimate file that doesn’t harm your computer. What do you do, if you really want to download and use the file?

First, click on the Actions button.

This takes you to a window called SmartScreen Filter, which has no options for running or using the file. Annoying isn’t it? Smile, and click on More Options.

Now the SmartScreen Filter finally gives you the option to run the file you want downloaded.

How to Run Files & Bypass the SmartScreen Filter?

What about Windows 8 - how do you convince Windows Explorer to run a file you know it is legitimate and not harming to your computer?

Below the text of the warning, there is a link called "More Info". Click on it.

You are now shown a bit of info about the file you are about to run, such as the publisher and the name of the program. Plus, you get the Run Anyway button.

Click on it and the file is now run.


As you can see from this article, the SmartScreen Filter is a a pretty good security feature of Internet Explorer and Windows 8. If you have any questions about it, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.