Simple questions: What is the SmartScreen filter and how does it work?

If you use Windows 10, or Windows 8.1 and web browsers such as Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer, you may have encountered the SmartScreen filter or the Windows Defender SmartScreen. This is a feature found in all modern Windows operating systems. Its purpose is to steer you away from malicious and dangerous websites and files that you find online. It is a useful feature that enhances your safety and which you should always keep enabled. If you want to learn more about it, what it does and how it works, read this article:

What is the SmartScreen filter?

SmartScreen checks what you visit online against a continuously updated list of security threats, like phishing sites, malicious files, apps, and websites. If it finds a match, it shows a warning, notifying that the resource you tried to access has been blocked for your safety.

The SmartScreen filter was first introduced with the launch of Internet Explorer 8, with the sole purpose of improving your security. In Windows 10, the SmartScreen filter was also designed to work with the Microsoft Edge web browser and the Outlook.com e-mail service.

If a file you are about to download is known by SmartScreen to be downloaded by a reasonably large number of people and considered to be safe, it lets you download it without any warnings. If a file has not been downloaded much by others or, a small number of people downloaded it, then it warns that it might not be a safe thing to do.

This can be annoying sometimes when downloading less popular files, but it can keep you safe when viruses or other forms of malware are trying to download on your device.

Windows 10 and Windows 8.1 also use the SmartScreen filter in File Explorer, to double-check the executable files you are trying to run. The same principles are applied, as in Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer.

Microsoft also uses the SmartScreen filter to protect the users of their Outlook.com email service, from spam messages, phishing emails, and malware of all kinds.

In Windows 10, the SmartScreen filter can be configured through Windows Defender Security Center.

How does the SmartScreen filter work?

The SmartScreen filter works by checking each website you visit and each file you try to download and run. It sends some quick information about them to Microsoft's Windows Defender SmartScreen servers.

When Microsoft receives information from the SmartScreen filter about a particular website, it checks whether that website is part of any list of known phishing or otherwise dangerous websites. If it is, it either warns you or blocks your access to it, and lets you know that it is not safe to continue.

In the case of files you try to download and run, Microsoft's servers check whether those files are legitimate and do not pose any risks to you. If the files are risky, it lets you know by displaying appropriate messages. However, sometimes the SmartScreen filter also considers files that are not commonly downloaded to be unsafe. In that case, it warns you, but it does not block you from downloading or running those files.

The SmartScreen filter works on two levels: on a web browser level and an operating system level. All that we said until now is valid in Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer. Additionally, if you are using Windows 10 or Windows 8.1, the SmartScreen filter also works on the operating system level, meaning that it checks the files you run. Even more than that, in Windows 10, the SmartScreen filter also checks the apps from the Microsoft Store.

What does the SmartScreen filter show on your screen?

Regardless of whether you use Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer, when you stumble upon a dangerous website, the SmartScreen filter might display different messages depending on how threatening it considers that website. For instance, you might see one of these messages:

If the SmartScreen filter considers the webpage that you are visiting to be suspicious, your browser shows a message that states "This might not be the site you want."

If the webpage you are visiting is known to be phishing or hosting malware, your web browser (Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer) blocks it from loading and alerts you of the danger ahead, by telling you that "This website has been reported as unsafe."

In Windows 10 and Windows 8.1, when you are trying to download a suspicious file from the internet, the SmartScreen filter blocks it and tells you that "Windows Defender SmartScreen prevented an unrecognized app from starting. Running this app might put your PC at risk."

Moreover, if the file you are trying to download is known to be malicious, the SmartScreen Filter blocks it and lets you know that "The application may cause damage to your device. Sensitive personal data may also be at risk."

In Windows 7, these alerts are also shown when you stumble upon dangerous files, but they are displayed only in Internet Explorer's download dialog:

How to bypass the SmartScreen filter to download and run files in Windows 10, even if they are considered risky

SmartScreen may block you from downloading a legitimate file that does not harm your computer. What do you do, if you want to download and use that file?

When the SmartScreen filter dialog opens on your screen, click or tap "More info."

Then, click or tap "run anyway."

How to bypass the SmartScreen filter to download and run files in Windows 7, even if they are considered risky

In Internet Explorer on Windows 7, click or tap on the Actions button from the dialog popup at the bottom of the window.

Then click the "More Options" button from the bottom-left corner of the SmartScreen Filter window.

Finally, click on "Run anyway."

How to bypass the SmartScreen filter to download and run files in Windows 8.1, even if they are considered risky

In Windows 8.1, below the text of the warning, there is a link called "More Info." Click or tap on it.

You are now shown a bit of info about the file that you are about to run, such as the publisher and the name of the program. Plus, you get the "Run Anyway" button. Click or tap on it, and the file is executed.

Conclusion

As you now know, the SmartScreen filter is an excellent security feature that can help you avoid risky websites and files that you might want to download from the internet. Do you agree with this statement? If you have any questions or issues about the SmartScreen filter, do not hesitate to leave a comment below.