Microsoft’s SmartScreen technology is a feature currently built into Internet Explorer that is designed to help protect users from all sorts of potentially harmful software lurking in the depths of the Internet. If you visit the Microsoft’s SmartScreen FAQ and access the section titled What is SmartScreen Filter and how can it help protect me?, you’ll learn that:

SmartScreen Filter is a feature in Internet Explorer that helps detect phishing websites. SmartScreen Filter can also help protect you from installing malicious software or malware, which are programs that demonstrate illegal, viral, fraudulent, or malicious behavior.

SmartScreen Filter helps to protect you in three ways:

  1. It operates in the background as you browse the web, analyzing webpages and determining if they have any characteristics that might be suspicious. If it finds suspicious webpages, SmartScreen will display a message giving you an opportunity to provide feedback and advising you to proceed with caution.
  2. SmartScreen Filter checks the sites you visit against an up-to-the-hour, dynamic list of reported phishing sites and malicious software sites. If it finds a match, SmartScreen Filter will show you a red warning notifying you that the site has been blocked for your safety.
  3. SmartScreen Filter also checks files downloaded from the web against the same dynamic list of reported malicious software sites. If it finds a match, SmartScreen Filter will show a red warning notifying you that the download has been blocked for your safety.

While having this feature built into Internet Explorer offers terrific protection while in the browser, what about apps that access the Internet that can be installed in Windows 8? What about other browsers that will find their way into Windows 8? In order to offer the same level of protection throughout the operating system, Microsoft has integrated Internet Explorer’s SmartScreen Filter technology right into Windows 8, where it is now called Windows SmartScreen.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I’ll take a look at the Windows SmartScreen technology built into Windows 8.

Configuring SmartScreen

To configure the SmartScreen feature in Windows 8, just press the [Windows] key, type Smart, select Settings, and click Change SmartScreen settings, as illustrated in Figure A. When you do, the Action Center will appear and you’ll need to locate Windows SmartScreen in the Security section, as shown in Figure B. Then click Change settings

Figure A

Accessing Windows 8’s Action Center from the Start screen is easy.

Figure B

When Action Center appears, you’ll click Change settings under Windows SmartScreen

When you do, you’ll see the Windows SmartScreen dialog box shown in Figure C. As you can see, there are three levels to which you can set Windows SmartScreen:

  1. Get administrator approval before running an unrecognized app from the Internet (recommended)
  2. Warn before running an unrecognized app, but don’t require administrator approval
  3. Don’t do anything (turn off Windows SmartScreen)

By default, Get administrator approval is configured and is the strongest setting. The Warn before running is a medium setting will and simply display a warning message and the Don’t do anything simply disables Windows SmartScreen.

Figure C

There are three levels for SmartScreen protection.

Windows SmartScreen in action

Windows SmartScreen works by looking at any program that you run and immediately checking the program against its database of known programs. If the program cannot be found in the database, Windows SmartScreen will block it and prompt you. For example, to test Windows SmartScreen, I downloaded a couple of random programs that I had never heard of before and the first one that I ran, set off Windows SmartScreen as shown in Figure D. As you can see, Windows SmartScreen prevented the program from running.

Figure D

Windows SmartScreen prevented the program from running.

When I clicked OK, the Windows SmartScreen window closed and the program did not run. When I clicked the More info, the application was identified and two buttons appeared, as shown in Figure E. As you can see, I had the option to run the program anyway or to not run it. If you click Run anyway, the Windows SmartScreen window closes and the program will run. If you click Don’t run the Windows SmartScreen window closes and the program will not run.

Figure E

Windows SmartScreen will allow you to run the program anyway.

Now, keep in mind that just because Windows SmartScreen grabbed this program doesn’t necessarily mean that it is bad – it’s just not recognized and considering that Windows 8 Preview is essentially a beta, it’s possible that the database is limited at this time.

What’s your take?

What do you think of the level of protection offered by Windows SmartScreen? Will you leave it enabled or will you disable it? Of course things may change a bit with Windows SmartScreen between now and October 26th when Windows 8 officially launches. As such, I’ll cover it in more detail later. As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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