Windows 8’s SmartScreen feature helps protect users from malicious software, but advanced users might find its warnings annoying.
Fortunately, as with all things Windows, there are ways to take control of SmartScreen — and a few other Win8 features.
Tipping the balance from safety to control
Like the User Account Control (UAC) found in earlier versions, Windows 8’s SmartScreen acts as a wall between your PC and unwanted software. Its roots go back to antiphishing technology introduced in Internet Explorer 8. In Win8, it has evolved into a tool that keeps malicious software from secretly installing itself on your system (which you’d discover only later, when your system failed). It’s a safeguard from those occasional, absent-minded clicks on bogus website and e-mail attachments.
SmartScreen takes application-checking a step further than does the UAC, which simply warns you that an application might not be safe. SmartScreen checks new apps by sending their file names and other information to a database on Microsoft servers. (This potential privacy issue raised a few eyebrows initially. Was Microsoft tracking every bit of software we installed on our Win8 PCs? Microsoft says no, according to an Aug. 25 Ars Technica story.)
Making SmartScreen a bit less intrusive
By default, SmartScreen requires administrator approval “before running an unrecognized app from the Internet.” That’s fine for inexperienced or casual Windows users, but most advanced users prefer greater control over their system and less safety oversight by Windows. Fortunately, downgrading SmartScreen’s security settings — or even disabling it altogether — is relatively easy (though the settings are somewhat buried within the Control Panel). Here’s how:
- The tool to change SmartScreen settings is found in Win8’s Action Center. To get there, bring up Win8’s Control Panel by hitting Windows key + X and selecting Control Panel from the popup list (lower-left corner of the Desktop), as shown in Figure 1.
- Next, select Action Center (via System and Security in the default Control Panel view) and then click Change Windows SmartScreen settings in Action Center’s left column, as shown in Figure 2. (You follow a similar path to change Win7’s UAC.)
- A new window with three options will appear . Get administrator approval … is the first option and is the default. The next option on the list displays a warning but does not require admin approval. The third option, highlighted in Figure 3, simply turns SmartScreen off — all applications will run with no warning. (Win7’s UAC has four notification settings.)