Friday, April 13, 2012

Stop having to click Unblock on every downloaded file

CAUTION: The blocking of downloaded files in Windows is a security and safety feature to help prevent your computer from being infected by viruses and other malware. Only disable this feature if you know what you're doing.

I had been plagued by this annoyance since the days of Windows Vista. Any downloaded file, no matter what browser I use, gets tagged as "blocked" by Windows. You can open downloaded documents even though they are blocked, but when you run a downloaded application (such as a setup file) you're presented with a "Security Warning" before you're allowed to run it. It's worse if you extract a downloaded ZIP file with the Windows' built-in ZIP management. Every extracted file is blocked by default.

Being a geek who finds unnecessary "security" prompts annoying, the first thing I do in Windows is to disable the User Account Control (UAC). But I couldn't quite figure out how to disable blocking of downloaded files until now. These prompts (such as UAC and file blocking) are designed to help Windows shield itself from the user. But to me, they aren't an effective solution as even an amateur user can simply click 'Allow' on any of the prompts without thinking.


While these prompts are pretty useless in shielding Windows from an amateur's haphazard usage, they are also heavily annoying to a power user who knows what he is doing. A good security solution should work in the background automatically and downright prevent users from running malicious code instead of giving them a choice where most users simply ignore the warning and go ahead anyway.

I decided to figure out if there's a way to get rid of the downloaded file blocking once and for all, and apparently there is. Source: Vista Blocked File Protection Control
  1. Click Start, type in gpedit.msc.
  2. Go to "User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Attachment Manager".
  3. Double-click on "Do not preserve zone information in file attachments".
  4. Choose the "Enabled" option and click Apply > OK.
  5. Close the "Local Group Policy Editor" window.
Notes: (1) You will need administrator access to do the above. (2) Previously downloaded files that are blocked will continue to remain blocked until you unblock them manually. Only the files you download after enabling the setting above will avoid getting blocked. In order to quickly unblock all existing downloaded files, do the following (advanced users only!):
  1. Download Sysinternals Streams utility from here.
  2. Extract the downloaded ZIP file to find streams.exe file.
  3. Copy this file to your Downloads folder (or wherever your downloads are).
  4. Open a Command Prompt on your Downloads folder by doing this:
    1. Right-click on the Downloads folder while holding Shift key.
    2. Select "Open command window here" from the menu.
  5. Type streams -s * and check whether all the files listed have only :Zone.Identifier:$DATA 26 as their streams. (You may need to accept EULA when using Streams first time.)
    • If any file has a stream other than the one given here, move that file out of the folder before next step, and back in after next step.
    • If the list is too long, you can pipe it into a text file like this: streams -s * > textfile.txt  and check it by sorting the lines to look for other streams, and then finding for those streams in the unsorted text file to identify the files that have them.
  6. Ensuring all listed files have only the :Zone.Identifier:$DATA stream, type streams -s -d * to delete the alternate data stream on all files in the Downloads folder and subfolders.
    • This will unblock the files.
  7. Once done, close the command window and delete the streams.exe file.
Warning: DO NOT use the above procedure on the root of C drive or other unknown locations. The Streams utility can delete important data stored in alternate data streams and this can damage your computer, The alternate data streams are not always used for blocking of a downloaded file, which is only one of their many uses.

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