How to Avoid Automatic Connection to Open Wi-Fi Networks

Change settings to prevent automatic wi-fi connections to public hotspots

Wireless network
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Connecting to an open Wi-Fi network such as a free wireless hotspot exposes your computer or mobile device to security risks. While not usually enabled by default, most computers, phones, and tablets have settings that allow these connections to initiate automatically without notifying the user. 

This behavior must be managed carefully to avoid security risks. Check your wireless network settings to verify whether these settings are enabled and consider changing them. Wi-Fi auto-connect should only be used in temporary situations.

Forgetting Wi-Fi Networks

Many Windows computers and mobile devices remember the wireless networks they've connected to in the past and do not ask user permission to connect to them again. This behavior tends to frustrate users who want more control. To avoid these automatic connections and also limit security exposure, use the Forget This Network menu option on a device to manually remove networks from the list immediately after using them. The location of this menu varies depending on the type of device you use.

How to Disable Automatic Wi-Fi Connections on Windows Computers

When connected to a Wi-Fi network, Microsoft Windows provides an option to turn on or off auto connect for that network:

  1. From Windows Control Panel, open the Network and Sharing Center.

  2. Click on the link for the active Wi-Fi network located in the upper right corner of the window. This link includes the network's name (SSID).

  3. A new pop-up window appears with several options displayed on a Connection tab. Uncheck the box next to Connect automatically when this network is in range to disable auto connect. Recheck the box only when you want to enable automatic connections. 

Windows computers provide a similar check box option when creating a new wireless network configuration.

Windows 7 devices additionally supported an option called Automatically connect to non-preferred networks. Locate this option via the Windows 7 Network Settings section of Control Panel as follows:

  1. Right-click Wireless Network Connection and choose Properties.

  2. Click the Wireless Networks tab.

  3. Click the Advanced button in this tab.

  4. Confirm that Automatically connect to non-preferred networks is not activated.

How to Disable Automatic Wi-Fi Connections on Apple iOS

Apple iOS devices including iPhones and iPads associate an option called "Auto-Join" with each Wi-Fi connection profile. In Settings > Wi-Fi, tap any network and instruct the iOS device to forget it. The iOS device joins any know networks automatically. As an extra level of protection, use the On/Off slider in this screen to instruct the mobile device to ask you before joining networks. 

How to Disable Automatic Wi-Fi Connections on Android

Some wireless carriers install their own Wi-Fi connection management apps that automatically scan for wireless networks and try to use them. Be sure to update or disable these settings in addition to those of stock Android apps. Many Android devices have a Connection Optimizer option under Settings > More > Mobile Networks. Disable this setting if it is activated.