How to Avoid Automatic Connection to Open Wi-Fi Networks

Ensure system settings prevent automatic connections to unsecured access points

Connecting to an open Wi-Fi network such as a free wireless hotspot exposes your computer to security risks. While not normally enabled by default, most computers have settings allowing 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 ideally be used only 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 trends to frustrate users who want more control over their devices' behavior. To avoid these automatic connections and also limit security exposure, consider using 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.)

How to Disable Automatic Wi-Fi Connections on Windows

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).
  1. 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 (and check the box to enable).

Windows also provides a similar checkbox option when creating a new wireless network configuration.

Old 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 on the Properties page
  3. Click the "Advanced" button in this tab

How to Disable Automatic WI-Fi Connections on Apple iOS

Similar to Windows, Apple iOS associates an option called "Auto-Join" with each Wi-Fi connection profile. Change the setting to off when wanting to disable auto connect for that network. See also:  How iOS decides which network to auto-join.

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 if needed.

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