Connecting automatically to an open WiFi 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. WiFi auto connect should only be used in temporary situations.
Open WiFi traffic isn’t encrypted, meaning your data can be intercepted while you are connected. That’s why it’s important to take precautions to prevent your devices from connecting automatically to open WiFi networks. Especially to a network you don’t trust. Now might be a good time to check your WiFi settings before your devices take the decision out of your hands.
Here’s how you can stop it from happening.
WiFi Auto Connect in Different Devices
WiFi Auto Connect in Android
Depending on your Android version and manufacturer skin, getting to your WiFi settings might vary slightly. The process should be similar, but there may be some variation in locating your WiFi settings. The instructions below show how to change your settings on Android 9.0 Pie.
Head to your Android Settings area first. This can usually be found by searching for it in your app drawer, or by swiping down your notifications bar and clicking the Settings icon.
Go to Connections > WiFi. If you’re in range of the open network, click on it, then set Auto reconnect to off.
If you’re not in range, click Advanced in the WiFi area, then Manage networks. Choose your network and then set Auto reconnect to off.
Apple iOS devices including iPhones and iPads associate an option called “Auto-Join” with each WiFi connection profile. In Settings > WiFi, 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.
WiFi Auto Connect in Windows 10
If you’re using Windows 10, you won’t connect to any old open WiFi network that your PC detects. If you connect to an open network at least once, however, it’ll save those details and connect you automatically the next time that network is detected.
Thankfully, disabling automatic WiFi connections on Windows 10 couldn’t be simpler.
If you prefer to use Windows keyboard shortcuts, start by hitting Win + X on your keyboard. Otherwise, right-clicking the Windows icon on your Windows taskbar will bring up the same menu. From here, select Network Connections > WiFi.
In the WiFi settings area, click Manage known networks. In the list of known networks, select your open WiFi network and click Properties.
Click the slide button for Connect automatically when in range from On to Off.
This will prevent any automatic connections in the future.
WiFi Auto Connect in macOS
With macOS, it’s pretty simple to disable auto connections if you’re running High Sierra or Mojave (macOS 10.14). You’ve got three ways you can reach your WiFi connection settings.
The first method is to click your WiFi icon on the top menu bar of your screen and click Open Network Preferences. The second is to click the Apple icon on your screen (far left) and go to System Preferences > Network. You can also click the Settings icon in your dock at the bottom of the screen, where you can also reach the Network area.
If you’re in range of the network, select it under the Network Name drop-down menu and disable the Automatically join this network checkbox directly underneath.
If you’re not in range, and you’re running Mojave, click WiFi > Advanced. Find the open WiFi network in the list and under the Auto-Join section, and then disable the checkbox for that network.
Anyone running Sierra (10.12) or an older macOS version won’t have the option to stop automatic connections. If this is the case, you’ll have to remove them from your Preferred Networks list instead. You can also do this on High Sierra or Mojave if you’d prefer. You’ll need to do this on High Sierra if the network is out of range.
As before, go to System Preferences > Network > WiFi > Advanced. Select your open network, then click the Minus icon below it to remove it.
This will stop your Mac from connecting to that network in the future unless you manually choose to connect to it again.
WiFi Auto Connect in Ubuntu
As one of the easiest Linux distributions to use, it’s easy to configure your Ubuntu PC to stop connecting to an open WiFi network you’ve previously connected to. These instructions assume you’re running Ubuntu 18.04.2 LTS—these instructions may not work for older versions of Ubuntu.
There are two ways you can access your network settings in Ubuntu. Click the Applications icon in the bottom left of your screen, then go to Settings > WiFi. You can also click the Settings area in your top bar (where your volume and power buttons are located), then click your wireless connection.
From here, click WiFi Settings.
Find your open WiFi network (you’ll need to be in range) and click the Settings icon next to the padlock. Uncheck the Connect automatically checkbox, then click Apply. You can also click Forget Connection if you’d prefer.
You’ll have to be in range of the network to do this using the GUI. If you’re not in range, open up a terminal window and type the following:
cd /etc/NetworkManager/system-connections ls
Look at the files listed—you should see your open WiFi network listed. From here, type the following in the terminal:
filename is the name of your open WiFi network. This’ll delete the information about the network, preventing reconnection unless you choose to connect to it again.
The Last Word
It is important to stress that not every open WiFi network you will see is malicious, but that doesn’t mean you are out of danger. Anybody can connect to an open network, and you could be on the same connection as somebody with the wrong intentions without ever knowing it. Disabling automatic WiFi connections puts you back in control if you don’t trust it, don’t connect.
Open WiFi networks, even when they are trustworthy, can still leave your data exposed to anyone with the right tools. Avoid the risk and choose from one of our best VPNs to stay safe whenever you connect to an open wireless network.