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It's possible to accidentally connect to wireless networks you didn't expect. We'll look at how to make sure you get the connection you expect.

In my neighborhood there are several wireless networks. All of these are unsecured. As the signal of one of these is stronger than that of my own router, my laptop sometimes attempts to connect to this other network. I am running Vista and have repeatedly deleted all the neighboring networks from the list in the network center. Nevertheless, it reappears the next time I start up the laptop. Are there other ways to remove this competing network than just deleting it from the list?

Deleting it might well be exactly the wrong thing to do.

I believe what you really want to do is leave it in the list, but tell Vista not to use it.

The list of wireless networks we want is in Control Panel, Network and Sharing Center, in the task Manage Wireless Networks:

Manage Wireless Connections dialog in Windows Vista

In this example from my laptop, you can see that I have several wireless networks listed.

There are two things to note for this discussion: the order of this list and the last column which lists manual and automatic connection type (if you don't see this column you may need to widen the window).

When looking for a wireless network to connect to, Windows starts at the top of this list and tries to connect to each network marked "automatic" until it finds one that it can connect to.

"Since you can see the wireless networks of others, they can just as easily see yours; make sure you encrypt."

To prevent accidental connections we need to do two things:

  • change the order of the list so that your network appears first

  • change the "other" network to a manual connection type

Changing the order is simple: just click and hold on the network name in the list and drag it into the position you want it to have and release.

To change from automatic to manual, right click on the network's icon:

Right click popup menu for wireless connection

As you can see, you can remove the network, and also use this menu to move the network up and down in the list, but we'll click on properties:

Wireless network properties

The key is to make sure that "Connect automatically when this network is in range" is not checked. You can still connect to these networks if you want to, but you'll need to do so manually. That's done by right clicking on Windows Vista's networking icon in the task bar and selecting "Connect to a Network".

As an aside, I've not found a way to make absolutely sure that newly discovered open networks aren't set to "connect automatic" by default. You'll need to keep an eye out for this, and, if that happens, make sure to set that network to manual.

This example shows the wireless connection used by a local coffee house, and as you can see, I've got it set to connect manually. Sometimes I simply don't want to connect when I'm there, for security or other reasons, and at a minimum, I want to be in control. At home, the top connection on my list, connections can happen automatically.

And as for the various hotel connections you see on my list, there's no reason for me to keep them, so I deleted them shortly after writing this article.

As a final aside to the extremely watchful: yes, my home network is unsecured (no password or encryption). This is intentional and a mater of convenience. I live in a remote enough area that the WiFi signal doesn't travel far enough for others to see - or they'd have to be sitting in my driveway where I'd notice. Smile If you're not positive that others aren't in range, then absolutely, you should be using WPA encryption on your wireless network. Since you can see the wireless networks of others, they can just as easily see yours; make sure you encrypt.

Article C3449 - July 19, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

July 20, 2008 10:11 PM

Thank you Leo for lesson ,for me i thank God that i didn't use vista.

Mary Donnelli
September 3, 2008 5:45 AM

This isn't really a comment, although I appreciate your articles and read them often. I have done all that your article suggests, but I have a connection that won't leave. It's for another home that I have a wireless connection at and it will only remain on the wireless list in first position which although it is nowhere in range, I believe is messing with my current wireless connection. When it is on there, my connection just goes in and out as it tries to connect, find an IP and so on. I've even tried to delete the instalan program that the second cable provider installed on this computer with no luck as it says that it can't be uninstalled because it is currently running. This is driving me nuts! Any advice would be most welcome. Thanks.

October 31, 2008 10:32 AM

Is there any way to prevent non-admin users from changing the wireless connection in Vista (i.e. set it to always use some predefined SSID)?

November 10, 2008 2:30 AM

I'm unaable to delete one spesific wireless connection in Vista. I'm only able to view the properties. I'm logged on as the administrator.

The connection can only be view and cannot be modified.
Please assist

November 19, 2008 9:56 PM

Interestingly, I have a problem that many others have described elsewhere: the UP/DOWN options in the context menu will NOT move the network connection up or down in the list. What I haven't found is how to fix this issue. Any ideas?

February 2, 2009 1:53 AM

I have done everything that you say to.. But I seem to be getting more and more networks, with the same name as mine. I can't get rid of any of them. I want to delete all the networks, not just remove them from my list. It is really frustruating and to top it off, my extender has now stopped working.. eh.. but that is the second problem.. how can I delete the networks and start fresh..???? PLease help.

October 11, 2009 2:57 AM

it is good to know how to remove a wireless connection. Thanks for the info it is a great way to learn and exchange ideas and I appreciate your effort to disseminte eimportant information.

I am using wireless connection and well I forgot the security key or password. I know there is a way to retrieve the key password and I did once but I forgot how. Also what I did was create another wireless account without knowing and have reset the router so I can create a new key password which I seem to have forgotten.

Please let me know if it si safe to merge the two wireless names and how can I find the lost security key password.

Also let me know whether I should create a new wirless name if there are two computers using the wireless network symoultaneously.

Your reply and help are much appreciated and thank you in advance.

Jim from lebanon

November 4, 2009 2:13 AM

vista keeps trying to connect to the old virgin network in my old house. It means if I connect to another network it disconnects and tries to automatically connect to the old network again. I have turned off the connect automatically feature. I have even removed the old network from the list, but it reappears 10 seconds later. What the hell is going on? I don't get these problems on my mac....

December 18, 2009 8:01 AM

Iv just had exactly the same problem and after trawling websites which were less than helpful, installing new drivers and god knows what else, i think iv cracked it. (holds breath)
My issue was the internet not connecting at home having been fine for the past 12mnths, the only change over the past few months was going away to uni and connecting to virgin there...i had set up the network at uni so my laptop had the virgin wireless manager installed on it, this seems to have overridden the windows wireless manager and would not let me get rid of my new default virgin connection on the windows wireless and repeatedly tried connecting to my virgin network.
My solution, uninstall/delete all virgin wireless stuff off my laptop, delete the uni network and add on my home network. it has been working successfully ever since and i am hoping when i get back to uni i can just connect via the windows wireless manager.
Hope this helps someone, after 5days this seems now like a studpidly simple solution.

shannon spears
January 7, 2010 2:39 PM

My duaghter got a new laptop for x mas, we have wireless at home and all was well and connecting for about 1 week. She left to visit a friend and used their wireless net work. When she came home now it says "local only" and will not connect wirelssly. Only way she can get online is with ethernet cord, what should I do? No matter what I try to do to repair the connection it always say : "local only".

May 21, 2010 11:51 AM

Read your article and its the first time I could actually understand and follow what to do. Most computer advice articles are written too techically for me. Of course, I am 64 yrs old but I can still follow good advice.

Thank You very much

May 25, 2010 2:51 PM

I have a Windows Vista Laptop and it shows a wireless connection for my neighbor that is unsecured. I do not want my computer to connect to that network - ever!!! How do I remove it and keep it out. I tried the instructions above and I did not get the same results. When I right click on the network name, the only options are "Connect" and "Diagnose". I want to remove or hide, anything to not have it show up on available networks. I am not a newbie to computers but I am not a network manager either. I would appreciate any help. Thanks. Lily

June 1, 2010 5:21 AM

I got same problems on my wifi connections.My laptop automatically connects to unsecured wifi spot "dlink". I tried to uncheck connect automatically when this network is in range.Right clicked on dlink and removed this network. But it still connect itself and disconnect every 10 seconds. I can't even use my own wifi spot coz of this "dlink"

August 11, 2010 11:56 AM

My ISP supplied a new hub with a new SSID but my old one (which no longer exists) is still defined and has the option "connect even if not broadcasting". I have repeatedly tried to delete it, move it down, change the options, but it is like "Friday 13th" - it just keeps coming back every time I restart! How the hell can I delete this? (repeat: the old SSID hub is long gone, so it cannot connect to it). The problem is that this dead SSID blocks the automatic connection to the new hub, so I always have to connect manually...

anita roy
October 26, 2010 3:24 PM

i want to uninstall wireless manager but vista wont let me, it says its still running even when i unplugged router etc?,

Paul Kircher
December 26, 2010 12:12 PM

How do I delete an old password in an encrypted site. I have a new password, but my Vista HP laptop will not let me in because of the old password, which I have forgotten. Do you know where I would find the old password? Thanks, Paul

February 8, 2011 10:53 PM

thanks for the help tip re connecting to unwanted networks very helpful

Jammie McPherson
February 16, 2012 4:41 PM

I have done what you have listed above. The network that keeps "automatically connecting". It shows the setting of "manually connect". It pops up everyday I turn on my computer.. I have "moved it down" the list, did the manually connect and removed the network. I was connected to this "unknown native?" network and didn't know it for a small period of time. Once I figured out that it wasn't my network I disconnected and did as you said. It still connects! Yikes! what have I done? and what can I do??

Jason Bridges
September 22, 2012 2:04 AM

In my case the suggested solution does no work. I've changed them all to manual time and time again and it still connects to networks I don't want. it is SO annoying!

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