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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:
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.
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:
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:
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. 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.
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