How to stop your Mac from auto-connecting to a Wi-Fi network

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Wi-Fi hotpots: As convenient as they are, they can be very annoying, as well. Especially when you're using a Mac or iPhone that's trying to connect to a hotspot when you don't want it to.

Macworld reader Martin Joseph wants to ditch one company's Wi-Fi hotspot in particular:

I wonder if you can figure out a way to set a Mac to never ever connect to Xfinity Wi-Fi? It would be great to eliminate this in my iPhone, too. I have found that deleting it from the list of known networks isn’t the best choice, and I usually resort to leaving it, but at lowest priority.

Apple's Wi-Fi network control in macOS became kind of primitive many releases ago, and then Apple made it worse, removing a few features that haven't returned. You can delete networks, as Martin notes:

  1. Open the Network system preference pane.
  2. Click your Wi-Fi entry in the adapter list at left.
  3. Click the Advanced button.
  4. In the Wi-Fi tab, select a network or networks you want to remove, and click the minus (-) sign.
  5. Click OK, and then click Apply.

You can also rearrange connection priority in step 4, so that you put preferred networks on top. This scrolling list can wind up with hundreds of entries, as they collect over time, and there's no way to search through the list, see when the network was added, get geographic information about them, or any other data.

What Martin might be encountering is iCloud-based sync for Wi-Fi network entries. If you have iCloud Keychain enabled, every Mac and iOS device logged into the same iCloud account syncs all Wi-Fi network passwords. You may have noticed this if you log in to a hotspot at a cafe that has a password on your Mac, and then turn to an iPhone—it's already synced the password over the cellular network, and has connected to the local network.

However, it's possible that deleting network entries from macOS doesn't remove the corresponding Keychain entries that are being synced, and thus when an iPhone connects to an Xfinity network, the connection details are synced back. (Xfinity uses a web-based login process, but I believe Apple passes that information to its hotspot login system, which intercepts portal screens and fills them with stored information.)

mac 911 keychain wi fi login IDG

Keychain Access lets you peer into stored passwords for logins, including for Wi-Fi portals.

A way to test this and potentially solve this persistent problem is to use Keychain Access in macOS, as you can't manage Keychain entries directly in iOS. (You can "forget" a network via Settings > Wi-Fi > tap a network in the vicinity and then tap Forget This Network and confirm. But it may not delete the Keychain entry, either.)

Follow these steps:

  1. Launch Keychain Access (found in Applications > Utilities).
  2. Search for the network name (like xinifity).
  3. Select the entry or entries and select Edit > Delete.
  4. Confirm the deletion.

Now return to the Network preference pane and follow all the steps above to be sure the entry doesn't persist, either.

It's possible this is just an iCloud Keychain sync issue, but there's no harm in cleaning out unwanted entries in Keychain Access, either.

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