Windows 10

Illustrated guide to Windows 10 networking

windows 10 networking
Brett Morrison [REMIXED] (CC BY 2.0)

Windows 10

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Among the significant changes in Windows 10—the new Start Menu and better integration between the desktop and app interfaces—are some new network-related features and changes. Although the process of connecting to and configuring networks remains nearly the same, there are some new features you ought to explore. One feature in particular can have a negative impact on your network security, if not handled properly.

Minor changes to the network settings in the desktop GUI

Starting with the basics: clicking the network icon in Windows 10 will still bring up the network list showing the network you’re currently connected to along with nearby wireless networks. However, the look and feel has been changed back to look more like Windows 7. Gone is the overly tall slide-out pane that was in Windows 8 and 8.1, which went from the top of the screen all the way to the bottom.

You might also notice the View Connection Settings shortcut on the top of the network list in Windows 8 and 8.1 has now been replaced in Windows 10 with a simple Network Settings shortcut on the bottom of the network list, which still leads to the Wi-Fi settings of the Settings app. Like with Windows 8.1, you can’t right-click networks from the network list like you could with Windows 8 and earlier.

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The Network and Sharing Center also still remains in Windows 10 with virtually no changes. You can still right-click the network icon in the system tray and select Open Network and Sharing Center to bring it up. The other screens and settings accessible via the center also remain the same, such as the advanced sharing settings, the Network Connections window showing all the network adapters, and the connection properties dialogs where you can configure settings like static IP details.

More networking options in the Settings app

Microsoft has revamped the Settings app, the metro-style control panel. Although it certainly doesn’t include all the options offered in the traditional long-lived Control Panel, more options have been added. Keep in mind, a shortcut to the Settings app is now what you’ll see on the new Start Menu instead of a shortcut to the full Control Panel. However, the Control Panel is still available by right-clicking the Start button.

After opening the Settings app, you’ll find buttons for a couple different categories of settings. Clicking the Network & Internet category takes you to the first tab: the Wi-Fi settings.

On the Wi-Fi list, you see a list of the nearby wireless networks and a link for the Advanced Options. From the Advanced Options, you can see the IP details and change the sharing settings for the particular network you’re connected to.

Microsoft added a new link on the Wi-Fi screen, called Manage Wi-Fi Settings. That link takes you to the options for Wi-Fi Sense, a new Wi-Fi password syncing service. The links under Related Settings are shortcuts to other network-related settings located outside of the Settings app.

The Data Usage tab of the Network & Internet settings is new to the Settings app.

You’ll also find a tab for each type of network connection, such as VPN, Dial-up, and Ethernet, each showing the connections of each and the related shortcuts. Instead of listing all the network connection types on a single screen in the Settings app of Windows 8 and 8.1, each type has their own screen in Windows 10.

The last tab of the Network & Internet screen is Proxy. Like with Windows 8 and 8.1, you can configure proxy settings there in addition to the Internet Options dialog of Internet Explorer.

Improved data usage monitoring

Microsoft first introduced data usage monitoring in Windows 8. However, Windows would only provide data usage stats on Windows apps, excluding traditional desktop applications. Starting with Windows 10, you can now view the data usage of all apps and applications, although through just one of the two places in Windows that now show data usage.

The App History tab on the Task Manager still shows just Windows apps. But the new Data Usage page in the Settings app shows all. To access it you’d open the Settings app, select the Network & Internet category, and select the Data Usage tab. You’ll then see a simple graph and data amount for the usage for the past 30 days between the different network connection types, such as Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet.

Clicking the Usage Details link on the Data Usage tab of the Settings app shows the amount of data each app and application have used, sorted by most to least.

Wi-Fi password sharing with Wi-Fi Sense

One of the most popular and controversial new networking features released in Windows 10 is Wi-Fi Sense. It is a syncing service that allows users to share Wi-Fi passwords among their Facebook,, and Skype friends or contacts. The idea here is to eliminate the hassle of having to ask friends for their password, which they might not know by heart, and to try to make the process more secure by not having to reveal the actual password. However, as you read on, there are some security concerns you may want to address.

When you initially connect to Wi-Fi networks, there’s a checkbox shown when you type in the password. When that option is checked, Windows will then share that particular network’s password with your friends or contacts that have shared at least one other network, too.

Those friends or contacts will then automatically be connected to the network you’ve shared when they’re nearby on a Windows 10 device or possibly their Windows Phone 8 or later phone. This takes place by default if Express settings were chosen during the initial Windows 10 setup or the feature was manually enabled.

Wi-Fi Sense also tracks which open or non-password hotspots and networks users connect to and may automatically connect users to them when nearby. Furthermore, Wi-Fi Sense can automatically accept the terms and conditions of some hotspots, eliminating the need for you to click the Agree button. Again, this all takes place by default if Express settings were chosen during the initial Windows 10 setup or the feature was manually enabled.

Although Microsoft has included some security mechanisms with Wi-Fi Sense, as you can imagine there are certainly still risks and concerns. Though Windows will turn off the native network discovery and sharing when connected to a network via Wi-Fi Sense, with the right tools someone could still capture all the wireless traffic and possibly access computers and devices on the network. This works both ways: someone could snoop on you when they connect to your network and someone could snoop when you connect to their network.

There is also the possibility of your networks passwords being shared without you knowing. Maybe you accidentally mark the share checkbox when connecting. Even more frightening, perhaps another user shares it to their friends and contacts, which is possible if they’re connecting with the actual password.

Since there are security risks associated with using Wi-Fi Sense and it’s designed more for home and hotspot networks, it’s a probably a good idea to disable its use on business networks. Keep in mind, Wi-Fi Sense doesn’t share the login credentials of networks secured with the enterprise mode of WPA or WPA2 security. So one way to prevent anyone from sharing your network credentials via this new service is to utilize enterprise-level security with 802.1X authentication, which provides many more benefits as well.

If you have a wireless network secured with the personal mode (also known as the pre-shared key mode) of WPA or WPA2, you have the ability to prevent Wi-Fi Sense from sharing your password. You might want to do this to stop others that know your Wi-Fi password from sharing it with their friends and contacts, either intentionally or not. However, this requires you to add the phrase “_optout” to the SSID, the network name.

There are many caveats and details on how Wi-Fi Sense works and it’s security mechanisms. To learn more, check out Microsoft’s website.

Eric Geier is a freelance tech writer—keep up with his writings on Facebook or Twitter. He’s also the founder of NoWiresSecurity providing a cloud-based Wi-Fi security service, and On Spot Techs providing RF site surveying and other IT services.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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