Fixing “Unidentified Network” (Public Network Restriction) With Virtual Network Adapters

If you have a virtual network adapter installed on Windows Vista or later it will usually be detected as connected to an “Unidentified Network”. In good old “Mr. Clippy” fashion, this time the “Network Location Awareness” feature, the decision if your network is “safe” has been taken away from you and since Windows 8 has no option in the GUI to correct mistakes.

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So you end-up connected to either a “Public Network” or undetermined network from Windows’ perspective, causing many restrictions to be automatically applied! You’ll see File and Printer Sharing and HomeGroup go offline (from other computers’ perspective) and experience general trouble with access to or from your machine. This is supposed to protect your computer and is okay for the masses I suppose. But without a way to override incorrect assumptions this goes on the list of annoying Windows features which should really have been fixed by now.

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Sometimes developers and engineers have to use special network adapters. Even normal users occasionally get some hardware device or dongle that actually emulates a network adapter for communication with it’s application, e.g. embedded boards like BeagleBone Black. These devices typically don’t require any valid IP configuration. That’s where Windows starts jumping-in to “help” secure something, but actually causes more trouble.  Although the device is working properly, the end user’s experience is their networking is totally messed-up.

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Specific examples are the Windows Phone SDK and Loopback adapters for stand-alone virtual machine testing where no DHCP server is integrated or desired (at least at start-up or when not working on the machines). So there are many people affected by this. I’ve seen enough posts on this subject with various solutions, some of which may put your computer at more risk, e.g. turning off the protection mechanism altogether or making all your data available on public networks is not a good idea! The most sensible solution I have seen is also the most direct solution, adding registry key setting which causes Windows to exclude only one specific adapter from the usual Windows network identification procedure. Here is the procedure:-

  1. Open the Network and Sharing Center, Manage Network Connections.
  2. Run REGEDIT.EXE as administrator. Locate the key “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetControlClass{4D36E972-E325-11CE-BFC1-08002BE10318}”.
  3. Expand each of the numeric sub-keys and locate the one with the “DriverDesc” matching the type of adapter you have trouble with, e.g. “Microsoft Loopback Adapter” or “Hyper-V Virtual Network Adapter“.
  4. Add a new 32bit DWORD value below this key called exactly “*NdisDeviceType” including the asterisk at the beginning but no spaces or quotes.
  5. Double-click the new value to edit it, and set it to 1 (Hexadecimal or Decimal entry mode does not matter in this case).
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  6. In the Manage Network Connections “adapter settings”, right-click the loopback adapter then select Disable, then do the same to Enable.
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  7. Windows will again show it as Enabled but skip the identification process.  You can confirm this by viewing the Network and Sharing Center again, hit F5 to refresh if it didn’t update automatically.
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It’s a real shame the GUI option has been taken away since Windows 8, especially since so many Microsoft Windows developers will come across the same issue (they didn’t manage to get this feature in for themselves at least). Hopefully it returns in the future but at least for now here’s a clearly documented workaround.

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