Modern world functions on the pillars of wireless devices.
They’re so common that you don’t even notice them as unique. You have mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices exchanging a lot of data with the internet. They’ve become a part of your daily life and an integral necessity.
When you use these devices daily, you should keep them safe from threat actors. A network security key or Wi-Fi password is one such element that helps you ensure security around your devices.
What is a network security key?
Simply put, a network security key is commonly known as the wireless network (or Wi-Fi) password. It’s a digital signature that prevents unauthorized people from accessing your network and allows you to maintain a secure connection between users requesting access to the network.
You can set a network security key using uppercase, lowercase, and special characters joined by a number. Make sure it doesn’t contain predictable elements like your name or the name of your loved one(s), a number related to your birthdate, or any combination that’s easy to guess.
Some of the common types of network security keys used for authorization in a wireless network are wired equivalent privacy and Wi-Fi protected access. Different types of network security keys have distinct security offerings, yet their primary function remains the same, i.e., regulating access to wireless networks.
Wired equivalent privacy (WEP)
Wired equivalent privacy (WEP) is a security algorithm intended to provide data confidentiality the same as traditional wired networks. It encrypts data packets using a 40-bit key combined with a 24-bit initialization vector (IV) to make an RC4 key. The 40 bit and 24 bit IV combine to create a 64-bit WEP key.
WEP is a sequence of characters between numbers 0-9 and the letters A-F. So, your WEP key can be 1A648C9FE2.
Due to the U.S. restrictions on the export of several cryptographic technologies, early WEP versions were limited to 64-bit encryption devices. When theregulating bodylifted these restrictions, 128-bit and 256-bit encryption also came into the picture. Out of these, 128-bit encryption was seen as the most common implementation in devices.
There are two methods of encryption that you can use with WEP:
Open system authentication: A client doesn’t need to share credentials with the access point. The encryption is carried out using a WEP key.
Shared key authentication: It’s a four-step challenge-response handshake. When a client requests authentication to the access point, it replies with a clear-text challenge. After encrypting the challenge-text using a configured WEP key, the client sends it back. The access point decrypts the response, verifies a match, and completes authentication. Zero-knowledge password proof and key agreement systems are some sophisticated algorithms of challenge-response handshake.
The process looked secure, but in reality, anyone could decode the key by cracking the challenge-frames. To protect the network security key from potential exposure, Wi-Fi protected access superseded wired equivalent privacy and evolved as a more secure authentication method in wireless networks.
Wi-Fi protected access
In the Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) security algorithm, the client requesting to connect to a network needs a security key to initiate communication. After verification of the key, data exchanges are carried out in an encrypted manner.
There are three versions of WPA:
WPA: It adopts atemporal key integrity programand uses a per-packet key, enabling it to produce a new 128-bit key dynamically with every packet arriving and assigning it to the same data packet. It prevents the risks that made WEP vulnerable and restricts unwanted access.
WPA2: It replaced WPA and implemented the mandatory elements of IEEE 802.11i, which includes support for CCM protocol, an advanced encryption standard (AES)-based encryption mode.
WPA3: It uses an equivalent 192-bit cryptographic strength in WPA3-Enterprise mode and mandates AES-128 in CCM mode as the minimum encryption algorithm in WPA3-Personal mode.
The wireless protected access security certification program protects data against modification risks using the message integrity check. It supersedes the cyclic redundancy check for error detection and correction, earlier used in WEP.
It does have a message integrity check, which guards the data against viruses that can automatically modify and retransmit the packets. Thus, it replaces the cyclic redundancy check for error detection and correction used by the WEP.
How to find a network security key
You can find a network security key in different ways, depending on the type of device where you’re searching for it.
Finding a network security key on a router
A network security key is often labeled on the exterior of a router. You should look for a small sticker at the back or the bottom of the device. If it’s not available there, check its packaging box or the manual that came with it from the manufacturer.
You will usually have your key set and printed on the bottom of the router your ISP provides when you take a broadband deal from them. The key can be changed but just make sure you don't lose it.
On a router, the network security key would be labeled as a security key, WPA key, or passphrase. There would be a default one that came with the new device, but you need to change it to avoid unauthorized access.
Nine steps to change your network security key (network password):
You’d need the IP address of the router to enter the login page. You can look for it in the manual that comes with the router.
If you’re already connected to the network and using a Windows operating system, right-click on the Start button, select Run, and type cmd, then type ipconfig and press enter. If you’re working on a Mac operating system, you can press the option key and right-click on the Wi-Fi symbol available on the top-right corner of the screen to get the IP address.
Once you have the IP address, go to the browser, type it in the address bar and press enter/return to get to your router’s login page. You can search for login credentials on the manual to get in.
Look for a page with wireless, wireless security, or wireless settings.
Select WPA2. It’s the best encryption.
Change the password or network security key.
Use the new password to reconnect to the wireless network.
Finding a network security key on a Windows device
When your Windows device is connected to the wireless network, you can access the saved login data to get the network security key.
For Windows 10 users, you can use the following steps to find the passphrase of your network:
Go to the Start menu.
Click Network Connection.
Select Network and Sharing Center.
Click on the wireless network icon.
Go to Wireless Properties.
Open the Security tab.
Select Show Characters, and you’ll be able to see your network security key.
If you’re using a Windows 7 operating system, you can access the network security key through the following path:
Open the Start menu.
Go to the Control Panel.
Click on View Network Status and Tasks available under Network and Internet.
Click on Manage Wireless Network listed on the left side menu, and then locate your wireless network.
Open properties by right-clicking on the wireless network.
Open the security tab and check the box to show characters.
It’ll display the network security key you’re searching for. You can also use the same key to connect other devices to the network.
Finding a network security key on Mac
When it comes to Mac, the process of finding your network’s password is somewhat similar to Windows. You should know the Wi-Fi network's name, and you can instantly get the security key.
Follow these six steps to find your network security key:
Open the search function.
Search Keyless Access.
Search for your Wi-Fi network in the keychain access screen.
Click on the name of your network.
Check Show Password to see the security key of your network.
To confirm the access rights, enter your Mac password.
Finding a network security key on a smartphone
Whether you have an Android or an iOS device, you can find the network security key stored on your phone in a few simple steps.
Android users with root access can use ES file explorer or Android terminal emulator, whereas users without root access can utilize Minimal ABD and Fastboot to get network security key.
ES file explorer: You can access the root explorer feature of ES file explorer and tap Local and Device to see your root folder. Navigate to misc and wifi to view the Wi-Fi security key in the wpa_supplicant.conf file. You need root access to perform this action.
Android terminal emulator: In the Android terminal emulator, you can issue the cat/data/misc/wifi/wpa_supplicant.conf. Command and view the file content to see the network security key. Again, this option requires root access.
Minimal ADB and Fastboot: To find the network security key without root, you can install and connect Minimal ADB and Fastboot on your PC. Once you establish a connection with your Android device, access and see the content of wpa_supplicant.conf to get your Wi-Fi password.
Finding a network security key on your iPhone or iPad is much easier than Android, as it doesn’t require root access. You can follow the steps mentioned below to access the network security key.
Go to iPhone Settings, and tap on iCloud.
Enable the keychain feature by tapping on Keychain.
Start your personal hotspot by going back to settings.
Connect to the iPhone's personal hotspot on your Mac.
Press CMD + Space to open the Spotlight search utility and search for keychain access.
Enter the name of your Wi-Fi network (service set identifier, also called SSID), and double click on SSID.
Click on the Show Passwordcheckbox. Type your Mac’s admin password to prove your identity and get the network security key.
How to resolve network security key mismatch error
When you get a network security key mismatch error while trying to log into your wireless network, there is a high possibility that you're entering an incorrect password. But it's not the sole reason. There can be various other causes like wrong security mode, antivirus software, or defective wireless drivers.
To fix the error, you can use some common methods mentioned below.
Check whether your password is correct, and you're using the set combination of uppercase and lowercase characters. Look over your caps lock key on the keyboard and type accordingly.
Ensure that your device supports the version of the Wi-Fi network you're trying to connect. Sometimes a network security key mismatch error comes up when you connect the device to an unsupported network.
After entering the correct password, if your device still shows a mismatch error, try restarting the device or computer. At times, the device hangs, and restarting will bring them back to normal.
If the error persists, you can change the type of security protocol being used. For example, if you're using WEP, change it to WPA or WPA2.
Another possible solution would be to disable your third-party antivirus client or update your wireless drivers to resolve the network security key mismatch error.
Keep your passwords safe
Although the WPA2 security algorithm offers advanced security, you must keep the network security key safe from malicious hackers. Make sure you manage passwords effectively and protect your devices from cyber attacks.
Learn more about how you can safeguard your cybersecurity and provide seamless access to digital assets with user provisioning software.
Manage access privileges with ease
Use the best user provisioning software to regulate access permissions.
Sagar Joshi is a former content marketing specialist at G2 in India. He is an engineer with a keen interest in data analytics and cybersecurity. He writes about topics related to them. You can find him reading books, learning a new language, or playing pool in his free time.
Manage access privileges with ease
Use the best user provisioning software to regulate access permissions.