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What is a Network Security Key?

Global connectivity and the rising usage and dependency on cloud services are driving an increase in cybercrime throughout the world. Internet services are now being accessed by more people as they have become much more numerous and diversified compared to the past. An Internet connection is now a must to access these services. When you want to connect a device to the network, whether it is your home network or a corporate network, there are always potential threats if the appropriate security mechanisms are not available on the network. Cyberattacks on networks are becoming more common, ranging from credit card fraud to huge corporate data breaches. However, organizations and individuals may take steps to secure their networks. Network security keys are digital protections that assist internet users to stay safe while they're online.

A network security key (NSK) is basically a password that is required to enter a private network. A network security key also enables a secure bridge between the client and the providing network or wireless device, such as routers. This secures a network and its devices against unauthorized access. A network security key, unlike conventional passwords, can be digital, biometric, or physical, depending on the user's request. An NSK protects a network by securing access points and routers. Unauthorized users are unable to access your network because they lack the network security key.

What is the Purpose of a Network Security Key?

Cybersecurity strives to protect Internet-connected devices and networks from unexpected attacks such as hackers or malware. Network security is concerned with securing files and information from such threats. Network security often begins with verification in the form of login information, but it can also utilize additional techniques like firewalls, and anti-virus software to secure the network's contents. Network security keys protect against cyber threats.

Secure network access is typically the first layer of protection against attackers, and the main objective of a network security key is to keep digital users' data safe. There are some other use cases for network security keys. Here are the following:

  • To block or limit unwanted access to Wi-Fi or other network devices.
  • To secure large-scale networks such as those used by organizations or businesses.
  • To secure data packets transmitted over a network or between devices.
  • To ensure the security of routers as well as access points in the network.

What are the Benefits of Network Security Key?

Aside from just regulating access to a wireless network, a network security key provides significant security benefits to users. A user may not recognize the benefits of network security keys whether they are joining a Wi-Fi network at home or in a public location. The following are some of the significant benefits of a network security key:

  • Security keys with encryption standards serve to keep internet users' data safe from hackers targeting networks and devices.

  • When a user and a network establish a connection, an attacker can gain access to the user's personal information, such as Social Security or credit card details. These network security keys contribute to the protection of digital information.

  • Network security keys keep identities secret and private, preventing attackers from knowing who and when they enter a network. It protects the privacy of users.

  • Security keys enable us to prevent attackers from using numerous techniques to compromise data by using several methods and layers of encryption.

  • The network security key protects against man-in-the-middle (MiM) attacks. The data is divided into smaller chunks, each of which is encrypted and transferred via separate channels.

What Are the Network Security Key Types?

Since 1990, network security key types have gone through several improvements and updates. It has been shown to be more efficient and secure. Many protocols have been created for the protection of residential wireless networks. WPA, WEP, WPA2, and WPA3 are the most commonly used security keys. All of these serve a similar role, yet they differ in some ways. Wireless protocols for security not only prevent unauthorized access from joining the network but also assist in encrypting data transferred over the airwaves.

1. WEP

The Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption technique was created to provide wireless security to users of 802.11 wireless networks. A group of IEEE members volunteered to create WEP. The goal was to provide security through an 802.11 wireless network while wireless data was carried over radio waves from one endpoint to another. It was recognized as a standard in 1999. WEP was used to secure wireless communication from eavesdropping, prevent illegal access to a wireless network, and prevent message manipulation. WEP's vulnerability can be related to the following factors: WEP key recovery, unauthorized decryption, data integrity violations, ineffective key management, and lack of access point authentication.

The WEP security key is a ten-character hexadecimal code. The WEP key, in other words, consists of 10 characters ranging from 0 to 9 and A to F. The WEP key has four bits for each character. As a result, the total number of bits for 10 characters is 40. These 40 bits are also merged with the 24-bits of the Initialization Vector. Another way of creating 40 bits in the WEP key exists. Some networked devices enable users to utilize five ASCII characters as a 40-bit key. Each ASCII character has an 8-bit length. As a result, five ASCII characters have a total length of 40 bits. In order to create a 64-bit WEP security key, the 24-bit initialization vector must be combined.

2. WPA/WPA2/WPA3

WPA is also referred to as Wi-Fi-protected access. The Wi-Fi Alliance established the WPA protocol in 2003. It was implemented a year ago, right before WEP was phased out. The primary goal of WPA is to overcome WEP's security concerns. For encryption, most current WPA apps employ a PSK or pre-shared key, which is also known as WPA Personal, and TKIP(temporal key integrity protocol). It makes use of a server for authentication, certificate creation, and key generation. WPA, like WEP, was discovered to be susceptible to external intrusions.

There are a number of security vulnerabilities in WPA, including: Instead of using the more secure Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), WPA employs the RC4 cryptographic technique. On the WPA, a brute force attack is also possible. DoS attacks can also be used against the WPA. The setup or configuration procedure is time-consuming.

The WPA2 protocol is a level upgrade from WPA in 2004. Wi-Fi protected access to version 2 is another name for it. The 802.11i standard is fully implemented in WPA2. The most significant difference between WPA2 and WPA is the data encryption technique. The use of AES, or access encryption standard, was a big enhancement for this protocol. WPA2 aims to improve MAC layer security by using a new algorithm to provide stronger encryption and more efficient and secure key management. RC4 was the main encryption method of WEP and WPA. WPA2 was meant to utilize the Advanced Encryption Standard to solve the RC4 vulnerability and the community's trust concern, especially for corporate networks.

The most common type of WPA2 system vulnerability is when an attacker gets full access to a protected Wi-Fi network and can also access part of the keys needed to carry out an attack on the network's devices. The security concerns in WPA2 systems are mostly at the corporate level and have little effect on home networks. WPS attacks are still possible in WPA2 systems, just as they are in WPA.

The next-generation Wi-Fi security protocol is WPA3, or Wi-Fi protected access to version 3. It was established in 2018. It helps to completely secure Wi-Fi networks while also protecting users from their own security vulnerabilities. By using a new key exchange mechanism, WPA3 secures the Wi-Fi network password from dictionary attacks. WPA3 also includes forwards privacy, which encrypts any communication that has passed through the system shortly before an attacker gains access to the network, which is not the case with WPA2. WPA3 also provides enhanced security to public networks, protecting users from vulnerabilities they may not be aware of.

WPA3 encryption is designed to be more secure than earlier WiFi versions. First, WPA3 security discards previous encryption algorithms in favor of ones that have not been breached, similar to how Google Chrome and Firefox warn or simply stop users from connecting to vulnerable web services. Granted, nothing in the realm of security lasts forever, but WPA3 Encryption is protected by the 256-bit Galois/Counter Mode Protocol (GCMP-256), which makes cracking the encryption more difficult.

WPA3 makes connecting WiFi devices (such as IoT devices) without graphical user interfaces easier. It also protects against security risks created by weak passwords on public wifi hotspot networks. This new norm, however, will not be widely adopted immediately. Some manufacturers have begun to give software upgrades that include WPA3 support in current systems, but there is no assurance. Because several WPA3 features need hardware changes, organizations and individuals may have to wait years to adapt.

How to Find a Network Security Key?

Network security keys assist in the protection of users and their private information. There are several methods for finding network security keys on PCs and mobile devices.

For Windows 10: If your device is linked to the router, the network security key may be simply found by navigating to the settings. Follow the steps mentioned below.

  1. First, right-click on the start menu. There will be sub-menus, and click Network Connections
  2. After the network connection window opens, click on the Network and Sharing Center.
  3. There you will see your wifi network name and click it. Another new window will open after you click on the wifi network name.
  4. Click on the Wireless Properties button next to the Details button. And there, select the Security tab.
  5. In the last step, to expose your network security key, tick the Show Characters box.

Viewing Network Security Key on Windows 10

Figure 1. Viewing Network Security Key on Windows 10

For macOS: You may follow the steps below to find the network security key on your macOS.

  1. On the top right of your screen, there is a search icon. Click it and write down Keychain Access and search for this phrase.
  2. The keychain access screen will pop up, and then double click on your wifi network name.
  3. To display the network security key, tick the Show Password check box and then enter your Mac password. Key will reveal.

For Router: You can find the network security key using two different methods from the router. The first one is preferable and the easiest one. If you've just bought a new Wi-Fi router (or reset an old one to factory defaults), look on the label for the default network security key. Typically, the label is found on the router's bottom plate. The label with the default IP address, username, password, and network security key is likely attached to the back of your Wi-Fi router if it has a vertical design. On the label, look for the words "Wi-Fi password" or just "Password."

Wifi Network Security Key on a Router

Figure 2. Wifi Network Security Key on a Router

As an administrator, log into your home router. The primary page of most routers displays your network SSID and network security key, but menu systems differ by model. If the Wi-Fi connection options page does not appear on the main screen, look for Connection, Wi-Fi, or something similar in the navigation menu. The network security key will most likely be present.

For Android: You may follow the steps below to find the network security key on your Android device:

  1. Select Wireless and Network from your Android device's settings app. Tethering and Portable Hotspot are the options under that menu.
  2. On the screen, you'll see the WLAN or Wi-Fi hotspot choice. Your WLAN hotspot will switch on when you click on it.
  3. After turning on your device, you may see the network name, security type (WPA-PSK or WPA2-PSK), and security key.
  4. You may customize the network's name and security key to meet your needs.

What is the Network Security Key Mismatch Error and How to Fix It?

A network security key mismatch occurs when you receive an error while connecting to a WiFi network. This error indicates that the character combination you are using to gain access to the network is wrong and does not match the password for that network. There are three main reasons for this:

  1. The majority of the time, the mistake is caused by pressing the incorrect key. Keep in mind that the case of all keys matters.

  2. WPA2 network security protocol is not supported by all devices. In such rare circumstances, your only option is to change or upgrade your equipment.

  3. Routers may occasionally stop related to firmware failure. In most situations, a simple reboot resolves the problem. If nothing else works, you can always reset the router. This allows you to create setups from scratch that will function at peak levels.

There are several options for dealing with the problem. Some suggestions are as follows:

  • As we mentioned above, the most prevalent cause of network key mismatch is incorrect password entry. Because a password is case-sensitive, make sure you type the letters in upper and lower case precisely as they appear in the password. If the problem remains after entering the correct password, restart your devices, such as the router or PC. The device may hang from time to time, but after a restart, it will resume regular operation.
  • Another cause of key mismatches is that the Wi-Fi network you're attempting to connect to is incompatible with your device. As a result, it displays a password mismatch error. Therefore, determine which Wi-Fi network version your device supports and then connect to only those networks.
  • If none of these solutions succeeds in resolving the problem, things will only get worse. When this happens with routers, the entire system must be reset. As a result, log into the router and generate a new hostname and network security key, which you should write down and memorize.
  • Delete all network details from your PC or laptop's network and sharing center settings, then restart your computer. Search for the network you wish to connect to once more, and then enter the new network security key. If you join manually, you will probably get across the network. This whole series of steps will resolve the network key mismatch issue.

What is the Difference Between Network Security and Passwords?

A network security key gives third-party clients and servers access and authorization to the network. Other devices can connect to wireless networks using the WPA key or the WiFi password. The WiFi password and the network security key are the same. There is no difference between a network security key and a password. WIFI password is commonly referred to as Network Security Key.

The network security key is a technical term that is commonly used with routers and modems, where each network SSID has a unique and varied form of security key known as the WPA key, WPA2 key, or password, depending on the network equipment manufacturer. To enter the wireless network on a Windows PC, the network security key is used as a password in combination with the network name. The key is just a one-of-a-kind combination of alphanumeric characters. However, when we use an Android phone to access internet services, the security key is shown as the passphrase for enabling the services. Thus, both are the same, but various terminology is used based on the device's manufacturer, kind of device, and network environment in which it is installed.