A Network Security Key – also known as Wi-Fi Security Key, is just another name for the password you use to connect to your wireless network.
Every Wi-Fi device comes with a default Network Security Key, which in some cases is printed on the back of your wireless router.
Over the years, various security protocols were developed to protect residential wireless networks. Some of the most popular protocols are WEP, WPA, and WPA2.
This article will learn precisely what a Network Security Key is, how to find it on Windows, macOS, and Linux/UNIX operating systems, and how to secure our Wi-Fi network from malicious attackers.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
What Is A Network Security Key?
Think for a second about your own house. You probably have many doors in your house but one door is more important than the others – the main door.
Your main door probably has a lock too. And because you value your things so much, you choose a good lock with a strong key!
Your wireless network works in the same way as your house. It has a main door with a lock. It is located on your wireless router.
The lock has a key that allows access to your wireless network. And the Network Security Key is nothing but another name for the password you use to access your wireless network.
Now you understand why the computer guy always advises you to choose a strong password. But wait! There’s a catch.
As much as you safeguard your key in your pocket, the lock is out there for everyone to see. After all, bad guys can open doors without having a key anyways. So what can we do to make sure that doesn’t happen?
Let’s discuss that in the next section.
Protecting Your Wi-Fi Network
Look out the window. Most likely, every house or apartment you see has at least one wireless network. These networks are referred to as Residential Wireless Networks.
In most cases, these wireless networks have simple passwords assigned, such as the default Wi-Fi Network Security Key or a family member’s phone number – for example.
These passwords are easy to find by anyone knowing to do a bit of research online on you or the Wi-Fi device you’re using.
For instance, the default password for a D-Link DAP-1665 Wireless router can be found on the back of the device.
In some other cases, there is no Network Security Key assigned to the device, and the user is expected to set up the password when connecting the device for the first time.
Forgetting to do so, is like leaving your house’s main door widely open. But…
What Makes A Strong Password Anyway?
The answer is simple: the more complex, the better. A strong password should be at least 8 characters long, contain capital and small letters, and have at least one number and special symbol in it—something like J@hnSm1th.
The above password is just an example of the name “John Smith,” where some letters were replaced with special characters and numbers.
Remember, passwords are case sensitive, so any combination of small and capital letters will increase password complexity, making it more difficult to hack.
As of today, there are over 450 brands of wireless routers in the world. Each device has its own way and interfaces to change the Network Security Key. The instructions are usually found in the manual of your Wi-Fi device or easily found online with a simple Google search.
To change a Network Security Key takes no more than a few minutes, requires no previous experience, and can protect you from harm indefinitely. Please do it now so you won’t regret it later.
Encrypting Your Data
Every time you use a wireless network, your device’s data transmitted or received [laptop, mobile phone, etc.] literally flies through the air.
This data may be invisible to our eyes but is very visible to other devices inside or outside your network.
Anyone with a cheap device such as THIS can easily capture your wireless data and consequently steep sensitive information from you.
To protect yourself from such intruders, special protocols were developed to encrypt the communication between wireless devices.
As mentioned before, WEP, WPA, and WPA2 are the most often used protocols for data encryption today. All of these protocols perform the same role. However, they vary in certain ways.
Wireless security protocols not only assist in preventing unauthorized users from joining the network but also aid in encrypting data transferred over the airways.
Let’s briefly cover the pros and cons of each of them.
WEP [Wired Equivalent Privacy]
WEP was designed for the security of wireless networks and was recognized as a standard back in 1999.
WEP was supposed to provide the same degree of security as wired networks. However, the WEP protocol was found to have several security flaws.
WEP’s main flaw is that it uses a static key to encrypt all communication to and from a Wi-Fi device. Any everyday PC can easily exploit this vulnerability.
Several changes were made to improve WEP over the past decades. Despite the modifications, it remains a very susceptible security protocol.
Even if WEP isn’t a great encryption protocol, it’s still considered better than nothing.
WPA [Wi-Fi Protected Access]
WPA was implemented not long ago with the main purpose to replace the WEP protocol.
Compared to WEP, WPA uses two keys to encrypt the wireless data: a PSK or Pre-Shared Key, also known as WPA Personal, and TKIP or Temporal Key Integrity Protocol.
This protocol makes use of a server for authentication, certificate production, and key management.
Similar to WEP, WPA has been demonstrated to be susceptible to intrusion, which brings us to the latest and most secure wireless encryption protocol as of today – WPA2.
WPA2 [Wireless Protected Access Version 2]
The security improvements applied to WPA have led to the creation of WPA2. One of the significant improvements was the implementation of AES or Access Encryption Standard approved by the US government for data encryption not too long ago
Similar to the previous two wireless data encryption standards, WPA2 is not a carefree protocol either.
The most common type of WPA2 system vulnerability is when an attacker has complete access to a Wi-Fi network’s secured network and can also access some of the keys needed to attack the network’s devices.
However, the good news for home users is that the security threats in WPA2 are primarily at the enterprise level and have no bearing on home networks.
The bad news is that WPS [Wi-Fi Protected Setup] attacks are still possible in WPA2 systems though require some elevated skills on behalf of the attacker.
Which Network Security Protocol Should I Use?
As you can see, there is no such thing as a security “bulletproof” system. While the protocols to protect our data are increasingly complex, so are the methods used by hackers to find vulnerabilities and exploit them.
Even if not perfect, using a data encryption protocol is still way better than using none. And if so, why not use the newest and most advanced one: WPA2.
I Forgot My Network Security Key
Someone is visiting you. What’s the question that is most likely to pop up in the first 5 minutes?
That’s right! If I could only get a penny for every time I was asked for my Wi-Fi password. And another penny for each time I could not remember it.
But what if you can ACTUALLY remember it?
Well, there is an easy way to find your Network Security Key. You do need to have access to a device already connected to your Wi-Fi such as a laptop or desktop computer.
Every device that was successfully connected to a Wi-Fi will store that password in the system to remember it next time.
Let’s find out where.
Find Network Security Key on Windows 10
- To find the Network Security Key on a Windows 10 computer, click on the Windows Start button and select the Settings icon.
- On the Settings icon windows, click on the Network & Internet.
- On the Network & Internet window, click on Wi-Fi on the left menu.
- On the Wi-Fi window, scroll down and click on the Network and Sharing Center.
- On the Network and Sharing Center window, click on your Wi-Fi network name. For security reasons, my Wi-Fi network credentials will be blurred out.
- The Wi-Fi Status window will open. Click on the Wireless Properties button.
- On your Wireless Network Properties window, select the Security tab.
- To see your Network Security Key, click on the Show characters checkbox. You now can see your Wi-Fi password in plain text.
Find Network Security Key on macOS.
Macs also store the Wi-Fi password in the system to remember it the next time you log in to the same wireless network. On macOS, you can find the Network Security Key via System Keychain Access or via Terminal.
- To find your Wi-Fi password via Keychain Access, navigate to Applications → Utilities and click to open the Keychain Access application.
- In Keychain Access, search box  type the name of your Wi-Fi network. The Keychain Access application will list all the entries containing your Wi-Fi network name .
- On your Wi-Fi Attributes tab, click on the Show password checkbox. When prompted, authenticate using your user password.
- Your Network Security Key will appear on the field highlighted in yellow above.
To find out your Wi-Fi password using the Terminal, navigate to Applications → Utilities and click on the Terminal application.
Type the following command in the Terminal and authenticate using your user password when prompted. Replace <your Wi-Fi network name> below with your actual Wi-Fi network name.
security find-generic-password -wa <your Wi-Fi network name>
Voila! Your Network Security Key will be printed in the Terminal.
Find Network Security Key on Linux/UNIX
On Linux/UNIX, you can find your Network Security Key in a file with your network name located in the /etc/NetworkManager/system-connections directory.
- Open a terminal and execute the following command [one at the time]:
cd / cd /etc/NetworkManager/system-connections
- List the content of the system-connections folder using the ls command as shown in the example below. You should see a file with your Wi-Fi name in this folder.
- To visualize the content of your Wi-Fi file, use the cat command followed by the Wi-Fi file, as seen in the example below. Replace the <Wi-Fi file name> with the actual file name.
sudo cat <Wi-Fi file name>
You should now see your Wi-Fi Network Security Key on your terminal.
I hope this article cleared any confusion you may have had about what a Network Security Key is, how it works, and why it is important to set up a strong password to safeguard your precious data.
If you found this article useful, please share it around – it makes a big difference. And if you want to learn more about how hackers master their craft, check the Cybersecurity section of this website.