What Are They?
When learning about network security keys, the first step is to know what they are. Do you have one? If you’re not sure, it might be easier to ask if you have a WiFi password. If so, then you have a network security key. They’re the same thing.
A network security key — your WiFi password — is how you gain access to your wireless network. It establishes a secure connection so you can accomplish your tasks in a safe environment. A security key also restricts access to those individuals and machines that have the key. Otherwise, anybody could just jump on to the network, tying up your bandwidth and slowing down the access you pay for and use for business.
Some companies want to have open access for their customers, enabling them to use their own devices while they’re waiting for assistance or as part of a service package while they’re at the location. In those cases, most businesses will actually have two separate access options: One for public use, and the other for employee use. The former will either have no network security key, or it will be made known to anyone who wants to connect. The latter will be reserved for employees, and require a security key only they will know.
Protect Your Keys
Like any key, you don’t want it to fall into the wrong hands. If someone gets your network security key, they can access your private connection. Slowing down your connection is bad, but the ramifications are much worse: They could use it to gain access to your sensitive data. Cybercriminals can quickly steal your information and identity and use it against you. They could also sell the information on the dark web, where other criminals can purchase and exchange sensitive data. At that point, closing the security breach only prevents further access, and finding the criminals (or those who have purchased your data) is a very difficult task. By the time you even realize the network has been compromised, the data could be shared around the world and exploited several times. The best way to minimize the damage from data and identity theft is to prevent it from happening in the first place. And a strong network security key is the first step toward that prevention.
Types Of Network Security Keys
The old standard, known as Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) keys, used a combination of numbers (0-9) and letters (A-F) to create 10, 26, or 58-character chains that made it harder for unauthorized users to get into a network using up to 128-bit encryption. In theory, it would take a long time for hackers to figure out a random string of letters and numbers.
Unfortunately, criminals started using tools that could get into the longest WEP keys in a matter of minutes, making them obsolete. As a result, WEP keys are no longer used, and technology was developed to counter the hacking tools and regain the advantage in network security. Today, network security keys now use the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) format.
The WPA standard, which is nearly 20 years old itself, offered 256-bit encryption and an enhanced system of security checks that could determine if an unauthorized user was in the system. It was a significant improvement over WEP keys and is still in use, especially in connection with older software.
The second version of WPA (WPA2), uses algorithms and enhanced message authentication to keep networks secure. WPA2 is used in many business networks and provides strong protection against unauthorized access.
In 2018, WPA3 was introduced, which provides an even higher level of protection. But due to its requirements and lack of WPA3-certified hardware, it’s not a commonly-used method of network security. The vast majority of systems will operate on the WPA/WPA2 formats.
How Do I Locate My Network Security Key?
Now that you know you have one and what it is, how do you find your network security key? The first place to look is on the router itself. There should be a sticker on the side with important network information, including your Wireless Security Key Password (your network security key).
You can also access your network security key on your computer, though it will take a few steps. On a PC using Windows 10, right-click on the Start menu, and search for Network Connections, then Network Sharing Center. Choose your Wi-Fi network, the Wireless Properties, then Show Characters.
On a Mac, search for Keychain Access, click on your Wi-Fi network, and select Show Password. Entering your Mac password will reveal the network security key.
Both types of machines will also allow you to change your network security key if it gets compromised or as part of a regular security protocol.
Fortunately, you don’t need to figure out all the answers yourself. Imperium Data Networks is ready to help with custom solutions for your unique needs. For secure, responsive, and flexible network security, use our Contact Us page and begin the conversation to improve your business.