If you want to keep anything private and protected, you need a lock and key. You lock your objects or data with a protective mechanism and the key is used to authenticate, who has access to said objects or data. The "lock and key" principle can be applied in the world of networking. Wireless networks are a wire-free way for multiple compatible objects to access the Internet and each other. You can connect different devices to the same network, from a smartphone or a TV to a laptop or an MP3 player. But with such freedom, comes the task of protecting the network.
Your wireless network can be detected by any other computer with a wireless antenna and that comes within the range of the network. How do you restrict network access to the real, legitimate users? How do you keep out intruders and piggy-backers from using your network? It is simple: you "lock" access to the network and only allow access to those who have a "key". A network security key or passphrase is equivalent to a login password or phrase, that authenticates you, as the user, to access a private account. This key is user-generated i.e. the owner or creator of the network will create the key. Those who want to access a wireless network, must know the key.
What are the Different Wireless Network Security Methods?
Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP)
Here, in this method, a key is set to encrypt the information that is transferred from one computer to another within the network. The wireless network setup will require this key, to encrypt and decrypt the data that is sent. This is a relatively old method of network security and the WEP key is comparatively easy to crack.
802.1X is specifically used for wireless 802.11 networks as well for wired Ethernet networks. This type of authentication is typically used in workplace networks. Here an authentication server is used for validating users who want access to the network.
Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)
This is the most widely used method of wireless network security. In Wi-Fi protected access, information is encrypted and only authorized people can access the network. There is an updated version of this encryption mechanism, called WPA2. It is recommended for use over WPA, as it is more secure. However, WPA2 may not be supported by older routers or access points, as well as other wireless devices (like MP3 players).
How to Get Your Network Security Key
Network security keys or passwords aren't as easy to retrieve as other login details. For one, the key may have been set up on a computer, but is ultimately and always stored on the router. It does not exist in the form of a file or a program, it is a small detail located on your router's setup page. If you are legally connected to the network, then the network administrator will provide you with the key. Changing or getting a new key also involves visiting the same page, so the following steps will help you find your network key:
- To access the router's setup page, there should be a wired, physical connection between the computer and the router.
- Either access a desktop computer connected to the router or wire your laptop to the router, using an Ethernet cable.
- Open the web browser. For this operation, use either Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox.
- In the address bar of the web browser, type the router's address. Usually, the default address for most routers is 192.168.1.1.
- You can also find the router's address by opening the Command Prompt and typing the command ipconfig. The IP address in "Default gateway" is the address of your router.
- A small login window will appear, asking for the router's user name and password. Enter the details as required.
- By default, the router user name field should be blank and the default password is admin. But these details can differ on various routers, so refer to the router's documentation to get such information.
- Once you have accessed the router's page, look for wireless security or wi-fi or wireless network settings tab.
- Look for the phrase security key or passphrase. This is your wireless network key.