What Is A Network Security Key? A Definitive Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Network security is an essential component for technology departments and individuals to keep their data and work safe. Because of this, there are several ways to protect individual devices and networks, like security keys. Learning more about these cybersecurity tools can help you better understand why organisations might use them and how they can help. In this article, we answer the question, 'What is a network security key?' and share essential details about it, like what the different types are and their primary uses.

What Is A Network Security Key?

The answer to 'What is a network security key?' is that it is a data protection method that uses a password to access a wireless connection. With this key, users can connect to a company or personal Wi-fi network and access applications and sites through their device. In organisations, this allows companies to authenticate users so only employees or relevant people can access their internet connection safely. Network security keys are often a combination of numbers and letters that a network generates that allows you to connect.

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Types Of Security Keys

Organisations and individuals might use different variations of security keys to protect their networks. There are three main types of security keys you can use to access and protect a network:

Wi-Fi protected access

Wi-Fi protected access or WPA is an encryption method that verifies the validity of a network key or password. This allows only verified users to connect to the wireless network. This is common on many network adapters but may work best with more modern network configurations.

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Wired Equivalent Privacy

Wired equivalent privacy is a key that works as a password for users to access a network. This security method allows users within the network to share encrypted messages safely. Using this key can help protect unauthorised users from accessing sensitive information. This key is a set of digits and letters that can be ten, 26 or 58 characters long, depending on what type of network connection you use.

Wi-Fi Protected Access 2

Wi-Fi protected access 2, or WPA2, is a security method that uses a pre-shared key, or PSK, for users to connect. This key is a requirement for user authentication before connecting to a network. This key is often the primary key for the authentication server and technology departments might manage connection settings for users.

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Uses For A Network Security Key

Each organisation might use its security keys for unique reasons, depending on its size and its additional cybersecurity methods. Here are three common uses for this type of security measure:

Individual privacy

A network security key helps protect individual privacy on your device. This means any of the information you enter or access on your device has additional security to ensure others, both on the network and outside of it, cannot access it. These keys protect individuals on large networks at enterprise organisations or if you work remotely from a home office.

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Device security

Network security also helps protect you from cybersecurity threats like malware or ransomware attacks. With keys, especially ones with more complex encryption, only authorised users can access the network. Preventing cybersecurity threats is key for technology departments and can help you avoid additional costs on remediation or device replacement.

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Data protection

Network keys also protect the data that you share with other people. Whether you send a confidential email or you work on your own site, these limit what other people can access. This can be especially important in finance or similar careers where you might handle a lot of sensitive customer data and information.

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FAQs About Network Security Keys

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about this network security method:

What are biometric and two-factor keys?

Biometric and two-factor keys are two other ways to protect a network and devices. Two-factor authentication means there are two steps to take before accessing a network. This might mean entering a password and then answering an additional security question. Biometric keys are similar but might have additional security measures. These might include fingerprint scanning or facial recognition.

Are security keys the same as passwords?

The two security concepts are similar, but they can differ depending on the type of network you access and the device you use. For example, a network key on a mobile device is likely a password that allows you to access your applications and data. Some routers require you to input the security key as a password on desktop devices. This usually comes with additional security measures, like having a single sign-on identification and password.

Where can I find a security key on my desktop?

On many devices, you can find the network key in similar spots. Try accessing your wireless settings to find the network with which you have a connection. From there, you can access the wireless properties. There might be an 'Advanced Settings' tab that you can find, that can provide you with the network key.

Where can I find a security key on my mobile device?

For the different operating systems, you are likely to find your security key in your device settings. You may need this when using your device as a mobile hotspot, as you create a new network and connect to it automatically. Consider checking the different applications you use for mobile hotspots to see what you require enabling in your settings to ensure optimum security.

Where can I locate a security key on my router?

Each router may be slightly different when locating your security key. You can find it on a sticker on the side or back of your device, near the wireless name or other barcodes. Some devices might include this information on a separate card or in the manual for additional access.

What is encryption?

Encryption is a process where devices secure data and information when sending or storing it. It often takes plain text and translates it into a secret code when travelling through a network. When it arrives at the destination, it often automatically decrypts so the user can access and read the content you send. There are two primary types of encryption:

  • Asymmetric: Asymmetric encryption is when there are separate security keys that encrypt and decrypt the data.

  • Symmetric: Symmetric encryption is when devices use the same keys for encryption and decryption.

How do I troubleshoot key issues?

There might be several ways you can troubleshoot the unique issues you experience with a network key. For example, you can check that you match the case sensitivity for any alphabetical characters in the code. You might also be able to restart your router or device to see if it reconnects automatically when it starts again. If you still have issues, consider resetting the entire network system, and creating a new name for the wireless network and security key. If you work for a larger organisation, you can likely contact the IT department for any connectivity issues.

What are some common cybersecurity threats that network keys help prevent?

Network keys can help protect you against several attacks, including:

  • Piggybacking: Piggybacking is when someone connects to a nearby wireless network, even if it is unfamiliar. For example, if you work in a coffee shop that has an open network, another user might be able to access your device or data.

  • Wardriving: Wardriving is similar to piggybacking, but with more targeted goals to compromise the security and information on unprotected networks. People might seek out open networks to see what information they can get.

  • Evil twin: An evil twin is a threat where a user mimics a network connection and lures people to connect. For example, if you work from a coffee shop, someone might create a network with a similar name and attack your device or information when you connect.

  • Sniffing: Sniffing is another method users might perform to target poor or open connections. Rather than damaging devices, they often seek to get private information, like customer data or credit card information.

  • Shoulder surfing: Shoulder surfing is when a person observes what you do on a computer to get information or data. For example, a person might see your network key password if you work in an open area.

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