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Network Security Key: What is it and where can you find it? 

A Network Security Key may sound like something you’d need to crack open a safe, but in fact it’s that jumbled collection of letters and numbers which magically gives you access to the internet. Yes, it’s the all-important Wi-Fi password. In this article, we examine this simple key a little closer: What is a network security key exactly? How and where do you find it? Discover what to do if something goes wrong with it and how a trusted privacy solution like Avira Phantom VPN can help make your wireless network and personal data much safer. 


What is a network security key? 

A network security key is the technical term for what you probably know as a Wi-Fi password. This is the often impossible-to-remember string of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols which, when entered correctly (often also a challenge), allows you to log in to a Wi-Fi network. The default network security key will be created the first time you set up your wireless router, and you’ll need it whenever you want to connect a new device to your network. Its primary purpose is to keep your internet connection and network secure, and it goes by many different names, depending on the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and manufacturer. You may have also heard it called any or all of the following: Password, network key, Wi-Fi key, network password, wireless password, Wi-Fi password and WEP or WPA key. 

How does a network security key work? 

Just like the key to your front door, a network security key keeps your internet safe from intruders. If a network doesn’t require a password to access it, it’s not secure. This means if you can walk straight in, so can anyone else, leaving your systems and data at a high risk of identity theft and other types of fraud. It’s the network security key’s job to establish a secure connection between your router and any devices allowed to connect to the Wi-Fi network. 

There are several different types of network security keys and how they work varies slightly. Read on to find out more. 

What are the types of network security keys? 

Your Wi-Fi network will use one of three types of network encryption as a form of protection. You can check the back of your router to see which yours uses. They are all protocol standards designed to keep your network safe from hackers, but they weren’t created equal! It’s well worth remembering that some are much more secure than others: 

  • WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy)
    WEP was the first protocol developed and is now considered outdated, difficult to configure and easy to crack. Online security experts don’t recommend using WEP as it could put your network at risk. 
  • WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) 
    WPA replaced WEP in 2003 as a more advanced protocol with additional features. It uses TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) to generate a new encryption key for each unit of data sent across a network but, despite this, is still considered susceptible to cyberattacks. 
  • WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2)
    WPA2 is the second generation of WPA and uses AES (Advanced Encryption System) to encrypt all internet data to prevent unauthorized access. It’s widely used and is a secure solution but can still be compromised, so for the safest option please consider its successor WPA3. 
  • WPA3 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 3)
    WPA3 was introduced in 2018 to replace WPA2, making it currently the latest network security protocol on the market—and the safest. It allows devices to join a network without transmitting a password. Instead, you sign into a network using a QR code or NFC tag. All routers certified after 1 July 2020 must support it and it is available for both personal and enterprise networks. Despite being the most up-to-date security protocol and certification program for routers, researchers have identified some concerning security problems with WPA3. Don’t toss it out just yet though. As with all computing technology, best security practice is to regularly check for (and apply!) firmware updates.  

Where can you find your network security key? 

If you’re looking for your network security key, you have two options: 

  • Via your router: Look at the back or bottom of your router if it’s easy enough to get to. 
  • Via your device: If your device is already on the wireless network or the default Wi-Fi security key has been changed, you’ll need to look in the settings on your device.  

Still not sure? Let’s take a closer look at where you can find your network security key on a router, iPhone, and Android phone, as well as a Mac and Windows computer.

On a router / modem 

The default network security key is normally printed on a sticker on the back or bottom of your router, along with your SSID (the Wi-Fi network name). It may be labelled with a different name such as ‘security key’ but if you can’t see it printed anywhere, check your router’s box or instruction manual. Once located, we recommend changing your security key regularly to ward off hackers or ‘piggybackers’ (people using your internet without permission). 

On iOS / iPhone 

If you’re using an iPhone or iPad: 

  • Go to ‘Settings’ and tap ‘Wi-Fi’. 
  • Tap the ‘i’ icon next to your network and click on the password. 
  • Use Face ID or Touch ID to view the Wi-Fi password in plaintext. 

On Android 

You won’t be able to access your network security key in plaintext on the latest versions of Android. Instead, your device stores a QR code which includes your network security key and, once scanned, can be shared with any device to connect to your network automatically: 

  • Go to ‘Settings’ and tap ‘Connections’. 
  • Open ‘Wi-Fi’. 
  • Tap on the network whose security key you need. 
  • Tap on the QR code and then scan it to get your Wi-Fi password. 
  • Note that this is not encrypted, so anyone with this QR code will be able to join your Wi-Fi network. 

On macOS 

There are two ways to find your network security key on macOS: 

Via Keychain Access:  

  • Open the search function and type in ‘Keychain Access’. 
  • In the ‘Keychain Access’ screen, search for your Wi-Fi network and click on it. 
  • Tick ‘Show password’ box to make the network security key visible. 
  • Enter your computer password to authenticate yourself. 

If you have macOS Ventura or later: 

  • Click on the Apple menu (top left-hand corner) and go to ‘System settings’. 
  • Choose ‘Network’ in the sidebar and click ‘Wi-Fi’. 
  • Click ‘Advanced’ and choose from the list of saved wireless networks. 
  • Click on network, select ‘Copy password’ and paste it where needed. 

On Windows 10 and 11 

  • Click the Windows icon to open the start menu and select ‘Settings’. 
  • Select ‘Network & internet’ from the left-hand menu. 
  • Scroll down and click ‘Advanced network settings’. 
  • Open ‘More network adapter options’. 
  • Left-click on the wireless network you need and select ‘Status’. 
  • Open ‘Wireless properties’. 
  • Go to the ‘Security’ tab and tick ‘Show characters’ box. The password will appear next to the ‘Network security key’ box. 

No internet connection? 

No internet, no problem! You can still find your network security key on your Mac or Windows computer if you’re only connected to the network but without internet. Just scroll up and follow the instructions above.  

Tips for choosing a strong network security key 

A relaxed approach to password security is a high-risk strategy if you want to keep your network and personal data safe. Did you know that most default Wi-Fi and router passwords are stored on router manufacturers’ websites making them easily accessible to anyone looking for a network? 

Protect yourself online by following our top tips for choosing a strong network key:  

  • Change the default: First step—change the default password to your own password. 
  • Go long: Make your password as long as possible; the longer it is, the harder it is to crack. 
  • Be different: Use a random and non-sequential combination of letters, numbers, and symbols or special characters (especially &, !, @, #, $, %, ^) to increase complexity. Don’t use easily guessable important dates or names. 
  • Memory hack: Remember those old spelling hacks? Think of a phrase that helps you remember your password (“Big Elephants Can Always Understand 7 Small Elephants”) 
  • Stay flexible: Change your password every few months to keep would-be hackers on their toes. 
  • Don’t reuse: We’re all for recycling, except here. Choose a secure password and don’t reuse it—or a variation of it—across all your accounts. That way, if a hacker accesses your network, it won’t immediately open the door to every other aspect of your life.   
  • Get help: Stuck for ideas? Try the Avira Password Manager to generate strong, unique passwords and help securely store them. It can even be set to auto-fill your details when you log in to your online accounts.  

What is the Network Security Key Mismatch Error and how can you fix it? 

We know how frustrating an error message can be when you’re trying to get on with something online. If you see the Network Security Key Mismatch Error, it means something is preventing you from connecting to the Wi-Fi network. This is a common problem and can even occur after you’ve joined a network. The error can be caused by a few issues: 

  • Incorrect password: Easily done! Check you’ve included all the digits or characters and got your upper and lowercase letters in the right places. Try typing it into a note or Word doc to check your text is right first.  
  • Incompatible device: You may find that the operating system on your device (phone/laptop) is outdated and this is causing a mismatch with your router. Update your software to the latest version and if using Windows, also update your drivers. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, you may have to contact your router’s technical support. 
  • Router crashes: If you’ve got the latest software and the correct password, but the error is still happening, it may be because your router has crashed. A flashing or unusual light on your router will flag this. Try the simplest trick in the book: Switch your router off and on again and it may magically start working—no wand/IT qualification required.  

Find out more about the signs to look out for if your Wi-Fi router has been attacked or your network security compromised in our Wi-Fi router security guide. Reputable anti-threat protection is essential for all your devices and home or business networks. Avira Free Security combines multiple protection, performance, and privacy features (including free VPN), making it easier to keep systems updated and free from even the latest threats.  


What is my hotspot network security key? 

Your hotspot network security key is the password you’ll need when you want to share your mobile data and connect another device to your mobile phone’s internet network. Here’s how to get connected: 

  • For iPhone/iOS: Go to ‘Settings’ > ‘Personal Hotspot’ > ‘Wi-Fi Password’ 
  • For Android: Go to ‘Settings’ > ‘Connections’ > ‘Mobile Hotspot and Tethering’ > ‘Mobile Hotspot’ > ‘Password  

How to keep your network secure 

Along with changing your default network security key, using a password generator such as Avira Password Manager and regularly changing your passwords, there are a few other ways to help keep your network as secure as possible: 

  • Create a separate guest network: By setting up multiple networks on the same router, you can isolate your family’s and any visitors’ usage, thereby reducing the risk of unauthorized access, cyberattacks, and malware infections. 
  • Enable MAC filtering: MAC filtering allows you to be specific about which devices can connect to your network based on their MAC address, even if they have the correct network security key. This helps control and prevent piggybacking and hacking. 
  • Set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your router: A VPN such as Avira Phantom VPN encrypts the internet connection on the devices connected to your router and masks your real IP address. The result? Greater online privacy and freedom. This guide shows you how to find your IP address and explores how a VPN can keep you safer online. Avira Phantom VPN is available for Windows (VPN for PC), for Mac (VPN for Mac), Android (VPN for Android) and iOS (VPN for iOS 

How often should I change my network security key? 

We recommend changing your network security key every three months. This makes sure all devices are removed from your network and only those with your new password will be able to reconnect. This helps give you complete control over who can access your Wi-Fi network. 

Is the network security key the same as the password?  

In short, yes. The network security key is the same as the password needed to connect to your Wi-Fi network. It’s a vital layer of cyber-protection you won’t want to do without.  

Choose greater privacy and security for all your devices, wherever you are 

Access the sites and services you love—with greater privacy and security— by using a VPN like the free Avira Phantom VPN. It offers end-to-end encryption and a strict no-logs privacy policy, so you can be assured that your digital life will be more secure and optimized. Avira Phantom VPN helps route your online activities via a private tunnel, helping ensure that your data and communications are less accessible to hackers and eavesdroppers. It can also assign you a different anonymous IP address with every connection. So, you’re free to live your best digital life, wherever you are, whether you’re online banking shopping, browsing, working more securely from your local coffee shop or travelling the world listening to your favourite tunes.  


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Freelance Cybersecurity Writer
Nicola Massier-Dhillon is an experienced cybersecurity and technology writer. Nicola spent many years as a senior copywriter and creative lead in marketing agencies, crafting compelling content and campaigns for major tech brands like HP, Dell, and Microsoft. She originally hales from Namibia and is a passionate advocate for the conservation of wild habitats--also putting her words to work for charities, eco-tourism, and healthcare. Nicola spends her time looking after her (wild) twins, rescue cats, and a crested gecko called Giles.
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