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What is a network security key?

Hybrid working is the new way to work and with it comes increased security risks which is why network security keys are vital – but what are they?

As more of us embrace the idea of hybrid working following the pandemic, there has been a greater emphasis on network and online security. Working from home brings many advantages, including flexibility and freedom, but file sharing online and accessing business information through our personal devices and home networks does present potential cyber threats and security risks. Network security keys are one of the things protecting us from these issues.

Definition of a network security key

Network security keys are essentially passwords or codes used to access a secure private network from your computer or smart device. A network is only secure if it has a key, otherwise it would be public. If you have ever been given a password by a library or restaurant to use its Wi-Fi then you have used a network security key. In your own home, it’s simply your Wi-Fi password. However, in the new era of hybrid and remote working, with workforces accessing business documents from home or public places, it’s increasingly important for individuals and organisations to understand online security.

The different types of network security keys

There are several different types of network security key, and some are stronger and more sophisticated than others so it’s important to know the difference. The three main types of network security key available are:

  • WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy): One of the earliest encryption and security keys. It was effective back in 1997 but has now been surpassed. Despite this, WEP keys are still in use in some parts of the world.
  • WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access): Introduced in 2003 as a more advanced replacement for WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), WPA uses a form of encryption called Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP), which is superior to the protection offered by the older WEP.
  • WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access2): Essentially the better, faster, stronger sequel, WPA2 is currently the strongest network security key that is widely available. While WPA2 still utilises TKIP, it also uses the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) algorithm, which is a significantly more robust and complex encryption protocol. Since 2006, WPA2 has been a regular feature on all verified Wi-Fi hardware. In 2018, WPA3 was released by the Wi-Fi Alliance, but as it is still being implemented, certified hardware is not widespread at the present time.

The benefits of a network security key

Network security keys are absolutely essential. Without them, a network is unsecure, which means it can be accessed by anyone, including criminals and hackers. This could leave you and your organisation vulnerable and put you in danger of a disastrous and costly data breach. Therefore, the benefits of network security keys cannot be understated. They protect individuals, businesses, and organisations, from a range of cyber threats. Here is a quick summary:

  • Ensure your network is private and secure
  • Protect networks from hackers and criminals by restricting access
  • Safeguard personal information and identities through encryption such as AES (Advanced Encryption Standard)
  • Prevent software and hardware from being compromised
  • Blocks a variety of malicious web threats, viruses, and spyware, from accessing the network

How do I find a network security key?

There are a few different ways to find a network security key. On a Wi-Fi router, it is usually labelled on the hardware itself. If it’s not there, another option is to log in to your router and access the settings. You can also check your security key using any computer or smart device if it is already connected to the network (or has been in the past). The network key will be saved in the settings. On Apple devices for instance, you will be able to view your security key from the passwords stored in Keychain Access. There are similar functions on Windows computers and Android devices, usually through the Wireless Properties tab, for viewing previously saved passwords and security keys.


Network security keys protect users and their data. In doing so, they also help businesses and other organisations to stay safe and secure online. In today’s hybrid era, where work often takes place between work and home and colleagues work together online from multiple locations, maintaining network and online security is vital. An understanding of how network security keys work, choosing the strongest protection, and following good practice, could be the difference between staying safe and falling victim to online criminals.


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