Introduction

Networking has made our lives simpler in multiple ways to a great extent. But, the security aspect of networking is still a challenge. There are various ways of adding security features to a network. A network security key helps to authenticate the connection made to a wireless network and is widely used to secure a network. 

A user can connect to a network or a device by requesting the correct NSK (Network Security Key). Many people confuse an NSK with a simple password when it is much more than that. Security features are needed to protect our data and information from intruders and cybercriminals. Read on to know about the network security key and its applications.

  1. What is a Network Security Key?
  2. Why do we Need NSK?
  3. Types of Network Security Keys
  4. How to find NSK for Windows and Wireless Router
  5. Changing Wi-Fi Password
  6. NSK Mismatch and How to Fix it?
  7. Is NSK the Same as a Password?
  8. Advantages of NSK

1) What is a Network Security Key?

Before getting into the details of NSK, you should be familiar with what network security is. Network security comprises policies, standards, and techniques used to prevent unauthorized access to a network. The misuse of data/information over a network can be avoided via robust network security.

A Network security key is a type of password/passphrase used to gain access to a private network or device. Unlike other passwords, a network security key can be digital, biometric, or physical as per the user’s choice. A network consists of access points and routers that are secured by an NSK. Unauthorized users cannot enter your network as they do not know the network security key. It helps protect your files and information present on the wireless network or any device connected to the network.

A network security key should be strong and challenging to guess randomly. The data packets exchanged via a private network are also authenticated by an NSK. A network security key establishes a secure connection between the user/client and the network under usage. 

2) Why do we Need NSK?

We need an NSK for securing our networks and devices that are connected to them. The use cases of NSKs are as follows:

  • To ban or restrict unauthorized access to Wi-Fi & other wireless networks.
  • To secure the access points and routers of any network.
  • To encrypt data packets exchanged through a network or across devices.
  • To provide a secure connection between a device and a trusted personal network or any other wireless network.
  • To provide security to large-scale networks like that of organizations or enterprises.

Network security key has many use cases besides just authenticating the user’s request to join a network. It is also helpful for various chores like securing online transactions, online shopping, and financial activities.

3) Types of Network Security Keys

The network security key can be of four types:

  1. WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy): WEP is a traditional network security key that aids in granting access to authorized users in a network. A 40-bit static encryption code is used to authorize users via WEP. It helps secure the data packets exchanged between a router and devices connected to it. It is a basic form of network security key that provides less security than other types of NSK.

It uses CRC (Cyclic Redundancy Check) for identifying errors and implementing the required corrections. CRC detects the spontaneous/accidental changes to data present on the digital networks. A short check value is attached to the data blocks that are entering a network via CRC. Even with CRC, WEP is not of much importance if you have high-security standards.

  1. WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access): The network security key for each data packet in a network is different in WPA. For each data packet, an intruder has to crack a different NSK that enhances the security. The system creates a 128-bit key dynamically every time a data packet enters a system. WPA also performs message integrity checks to identify errors and corrections.

WPA uses TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) that provides a viable link-layer security to wireless networks. The secret access key is combined with the initialization vector by TKIP. A mixing function is created by TKIP that is used to connect the secret root key with the initialization vector. WPA is more secure as compared to WEP but less than the other modern-day security measures.

  1. WPA-PSK (Wi-Fi Protected Access Pre-Shared Key): A 256-bit key is pre-shared in WPA-PSK used to extract a 128-bit key. The 128-bit key is then used to secure/encrypt the data packets being shared over a network. It is widely used for authenticating clients on a local area network. Telecom companies also use WPA-PSK to provide access to their users in their respective home networks. It is also referred to as WPA Personal or WPA2-PSK.

WPA-PSK is often used with AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) to achieve high cybersecurity standards. Hackers intercept the data packets that are being transmitted and then break the encryption of the network. The messages transferred on a network that contains WPA-PSK are encrypted by the pre-shared key, making it difficult for hackers (especially brute force attackers). The WPA-PSK works on MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) making it hard for attackers to intrude. 

  1. WPA2 Enterprise: Enterprises and organizations also use the WPA2 key to secure their network. The organization installs an authentication server in this case. It helps in authenticating the employees connected to the network or server. The authenticating server used in WPA2 Enterprise is also termed as RADIUS server. A database that contains the credentials of employees is connected with the RADIUS server and helps it in the authentication process.

Since businesses have resources to set up a server, the security is enhanced multiple times via WPA2 Enterprise compared to WPA-PSK. It has been specifically developed for enterprises and organizations.

Wireless networks need to be protected from intruders to gain access to our data and information and even misuse them. You can use any of the above NSKs for enhancing the security of your wireless networks.

4) How to find NSK for Windows and Wireless Router

One can easily forget the NSK for the routers and devices. Well, it can be recovered using your router and Windows even after you have forgotten it. Let us see how to get a network security key for windows and a wireless router:

  1. Finding NSK for Windows

The NSK is saved on the Windows system and can be backtracked whenever needed. Follow the steps mentioned below to find NSK for Windows.

  • Right-click on the Start Menu on your Windows home. You will see an ‘Options’ button, select ‘Settings’ from the ‘Options’ button.
  • Click on the ‘Network and Internet’ option in ‘Settings,’ and then traverse to the ‘Network & Sharing Centre.’
  • All the networks connected to your Windows system will be displayed here. Click on the network whose security key you need.
  • Once you have chosen the network, click on the ‘Wireless Properties’ of the respective network. After this, navigate to the ‘Security Tab.’
  • A masked password/passphrase will be visible to you. You can click on the ‘Show Password’ option to find your security key.
  • You can use this network security key to connect any device to your home network.
  1. Finding NSK for router

You can easily find NSK on your router. Look for ‘Password,’ ‘WPA Key,’ or ‘Wireless Security Key’ on your router, and you can find the respective NSK. The NSK of a router is also saved on the connected devices and can be backtracked.

For other devices like Mac and smartphones, one can find the respective NSK. The NSK in Mac can be found in the ‘Utilities’ section. In smartphones, the NSK can be found in ‘Hotspot Settings.’

5) Changing Wi-Fi Password

Every router or access point comes with a default network security. It is recommended to change the default NSK or your Wi-Fi password when you opt for a new router. A wireless network can be visible to various users that are within the range. It is essential to change your NSK at regular intervals. The process of changing the Wi-Fi password depends on the type of router and access point. 

To change the NSK of the router, you need to know the IP address of the router first. To find the router’s IP address in Windows, click on the ‘Start button and select ‘Run.’ Then type ‘cmd’ and press enter the ‘Run’ section. A black command box will be displayed to the user; type ‘ipconfig’ in the command box and press enter. You can copy the IP address from the ‘Default Gateway’ line displayed on the command box. Examples of IP addresses of routers are 192.168.1.1, 192.168.0.1, etc.

Once you have copied the IP address, follow the steps mentioned below to modify it. 

  • Type the IP address of your router in a web browser.
  • The login page of the router will be displayed to you; enter the login credentials.
  • Find the webpage with ‘Wireless Settings’ or ‘Wireless Security.’
  • Change the NSK and choose a strong password. It is recommended you use a passphrase that is a combination of alphabets (small and big caps), digits, and symbols. Password length should be greater than ten characters.

A lot of networks also provide personalized applications or portals for managing the network security key. You can use those services to modify your NSK easily if the method mentioned above seems complex.

6) NSK Mismatch and How to Fix it?

NSK mismatch occurs when the key/passphrase you are using to connect to a wireless network is incorrect. NSK mismatch can occur due to the following reasons:

  • Incorrect key/password: In most cases, NSK mismatch occurs because you entered the wrong password/key. Cross-check the key once again and keep in mind that it is case-sensitive. You can copy the password from a word/notepad file in the NSK password section to avoid NSK mismatch.
  • Device Incompatibility: If a device cannot connect to a network, it may happen because it isn’t compatible with the network. The network may be visible to your device, but you cannot connect to it. It occurs as the network security protocol of the device and the network do not match. For example, older devices aren’t compatible to connect with the new WPA2 network.
  • Router Issues: Sometimes, the router/access point hangs, leading to the NSK mismatch scenario. You can reboot or pull off the router plug to solve this situation. If nothing works, you can reset the wireless network and try again.

7) Is NSK the Same as a Password?

NSK is commonly referred to as the Wi-Fi password or the wireless network password. A password can be anything that protects a piece of information from getting into unauthorized hands. The passwords for various applications in a device cannot be considered NSK because they are not shared on the network. NSK is only used to establish a secure connection between the user and a network. The clients use NSK to gain authorization to enter a wireless network.

The messages shared over a network secured with an NSK are encrypted, and someone having the appropriate key can only alter/modify the encrypted messages. Having a strong NSK of your wireless network is essential to avoid unknown users entering your network.

8) Advantages of NSK

IT professionals understand the need for network security as new encryption standards are evolving faster. The advantages of using NSK for protecting unauthorized access to wireless networks and access points have been discussed throughout this blog. The benefits of NSKs are summarised below:

  • It prevents unauthorized personals/hackers from entering a wireless network.
  • It encrypts the messages shared over a wireless network.
  • NSK establishes a secure connection between the user and the network.
  • It helps in granting access to only a limited number of people. For example, employees of an organization can only enter the enterprise network by using the appropriate key.

Conclusion

IT professionals and tech enthusiasts should know how to differentiate an NSK from other types of passwords and use it to protect their wireless networks. Data is a valuable commodity, and you cannot leave it out in the open to be accessed by anyone. Freshers looking to build a career in the cybersecurity sector should know about enhancing a wireless network’s security by using various types of NSK. Users should know how to find the network security key to be in control of their network. Start using a strong NSK for your wireless network today.

So, have you made up your mind to make a career in Cyber Security? Visit our Master Certificate in Cyber Security (Red Team) for further help. It is the first program in offensive technologies in India and allows learners to practice in a real-time simulated ecosystem, that will give them an edge in this competitive world.

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