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A network security key usually refers to the password or alphanumeric key that end users enter to access a local area network.
In common use, the network security key differs from other network keys used to determine network addresses, etc. A security key is a resource for a specific security protocol that helps secure the local network.
The common security protocols include Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and WPA2. These different protocols each offer their own methods for keeping networks safe. WEP was the first security protocol developed for wireless networking. It is easy to configure, but also has certain vulnerabilities. An alternative is WPA, which commonly uses a pre-shared key (PSK) and, for many IT professionals, offers better encryption service. WPA2 emerged from WPA as a more modern choice.
Typically, the network security key is entered at key points in setting up a network and in accessing the network from a device. Network security keys can be stored for easy use, so the end user does not have to remember the key every single time that he or she logs on. However, the use of network security keys can be frustrating and vexing for many end users, for example, when there are problems with the calibration or setup of the protocol, when they forget their keys or when they do not know what the key is because someone else had set up the network. Companies are now experimenting with other forms of security than security keys, including biometrics, where the system uses a person’s unique physical characteristics for access, instead of requiring him/her to remember a key or password.