Finding Your WPA Key
A WPA or Wi-Fi Protected Access key is a means of restricting access to a wireless internet connection. WPA and WPA2 are certification programs that require users to input a password or key chosen by the owner of the wi-fi connection in order to use it. WPA2 is a more advanced version of WPA. Older computers may not be compatible with WPA2. WPA2 is now the standard wireless Internet security protocol.
The first time a computer is connected to a wireless network, the WPA key must be input in order to get online. The computer should then remember the key and automatically use it whenever that particular wireless connection is used in the future.
In order to prevent unwanted users from accessing the connection, it is important to choose a password that cannot easily be guessed. It can be between 8 and 63 characters long, and composed on letters, numbers and punctuation marks. It can be difficult to remember a complex password, so many people who need to set up a new computer or re-enter the password into their existing computer for some reason, cannot recall the exact WPA key that they chose. It is sensible to have a written copy of the password stored somewhere safe, but if none is available, it is still possible to recover the WPA key.
In some cases, the wireless router may have a WPA key printed on a sticker attached to it. Programs are also available online that can recover a WPA key.
To find the WPA key on a Windows Vista computer, open the Control Panel (accessed through the start menu). Click on Network and Internet and select connect to network. This will open up a list of wireless connections. Right click on the connection you need the WPA key for, and choose Properties on the menu that opens up. Check the box to show characters and the WPA key will become readable.
A WPA key that has been saved on a Windows 7 computer can be viewed by opening up the wireless network properties panel for the wireless connection. Click on the bars in the toolbar that show the strength of the wireless signal. This opens a list of all the available wireless connections. Right click on the relevant connection, and select Properties from the menu that appears. This opens the wireless properties panel. Check the box marked Show characters in order to make the hidden WPA key visible. The wireless connection can also be managed through the Control Panel.
It is not possible to view the characters of the network security key using Windows XP.
If the WPA key cannot be recovered, it can be changed through the wireless router. This can only be done from a computer with a wired connection to the router, usually through an Ethernet cable. The router is accessed through an Internet browser, such as Internet Explorer or Firefox. Any browser can be used. The IP address of the router is put into the address bar. Most browsers use the default IP address http://192.168.1.1 but users can change this if they wish, and some brands of router may use a different default IP address. The default IP address is listed in the router manual. In order to change the router settings, it is necessary to login with a username and password. The router manual will specify the default username and password. This will usually be username “admin” and password “admin” or a blank password field (without the quotes). The username and password can be changed by the connection owner. Once logged in to the router, it is possible to delete the old WPA key and type in a new one. The old WPA key cannot usually be read from the screen as the characters are replaced by stars or circles. Some brands of router may allow the user to set the WPA key to visible. In this case, it is possible to recover the old WPA key.
If the WPA key cannot be changed using the above method, perhaps because the IP address or the username and password have been changed and are no longer known, then it is possible to reset the wireless router to its default settings. This is done by pressing and holding down the reset button for up to 30 seconds. This button is located somewhere on the router, often underneath it or at the back. It is usually small and inconspicuous, and will need to be pushed with a small, thin object such as a pencil. The IP address, username and password will then return to the default settings, as listed in the router manual. A new WPA key can then be chosen, and written down in order to prevent this situation arising again.