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Introduction - Wifi Passwords
Wireless Internet, or wifi, is usually provided in a small wireless network projected by a router. If you want to use a router to surf using a wireless connection, then you need to have the encryption key. This wifi password is just like any other password. When you establish the connection to the router, you have to prove that you're allowed to set up a wireless connection by providing the necessary code. This is usually an encryption key that the owner set up. Finding the encryption key isn't that difficult, as long as you have access to the router. Read below for more details.
Obviously this doesn't apply to public hotspots or unsecured wireless routers. Neither of these require a password for access and anyone can connect with a few clicks (once the network is detected). We have an article on how to find good free public wifi locations.
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Finding Your Wifi Password
Getting the wifi password from a router is actually pretty easy. Just log on to your router. To do this, you will need to have a physical connection to your router through an ethernet cable. You can't establish a wireless connection to your router without the password, and if you had the password you wouldn't be here (and even if you did, default wireless router security turns off remote access).
Connect your computer to the router with an ethernet cable, then open up any Internet browser and type in the website login address (I know netgear offers one as an alternative) or just the router's IP address. This is usually 192.168.1.1. Just type that in as the web address (http://192.168.1.1) and it should pull up the router setup page and a box to type in the username and password.
If you never set a new password, then it should just be username:admin and password:password. If that doesn't work, just check the router brand's website for what their default password usually is.
If you set a password on a router and forgot it, or bought/adopted a router from someone, then just reset the router to its default settings. To do this, you just need to find the little reset button. It's usually a small hole. If you shove the end of a paper clip or a pencil in their and hold it for a few seconds, it should reset. Then go through the normal router setup process. You'll have to go through a few minutes of setup, check for updates and set a new encryption key.
Regardless of how you reach the router's setup page, look for the tab that handles the wireless settings. On the same page that you can use to change the wireless password, you should be able to find a list of the encryption keys that you originally set. Just write down the code, or copy and paste it into a word document or notepad. This code should allow you to log onto your wireless Internet connection normally. Just look up the router in the Windows Connection Wizard and click it twice. Enter the password and you should be able to connect.
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Conclusion - Wifi Password
If you still can't get online with the correct encryption key or password, then you probably have another problem. If you're using an older computer, then it may not be able to handle the level of encryption that the router is using. Downgrade the encryption level and try again to see if it works. WEP isn't that secure anymore, but you may not have a real choice with older technology.
See if MAC filtering is turned on. If it is, then you need to try to connect to the network and then allow your MAC address to use it. Or just turn it off. It's not vital to network security, consider the relative ease with which a hacker can spoof a MAC address.
You may also need to just restart the router. Try unplugging it and pulling it back in. That fixes a shocking number of problems.
If none of these work, then I guess you need to read my article on wireless hacking.
Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wireless_tower.svg