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How to Hack Wi-Fi Passwords

Chances are you have a Wi-Fi network at home, or live close to one (or more) that tantalizingly pops up in a list whenever you boot up the laptop or look at the phone.

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The problem is, if there’s a lock next to the network name (AKA the SSID, or service set identifier), that indicates security is activated. Without a password or passphrase, you’re not going to get access to that network, or the sweet, sweet internet that goes with it.

Perhaps you forgot the password on your own network, or don’t have neighbors willing to share the Wi-Fi goodness. You could just go to a café, buy a latte, and use the “free” Wi-Fi there. Download an app for your phone like WiFi-Map (available for iOS and Android), and you’ll have a list of millions of hotspots with free Wi-Fi for the taking (including some passwords for locked Wi-Fi connections, if they’re shared by any of the app’s users).

However, there are other ways to get back on the wireless. Some require such extreme patience and waiting that the café idea is going to look pretty good. Read on if you can’t wait.

Windows Commands to Get the Key

This trick works to recover a Wi-Fi network password (AKA network security key) only if you’ve previously attached to the Wi-Fi in question using that very password. In other words, it only works if you’ve forgotten a previously used password.

It works because Windows 8 and 10 create a profile of every Wi-Fi network to which you connect. If you tell Windows to forget the network, then it also forgets the password, so this won’t work. But most people never explicitly do that.

It requires that you go into a Windows Command Prompt  with administrative privileges. Use Cortana to search for “cmd” and the menu will show Command Prompt; right-click that entry and select “Run as administrator.” That’ll open the black box full of text with the prompt inside—it’s the line with a > at the end, probably something like C:\WINDOWS\system32\>. A blinking cursor will indicate where you type. Start with this:

netsh wlan show profile

ADMIN CONTROL

The results will bring up a section called User Profiles—those are all the Wi-Fi networks (aka WLANs, or wireless local area networks) you’ve accessed and saved. Pick the one you want to get the password for, highlight it, and copy it. At the prompt below, type the following, but replace the Xs with the network name you copied; you only need the quotation marks if the network name has spaces in it, like “Cup o Jo Cafe.”

netsh wlan show profile name=”XXXXXXXX” key=clear

In the new data that comes up, look under Security Settings for the line “Key Content.” The word displayed is the Wi-Fi password/key you are missing.

On macOS, open up the Spotlight search (Cmd+Space) and type terminal to get the Mac equivalent of a command prompt. Type the following, replacing the Xs with the network name.

security find-generic-password -wa XXXXX

Reset the Router

This isn’t for getting on someone else’s Wi-Fi. You need physical access to the router for this to work. But, before you do a full router reset simply to get on your own Wi-Fi, try to log into the router first. From there, you can easily reset your Wi-Fi password/key if you’ve forgotten it.

That’s not possible if you don’t know the password for the router. (The Wi-Fi password and router password are not the same thing—unless you assigned the same password to both). Resetting the router only works if you have access via Wi-Fi (which we’ve just established you don’t have) or by physically utilizing an Ethernet cable.

If you’ve got a router that came from your internet service provider (ISP), check the stickers on the unit before a reset—the ISP might have printed the SSID and network security key right on the hardware.

Or use the nuclear option: Almost every router in existence has a recessed reset button. Push it with a pen or unfolded paperclip, hold it for about 10 seconds, and the router will reset to the factory settings.

Router Reset button

Once a router is reset, you’ll need that other username/password combo to access the router itself. Again, do this via a PC attached to the router via Ethernet—you’ll need to, since the reset probably killed any potential Wi-Fi connection for the moment. The actual access is typically done with a web browser.

(Some routers may also have a sticker with that default Wi-Fi network name (SSID) and network security key (password) so you can indeed go back on the Wi-Fi after a reset; that’s the case with my own Netgear Nighthawk, for example.)

The URL to type into the browser to access a router’s settings is typically 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1, or some variation. Try them randomly; that generally works. To determine which one, on a PC connected to the router via Ethernet, open a command prompt and type “ipconfig” without the quotes. Look among the gobbledygook for an “IPv4 Address,” which will start with 192.168. The other two spaces, called octets, are going to be different numbers between 0 and 255. Note the third octet (probably a 1 or 0). The fourth is specific to the PC you’re using to log into the router.

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