802.1X Authentication on an OS X System

When I attempted to connect to a wireless network, after changing a password for authenticating with systems in use at a location, when I arrived at that location today with my MacBook Pro laptop, I found that instead of connecting to the wireless network at that location automatically, I was not able to establish a connection to the WiFi network. When I checked the Network settings under System Preferences, I found that for the Wi-Fi connection it was showing "Self-Assigned IP" with the message "Wi-Fi has the self-assigned IP address and will not be able to connect to the Internet. For that network, the laptop needs to authenticate with 802.1X to gain access to the network." But the status for 802.1X was stuck at "Authenticating."

802.1X Authenticating

Eventually a message appeared stating "Authentication failed on network".

802.1X Authentication Failed

I clicked on the Disconnect button, the only option available in that window.

I can change the 802.1X password through the Keychain Access utility, which is located in /Applications/Utilities. To find an 802.1X entry, click on Edit then select Find and search for 802.1X. You should see an entry with a "Kind" of "802.1X Password".

Keychain Access 802.1X Entry

You can change the password by double-clicking on the entry.

Keychain Access 802.1X Entry 

Then click on "Show password". Another window will appear stating "Keychain Access wants to use your confidential information stored in name_of_entry in your keychain." There will be three buttons: Always Allow, Deny, and Allow. If you want to allow the access type the login keychain password and click on "Always Allow" or "Allow".

Keychain Access wants

You will then see the password displayed in the "Show password" field and can change it and click on the Save Changes button, if you wish to modify the password. After I modifed the password to be the currently valid password, I was able to successfully complete the 801.2X authentication.

If you wish to view the password from a command line interface (CLI), you can open a Terminal window and use the security command with the find-generic-password parameter using the -ga or -gD options as shown below:

$ security find-generic-password -ga "jasmith1" | grep "password:"
password: "ASecretPassword"
$ security find-generic-password -gD "802.1X Password" | grep "password:"
password: "ASecretPassword"

The meaning of those options is listed below - see the man page for the security command:

-gDisplay the password for the item found
-aMatch account string
-DMatch kind string

You can change the password from the Terminal shell prompt using a security add-generic-password command.

$ security add-generic-password
Usage: add-generic-password [-a account] [-s service] [-w password] [options...] [-A|-T appPath] [keychain]
    -a  Specify account name (required)
    -c  Specify item creator (optional four-character code)
    -C  Specify item type (optional four-character code)
    -D  Specify kind (default is "application password")
    -G  Specify generic attribute (optional)
    -j  Specify comment string (optional)
    -l  Specify label (if omitted, service name is used as default label)
    -s  Specify service name (required)
    -p  Specify password to be added (legacy option, equivalent to -w)
    -w  Specify password to be added
    -A  Allow any application to access this item without warning (insecure, not recommended!)
    -T  Specify an application which may access this item (multiple -T options are allowed)
    -U  Update item if it already exists (if omitted, the item cannot already exist)

By default, the application which creates an item is trusted to access its data without warning.
You can remove this default access by explicitly specifying an empty app pathname: -T ""
If no keychain is specified, the password is added to the default keychain.
        Add a generic password item.

E.g., assuming the settings in the example above which were:

Kind:802.1X Password

I could use the second security command shown below to change the password from "ASecretPassword" to "ItsASecret".

$ security find-generic-password -gD "802.1X Password" | grep "password:"
password: "ASecretPassword"
$ security add-generic-password -a jasmith1 -s com.apple.network.eap.user.item.wlan.ssid.asa -l asa -D "802.1X Password" -U -w "ItsASecret"
$ security find-generic-password -gD "802.1X Password" | grep "password:"
password: "ItsASecret"

The -a option, which specifies the account, is required. The -D option specifies the entry "Kind", which is "802.1X Password". The -s specifies the service name; I had to use com.apple.network.eap.user.item.wlan.ssid.asa for that value to update the existing entry, even though I used -U to specify that I wanted to update an existing entry. Otherwise, a new keychain entry would be created. To avoid that value also being inserted in the Name field, I used the -l option to speify a label, which goes into the Name field. Otherwise, whatever I put for the value for the -s option would go into the Name field as well.

Note: I can enter a password that contains an exclamation mark (!) through the Keychain Access GUI, but I initially had problems entering a password that contained an exclamation mark through the command line interface using security. If I just put in the exclamation mark without an escape character preceding it, it was interpreted by the Bash shell and I saw the message -sh: !" event not found. But, if I preceded it with a backslash (\) as an escape character, then the backslash character was included in the stored password as shown below, which was not what I needed.

$ security add-generic-password -a jasmith1 -s com.apple.network.eap.user.item.wlan.ssid.asa -l asa -D "802.1X Password" -U -w "ItsASecret!"
-sh: !": event not found
$ security add-generic-password -a jasmith1 -s com.apple.network.eap.user.item.wlan.ssid.asa -l asa -D "802.1X Password" -U -w "ItsASecret\!"
$ security find-generic-password -gD "802.1X Password" | grep "password:"
password: 0x497473415365637265745C21  "ItsASecret\134!"

In the case above, when I queried the password with security find-generic-password, I saw "\134!" as part of the password rather than just the exclamation mark that I expected at the end of the password. The number 134 is the octal representation of the backslash character as can be seen in the ASCII Table and Description. But, if I examined that password by double-clicking on the relevant entry in Keychain Access and checking "Show password", then I saw ItsASecret\!. I could change the password there to be ItsASecret!, though and see what I expected when I quered the value from the command line.

$ security find-generic-password -gD "802.1X Password" | grep "password:"
password: "ItsASecret!"

I found the solution was to to enclose the password in single quotes rather than double quotes, so I would recommend using those for any passwords containing non alphanumeric characters.

$ security add-generic-password -a jasmith1 -s com.apple.network.eap.user.item.wlan.ssid.asa -l asa -D "802.1X Password" -U -w 'AnotherSecret!'
$ security find-generic-password -gD "802.1X Password" | grep "password:"
password: "AnotherSecret!"

You can also delete the entry from the keychain using the delete-generic-password parameter. You can issue the command security delete-generic-password -h to see available options:

$ security delete-generic-password -h
Usage: delete-generic-password [-a account] [-s service] [options...] keychain...]
    -a  Match "account" string
    -c  Match "creator" (four-character code)
    -C  Match "type" (four-character code)
    -D  Match "kind" string
    -G  Match "value" string (generic attribute)
    -j  Match "comment" string
    -l  Match "label" string
    -s  Match "service" string
If no keychains are specified to search, the default search list is used.
        Delete a generic password item.

For the example shown above where the SSID is "asa" and the account name is "jasmith1", I could use the command shown below. You will see a lot of information starting with "class" related to the entry you are deleting, but at the end of the output you should see "password has been deleted."

$ security delete-generic-password -a jasmith1 -D "802.1X Password"
keychain: "/Users/jasmith1/Library/Keychains/login.keychain"
class: "genp"
    0x00000007 <blob>="asa"
    0x00000008 <blob>=<NULL>
    "cdat"<timedate>=0x32303136303333303232343935305A00  "20160330224950Z\000"
    "desc"<blob>="802.1X Password"
    "mdat"<timedate>=0x32303136303333303232343935305A00  "20160330224950Z\000"
password has been deleted.

If you delete the entry, either through the Keychain Access GUI or from the Terminal CLI, the next time you attempt to connect to the wireless network you should be prompted for the password to use, which is another alternative to fixing the problem for 802.1X authentication failure due to an old password being used.


  1. Fix for 802.1X authentication failing after password change
    Date: November 30, 2015
    MoonPoint Support


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