Network sniffer is a software tool that monitors, or sniffs out the data flowing over computer network links in real time. It can be a self-contained software program or a hardware device with the appropriate software or firmware.
Network sniffing is used for ethical as well as unethical purposes. Network administrators use these as network monitoring and analyser tools to diagnose and prevent network-related problems such as traffic bottlenecks.
Network sniffers can take snapshot copies of the data without redirecting or altering it. Some sniffers work only with TCP/IP packets, but the more sophisticated tools can work with many other network protocols and at lower levels, including Ethernet frames.
Network sniffers are sometimes referred to as network probes, wireless sniffers, Ethernet sniffers, packet sniffers, packet analyzers, or simply snoops.
What Packet Analyzers Are Used For
There’s a wide range of applications for packet sniffers but most data probing tools do not differentiate between a nefarious reason and a harmless, normal one. In other words, most packet sniffers can be used inappropriately by one person and for legitimate reasons by another.
A program that can capture passwords, for example, could be used by a hacker but the same tool might be used by a network administrator for finding network statistics like available bandwidth.
A sniffer might also be useful for testing firewall or web filters or troubleshooting client/server relationships.
Network Sniffer Tools
Wireshark is widely recognized as the world’s most popular network sniffer. Wireshark supports traffic captures through a start/stop push button interface. The tool also contains various filtering options that limit what data is displayed and included in captures – a critical feature since traffic on most networks contain many different kinds of routine control messages that are usually not of interest.
tcpdump is a common network sniffer that runs under the command line. It allows the user to display TCP/IP and other packets being transmitted or received over a network to which the computer is attached. Distributed under the BSD license, tcpdump is free software.
CloudShark is a web based network sniffer. CDRouter uses CloudShark technology to allow BuddyWeb users to view the packet decodes from their test sessions directly in the log viewer. CloudShark also allows the entire capture file to be viewed in your browser instead of downloading it and opening it with a separate application.
Cain and Abel
Cain and Abel is a password recovery tool for Microsoft Windows. It can recover many kinds of passwords using methods such as network packet sniffing, cracking various password hashes by using methods such as dictionary attacks, brute force and cryptanalysis attacks.
Issues with Network Sniffers
Sniffer tools offer a great way to learn how protocols work. However, they also give easy access to some private information such as network passwords. Check with the owners to get permission before using a sniffer on someone else’s network.
Network probes can only intercept data from networks their host computer is attached to. On some connections, sniffers only capture the traffic addressed to that particular network interface. Many Ethernet network interfaces support so-called promiscuous mode that allows a sniffer to pick up all traffic passing through that network link (even if not addressed directly to the host.)
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