What Are Packet Sniffers And 5 Best Packet Sniffers

Network technicians utilize packet sniffers or protocol analyzers as diagnostic tools for issues relating to networks. Hackers spy on network user traffic and gather passwords using packet sniffers, among other less honorable uses.

Packet Sniffers

There are various types of packet sniffers. Some of the hardware solutions used by network technicians as packet sniffers are specialized. Other packet sniffers, in contrast, are software programs that run on typical home PCs and utilize the network hardware on the host device to carry out packet capture and injection activities.

How Packet Sniffers Operate

Using the wired or wireless network interface on the host computer, packet sniffers collect and log network traffic.

The amount of data that can be gathered from a wired network depends on the network’s design. Depending on how the network switches are set up, a packet sniffer may be able to view traffic over the entire network or just a particular section. In wireless networks, packet sniffers typically only record one channel at a time unless the host computer has additional wireless interfaces that support multichannel recording.

When the raw packet data is obtained, the packet sniffing software analyzes it and displays it in an understandable format so that the user of the software may understand it. The data analyst has access to specifics on how two or more network nodes interact with one another.

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The location of a failure can be identified using this information by network technicians, for example, by identifying the device that failed to reply to a network request.

Sniffers are tools used by hackers to intercept packets and listen in on unencrypted communications to observe what data is being transmitted between two parties. If information is delivered in the open, they can also intercept it, including passwords and authentication tokens. Hackers are also known to intercept packets for subsequent replay, man-in-the-middle, and packet injection attacks that can be used against weak systems.

Using sniffers, secure a network and its data from hackers

Check out a tool called Antisniff if you’re a network technician or administrator and want to find out whether anyone on your network is using a sniffer tool. If a network interface on your network has been switched to promiscuous mode, it can identify it. Don’t laugh; that is the mode’s official name and it is necessary for jobs involving packet capture.

Using encryption protocols like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security is another approach to prevent your network communication from being snooped (TLS). While encryption won’t stop packet sniffers from seeing source and destination information, it can encrypt the payload of the data packet so that all the sniffer can decipher is random data.

Any attempt to alter or insert data into the packets is unsuccessful because doing so results in faults that are visible when the encrypted data is decoded at the other end.

Sniffers are excellent tools for detecting complex network issues. Nevertheless, they can be utilized for hacking. It’s crucial for security experts to become familiar with these technologies so they can understand how a hacker would utilize them on their network.

Types of Information Packet Sniffers Gather

Despite being essential tools for network engineers, packet sniffers are also frequently found in some reliable antivirus programs and as malware in malicious email attachments.

Data of virtually any kind can be collected using packet sniffers. A computer user’s websites visited and the content they read while there can all be recorded, as well as passwords and login details. Businesses can use them to monitor how employees use the network and to check incoming data for harmful code. A packet sniffer might in some circumstances be able to capture all network traffic.

The best packet sniffers

Experienced network administrators who already know what they’re looking for but are unsure of which tools are ideal can use the tools I’ve described in this post. They can also be used by more inexperienced sysadmins to get a feel for how contemporary networks operate on a daily basis, which can assist them to spot network problems later.

1. SolarWinds Deep Packet Inspection and Analysis tool 

A complete set of IT management tools is SolarWinds. The Deep Packet Inspection and Analysis tool is the one that is most pertinent to this subject.

Key Features:

  • Categories network traffic
  • Protocol stack analyzer
  • Live to monitor
  • Supports traffic shaping
  • 30-day free trial

It is rather simple to gather network traffic activity. Basic level analysis using software like WireShark is also not a deal breaker. But not all circumstances are so simple. It may be challenging to determine even certain basic facts on a busy network, such as:

  • What network service on the local area network is generating this traffic?
  • Where are users spending most of their time when using the application, let’s say a web browser?
  • Which connections slow down the network the most and take the longest?

To ensure that a packet reaches its destination, the majority of network devices simply use its information. The network device doesn’t know what’s in the packet. Deep Packet Inspection is distinct from this because it involves inspecting the packet’s actual contents to find out more information.

This allows for the discovery of crucial network information that cannot be obtained from the metadata. More insightful data can be provided by tools like those offered by SolarWinds than just traffic flow.

NetFlow and sFlow are other methods for controlling high-volume networks. You can read more about NetFlow and sFlow approaches here. Each has pros and limitations.

In general, network analysis is a complex subject that requires equal parts training and experience. Someone can be taught to comprehend each and every nuance of network packets. However, they won’t get very far unless they are also familiar with the target network and have some experience spotting anomalies.

Pros:
  • This all-in-one solution provides DPI and analysis features, making it a perfect choice for thorough troubleshooting and security audits.
  • The suite, which was created for the enterprise, offers effective data collecting, as well as numerous choices for visualizing and searching obtained data.
  • gives it more flexibility for bigger traffic networks by supporting both NetFlow and sFlow collection.
  • Prior to doing a thorough investigation, administrators can instantly identify problems using color coding and other visual cues.
Cons:
  • A very sophisticated program designed with network experts in mind; not recommended for home users or hobbyists

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2. Paessler Packet Capture Tool

An integrated infrastructure monitoring tool is the Paessler Packet-Capture-Tool PRTG: All-In-One-Monitoring. It aids in server and network management. The utility’s network monitoring section includes two different kinds of operations. These include a network bandwidth analyzer that tracks traffic over network links and a network performance monitor that looks at the state of network devices.

Key Features:

  • Four packet capture sensors
  • Live traffic graphs
  • Performance troubleshooting
  • Traffic alerts

In order to achieve the bandwidth analysis feature of PRTG, four separate packet capture technologies are used. Which are:

  • A packet sniffer
  • A NetFlow sensor
  • A sFlow sensor
  • A J-Flow sensor

Only the headers of the packets moving across your network are captured by the PRTG packet sniffer. As a result, the packet analyzer operates faster and requires less storage space to store capture files. Traffic on the packet sniffer is categorized by application type on the dashboard. These consist of file transfer packet volumes, web packets, chat app traffic, and email traffic.

Data flow messaging systems like NetFlow are quite popular. Although it was developed by Cisco Systems, it is also applied to equipment made by other producers. The IPFIX communications protocol, which is NetFlow’s successor and is supported by the IETF, is likewise picked up by the PRTG NetFlow sensor.

Juniper Networks uses a messaging system similar to the J-Flow approach for their hardware. The sFlow standard collects every nth packet by sampling network flows. Both NetFlow and J-Flow record unbroken streams of packets.

The number of “sensors” that a particular implementation of Paessler’s PRTG software activates determines the pricing. A sensor is a hardware element or state of a system. For instance, each of Paessler’s four packet sniffers counts as one PRTG sensor. You won’t have to pay Paessler anything if you only use this package’s packet sniffing interfaces because the system is free to use if you activate 100 sensors or fewer.

Other networks and server monitoring features offered by the Paessler system include a virtualization monitor and an application monitor. PRTG is available as a cloud service or as an on-premises installation. The software is available for a 30-day free trial and works with Windows environments.

Pros:
  • Envisioned as a monitoring tool for infrastructure that works with several types of sensors, including NetFlow, sFlow, and J-Flow
  • Enables users to alter the sensors according to the kind of application or server they are testing
  • Only records packet headers, which facilitates analysis and reduces storage costs for long-term collecting.
  • Uses straightforward but understandable graphing to visualize traffic
Cons:
  • Very complex platform; learning and using all of the capabilities requires some time.

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3. ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer

Your network devices provide traffic information to the ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer. With this program, you can select to sample traffic, record complete streams, or compile statistics on traffic trends.

Key Features:

  • SNMP-based
  • Traffic shaping
  • NetFlow, IPFIX, sFlow, J-Flow, NetStream, AppFlow

Different network device manufacturers employ different traffic data communication protocols. As a result, the NetFlow Analyzer may collect data using a variety of languages. These consist of Huawei Netstream, Juniper Networks J-Flow, and Cisco NetFlow. Additionally, it may exchange data using the sFlow, IPFIX, and AppFlow standards.

Both the consistency of data flows and the load on each network device can be monitored by the monitor. With the aid of traffic analysis tools, you can record and save packets as they transit through a device. With this information, you’ll be able to identify the network apps that are using the majority of your bandwidth and decide whether to implement traffic shaping techniques like priority queuing or throttling.

The system’s dashboard has color-coded images that make it much simpler for you to identify issues. Because they were all created on the same platform, the console’s appealing appearance and feel coordinate with other ManageEngine infrastructure monitoring products. As a result, it can be integrated with various ManageEngine solutions. For instance, network managers frequently purchase both OpManager and the NetFlow Analyzer from Manage Engine.

OpManager employs SNMP methods to monitor the status of the devices, while NetFlow Analyzer concentrates on traffic volume and packet flow patterns.

On Windows, Windows Server, RHEL, CentOS, Fedora, Debian, SUSE, and Ubuntu Linux, ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer can be installed. There are two editions of the system available.

The Essential edition includes a reporting and billing module in addition to the usual network traffic monitoring features. The Enterprise Edition is the most expensive package. This adds NBAR & CBQoS monitoring, an advanced security analytics module, capacity planning utilities, and deep packet inspection capabilities to the features of the Essential Edition. IP SLA and WLC monitoring are also included in this edition.

Pros:
  • Excellent user interface that is simple to use and maintains its clean appearance even when used on busy networks
  • It is a hardware-independent solution because it supports a variety of networking technologies, including Cisco Netflow, Juniper Networks J-Flow, and Huawei Netstream.
  • You may immediately extract insights from packet capture using pre-built templates.
    installs on both Windows and many Linux variants
  • Features for SLA tracking and monitoring built specifically for the enterprise
Cons:
  • Not the ideal choice for small LANs or home users, as it was designed for corporate companies that process a lot of data.

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4. Omnipeek Network Protocol Analyzer

LiveAction A network protocol analyzer called Omnipeek, which was once a Savvius product, may be used to both collect packets and generate protocol analyses of network traffic.

Key Features:

  • Protocol analyzer
  • Packet capture tool
  • Also for wireless networks

Plug-ins can be used to extend Omnipeek. Network packets are not captured by the main Omnipeek system. However, the packet capture feature is added with the Capture Engine plug-in. The Omnipeek system can collect wireless packets in addition to wired network packets using the Wifi Adapter expansion, which also adds wireless capabilities.

Network performance monitoring is a feature of the base Omnipeek Network Protocol Analyzer. The software will measure the transfer speed and regularity of traffic in addition to listing it by protocol. If traffic slows down or exceeds network administrator-set boundary criteria, notifications will be raised.

The traffic analyzer can either monitor each connection in a network or watch end-to-end transfer performance. Other processes keep an eye on interfaces, including incoming network traffic to web servers. The throughput of traffic and a display of traffic broken down by protocol is of special significance to the software. Data can be viewed as live graphs and charts or lists of protocols and their throughput. The Capture Engine’s packets can be kept for study or replayed over the network to assess the network’s capacity.

On Windows and Windows Server, Omnipeek can be installed. It costs money to use the system. However, Omnipeek is available for a 30-day free trial.

Pros:
  • Easy installation; plug-ins can be used to add more features
  • Allows for the capturing of wireless and ethernet packets
  • Offers packet replay for capacity planning and testing.
Cons:
  • The interface may use some improvement, particularly in the toolbar area.

5. WinDump

Most helpful open-source tools eventually find their way onto other operating systems as clones. The application is referred to as having been migrated over when this occurs. WinDump is a tcpdump port that operates almost similarly.

Key Features:

  • Tcpdump for Windows
  • Works with WinPcap
  • Free to use

One significant distinction between WinDump and tcpdump is that WinDump requires the WinpCap library to be installed before it can be used. WinDump and WinpCap are independent downloads even though they are both offered by the same developer.

A real library called WinpCap needs to be installed. However, once installed, WinDump is a standalone.exe file that may be used immediately. You might want to keep that in mind if you manage a Windows network. WinpCap must be installed in order for WinDump to function, even though WinDump doesn’t necessarily need to be installed on every machine as it may be copied over as needed.

WinDump can filter in the same way as tcpdump, output network data to the screen for examination, and also write data to a pcap file for analysis offsite.

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Pros:
  • Open-source utility that functions and has an interface remarkably similar to tcpdump.
  • Executable runs; no extensive installations are required.
  • Large, helpful community
Cons:
  • Is less user-friendly than alternative options.
  • Requires Windows systems to have the WinpCap library installed.
  • Utilizes a challenging query language to filter
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