What is packet sniffing? (2024)

What is packet sniffing? (1)
  • sniffer vs Sniffer
  • sniffer vs Sniffer
  • How do Hackers Use Packet Sniffing?

What is packet sniffing? (2)

Tom Bienkowski

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What is packet sniffing?

Also referred to as a network analyzer, protocol analyzer, or packet analyzer, a packet sniffer is a valuable tool, either in hardware or software form. This tool primarily identifies and monitors network traffic, enabling network administrators to validate and manage network data flow for both networking and cybersecurity applications. However, it's crucial to note that such tools can also be misused by malicious entities for unauthorized access and intrusion.

NETSCOUT solutionsutilize packet data to enable rapid IT troubleshooting, threat detection, network topology & health diagnostics reporting.

What is packet sniffing? (3)

What are packet sniffers?

Packet sniffers are applications or utilities that read data packets traversing the network within the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) layer. When in the hands of network administrators, these tools “sniff” internet traffic in real-time, monitoring the data, which can then be interpreted to evaluate and diagnose performance problems within servers, networks, hubs and applications.

When packet sniffing is used by hackers to conduct unauthorized monitoring of internet activity, network administrators can use one of several methods for detecting sniffers on the network. Armed with this early warning, they can take steps to protect data from illicit sniffers.

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What is the difference between the term “sniffer” and “Sniffer?”

When spelled with a lowercase “s,” the term “sniffer” indicates the use of a packet sniffing tool for either good or nefarious purposes. In the hands of authorized network administrators, a sniffer is employed to maintain the unimpeded flow of traffic through a network. Conversely, in the hands of a hacker, a sniffer may be used for unauthorized monitoring of the network.

When spelled with an upper case “S,” the term “Sniffer” refers to trademarked technology from NETSCOUT. This branded sniffer enables network administrators to monitor bandwidth and ensure that no single user is using too much available capacity.

Is the original Sniffer still available today?

Network General Corporation (now known as Network Associates Inc.) introduced the Sniffer Network Analyzer in 1988. Since then, the Sniffer has passed through several hands, including McAfee. In 2007, NETSCOUT acquired Network General, along with Sniffer. The first generation of Sniffer read the message headers of data packets on the network. This monitoring tool provided administrators with a centralized global view of all network activity, offering details such as the addresses of senders and receivers, file sizes and other packet-related information.

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How do hackers use packet sniffing?

Hackers will typically use one of two different methods of sniffing to surreptitiously monitor a company’s network. In the case of organizations with infrastructure configured using hubs that connect multiple devices together on a single network, hackers can utilize a sniffer to passively “spy” on all the traffic flowing within the system. Passive sniffing, such as this, is extremely difficult to uncover.

When a much larger network is involved, utilizing numerous connected computers and network switches to direct traffic only to specific devices, passive monitoring simply won’t provide access to all network traffic. In such a case, sniffing won’t be helpful for either legitimate or illegitimate purposes. Hackers will be forced to bypass the constraints created by the network switches. This requires active sniffing, which adds further traffic to the network, and in turn makes it detectable to network security tools.

How to protect networks from illicit sniffers

There are several steps organizations can take to protect their networks from illicit sniffing activities. The following defenses can reduce the risk of exposure to hackers:

  • Do not use public Wi-Fi networks: Wi-Fi networks found in public spaces typically lack security protocols to fully protect users. Hackers can easily sniff the entire network, gaining access to sensitive data. Avoiding such networks is a wise security choice unless the user is accessing an encrypted VPN.
  • Rely on a trusted VPN connection: When accessing the internet remotely, always use a trusted Virtual Private Network that encrypts the connection and masks all data from sniffers. Any sniffer attempting to monitor traffic over a VPN will only see data that has been scrambled, making it useless to the hacker.
  • Look for secure HTTPS protocols before surfing the web: Before surfing the internet, look for the “HTTPS” in the address bar of a website. Some sites only indicate “HTTP.” The additional “S” at the end is an indication that the site adheres to more robust security protocols that encrypt communications and will prevent sniffers used by hackers from seeing the data.
  • Don’t fall prey to social engineering tricks and traps: Hackers and cyberattackers will often employ phishing emails and spoofed website to trick people into unwittingly downloading sniffers. Being aware and cautious when browsing can prevent users from falling prey to nefarious tactics.

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What is packet sniffing? (2024)


What do you mean by packet sniffing? ›

Packet sniffing is a method of detecting and assessing packet data sent over a network. It can be used by administrators for network monitoring and security. However, packet sniffing tools can also be used by hackers to spy or steal confidential data.

Why do hackers use packet sniffing? ›

Packet sniffing is a hacking technique that involves collecting data packets that travel through an unencrypted computer network. Packet sniffers monitor the data packets in network traffic, with the aim of intercepting sensitive information (like personal financial details) to sell or use in other attacks.

What is an example of a packet sniffing attack? ›

An example of packet sniffing is when an attacker uses a packet sniffing tool to intercept unencrypted login credentials being transmitted over a public Wi-Fi network, gaining unauthorized access to an individual's online accounts.

Is packet sniffing a bad thing? ›

Packet sniffing attacks can potentially represent a significant threat to network security, involving methods where attackers monitor network traffic to illegally access and manipulate sensitive data. Understanding these attacks is crucial for implementing effective security measures and preventing potential breaches.

Is packet sniffing illegal? ›

A packet sniffing attack is known as the unlawful capture of network traffic to access unencrypted packet data.

Can packet sniffing be detected? ›

To detect a sniffer on a network, identify the system on the network running in promiscuous mode. The ping method is useful in detecting a system that runs in promiscuous mode, which in turns helps to detect sniffers installed on the network.

Is packet sniffing eavesdropping? ›

Eavesdropping, also known as sniffing or snooping, relies on unsecured network communications to access data in transit between devices.

Can you prevent packet sniffing? ›

Avoid accessing the internet on an unsecured wi-fi, as packet sniffers are usually placed on open wi-fi hotspots. Aside from avoiding public wi-fi; use VPN to protect yourself from packet sniffing and cyber threats. Use a Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) instead of a File Transfer Protocol (FTP).

Is packet sniffing the same as spoofing? ›

In simple terms, packet Sniffing is listening in on other people's communications. Packet Spoofing is the dynamic presentation of fake network traffic that impersonates someone else. Packet Sniffing is a passive attack since attackers cannot mutilate the system in any way.

Is Wireshark a packet sniffer? ›

Wireshark is a network protocol analyzer, or an application that captures packets from a network connection, such as from your computer to your home office or the internet. Packet is the name given to a discrete unit of data in a typical Ethernet network. Wireshark is the most often-used packet sniffer in the world.

Which tool is an example of a packet sniffer? ›

Packet Sniffer – Packet sniffing is done by using tools called packet sniffer. It can be either filtered or unfiltered. Filtered is used when only specific data packets have to be captured and Unfiltered is used when all the packets have to be captured. WireShark, SmartSniff are examples of packet-sniffing tools.

What is a packet sniffer a common term for? ›

A packet sniffer, sometimes called a packet analyzer, is composed of two main parts. First, a network adapter that connects the sniffer to the existing network. Second, software that provides a way to log, see, or analyze the data collected by the device.

What can a packet sniffer see? ›

Using a sniffer, it's possible to capture almost any information — for example, which websites that a user visits, what is viewed on the site, the contents and destination of any email along with details about any downloaded files.

What is Wi-Fi sniffing? ›

A Wi-Fi sniffer is a kind of packet sniffer or network analyzer designed to capture packet data on wireless networks. Wireless sniffer solutions are built to capture wireless network traffic and analyze it to generate insights into what's going on in a network at any given time.

What is the point of sniffing? ›

Sniffing and control of odor input to the brain

Inhalation is necessary for odor input to the brain. Further, odor input through the brain is temporally linked to the respiratory cycle, with bouts of activity occurring with each inhalation.

What are the 2 types of sniffing? ›

Two Kinds Of Sniffing Attacks
  • Passive sniffing. A hacker doesn't interfere with the traffic flow through a network while closely monitoring it. ...
  • Active sniffing. ...
  • Ping method. ...
  • ARP method. ...
  • Local host. ...
  • Latency method. ...
  • ARP watch. ...
  • Intrusion detection.
Dec 6, 2023

What is the meaning of sniffing? ›

to smell something by taking air in through your nose: He sniffed his socks to see if they needed washing. Dogs love sniffing each other. She sniffed at her glass of wine before tasting it.

What is the difference between scanning and sniffing? ›

Sniffing is the term generally used for traffic monitoring within a network, while port scanning is used to find out information about a remote network. Both sniffing and port scanning have the same objective—to find system vulnerabilities—but they take different approaches.

What is the difference between packet capture and packet sniffing? ›

Packet sniffers allow network administrators and engineers to view the contents of packets traversing the network. This is an essential capability when troubleshooting foundational network protocols such as DHCP, ARP, and DNS. Packet captures do not, however, reveal the contents of encrypted network traffic.

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