Guide to Using a WiFi Sniffer
Whenever you’re out with your laptop, and you want to connect to a network connection, it can take a long time to find a reliable connection. Sure, you could take out your laptop and wander around aimlessly, but why waste time? Instead, consider using a WiFi sniffer which will make your life a lot easier.
This piece of software is the most efficient way of quickly locating an active WiFi signal. If we compare using a sniffer to manually locating a WiFi connection, it’s significantly faster. In this guide, we’re going to explain everything about sniffers as well as some of the possible solutions.
What a WiFi Sniffer Is
WiFi sniffers come in different forms but usually either as a device, a piece of software, or recently you can find them as apps. The purpose of these, regardless of the type you have, is to locate nearby wireless network connections. If you’re in an area where more than one connection is found, you’ll be shown the strongest one.
Generally speaking, the main purposes are to find WiFi signals and their strengths too. Up until recently, if you wanted one, you’d have to buy a sniffer from a little-known retailer. This has begun to change, and you might be able to buy a sniffer from your phone provider or at a local electronics store.
Without overcomplicating this explanation, sniffers can detect literally any type of connection. To analyze a WiFi signal strength, a “Prism2 driver” is used.
How Do WiFi Sniffers Work?
They aren’t too difficult to understand, fortunately. WiFi sniffers, regardless of the form, work in the same ways. Although they seem like technical pieces of equipment they’re very simple, and their lack of popularity up until recently is just a result of people believing they are illegal – we’ll get to that later, though.
Typically, when you have a sniffer, you start by turning it on (or opening the software). You then point it in a single direction and hold down the function button to enable the signal search. Lights will flash on the device until a signal is found, at which point they will stop flashing, and you can get closer to the source and connect your devices.
On the other hand, if the lights don’t stop flashing, this means a signal hasn’t been found. Depending on the device you may have to ensure it’s set up properly. That said, it’s more likely that you have to relocate and search elsewhere.
Common Features of a WiFi Sniffer
When it comes to choosing a WiFi sniffer, you’ll have to explore the different options and select one that has features which stand out to you. Every model is different in some way, even if they’re just minor differences. Here are a few notes that we believe are important.
- Signal interference should not be an issue. The sniffer that you choose must be able to avoid Bluetooth signals, microwave signals, and the signals that emit from other cell phone devices. You can expect the higher-end models to be capable of this.
- The sniffer that you buy must be easy to move, portable, and you shouldn’t need to rely on using your laptop just to use the sniffer.
- Your WiFi sniffer must use a 2.4GHz frequency range to detect 802.11b and 802.11b/g signals effectively.
- Consider the device’s signal range. This could be as short as 50 meters although usually, it goes all the way up to 300 meters, sometimes higher.
- Pricing will always play a factor when you buy technology and sniffers aren’t exempt. Don’t overpay and make sure that you’re getting access to features that you’ll use.
These are all things to remember when you’re in the market for a sniffer, even if you don’t plan on using it solely to find strong connections. Other uses include finding out the range of your home WiFi network or locating the weakest signal locations of a network.
Are WiFi Sniffers Legal?
The short answer is no. A sniffer is not illegal to use. Unless you were to use a sniffer to locate a WiFi network and you then attempted to hack it, you won’t get into any trouble.
If you find a network using a WiFi sniffer, you “stumble” upon it. Now, when you stumble on a network because sniffers don’t have the capability actually to hack or gain access to a network, there’s absolutely no reason that you’d get into legal trouble. Sniffers are just an electronic tool.
Wireless sniffing, on the other hand, is different and is very illegal. A wireless sniffer detects a wireless network and then uses various algorithms to hack into it. As with most forms of hacking, this will actually get you in trouble if someone finds out. That is unless you are wireless sniffing your network as a security precaution – if that’s the case, you’re fine.
To summarise, wireless sniffing is legal when you use it to better your own network’s security. But if you instead use it as a malicious tool, it’s illegal.
Back on the topic of WiFi sniffers, they aren’t illegal. They scan the area for wireless networks and alert you if they find anything – no harm was done.
Sniffer Programs to Use
Now that you’ve learned a few things about sniffers and their background let’s now look at a few examples. We’ve done our research and found two fantastic programs, both of which you can use as a WiFi sniffer.
Solution #1 – CommView for WiFi
The first of the network tools we’ll be showing you is CommView for WiFi. As you’ll soon see, this program acts as more than a sniffer. It’s great for packet sniffing, network monitoring, analyzing packets, and professionals frequently use it for improving network security.
Even though professionals are advocates for CommView, that’s not to say that beginners aren’t able to take advantage of its features. You can easily work your way around the software and learn how to effectively use it as a WiFi sniffer in no time at all. After doing so, you’ll be able to identify WiFi networks around you and also find out the connection strength.
Even though this is a fairly straightforward WiFi sniffer, it offers some impressive features. We’ve taken the liberty to list some of these below.
- Scans nearby areas to locate existing WiFi networks and network access points
- Can find out what the WPA and WEP keys of a network are so that you can decrypt data
- Capable of recreating UDP data streams
- Displays data packets in real-time, with the opportunity for users to decrypt them
- Create custom packets which you can then send through your own networks for security purposes
- Generate reports that showcase data from network activity
A number of these features might not be relevant to using a sniffer, but they can still be handy from time to time. As a result, CommView for WiFi is known for being a useful networking tool (similar to Wireshark).
A trial version is readily available and supports the latest versions of Windows. The majority of network adapters are also supported, so this won’t be a problem!
TamoSoft, the developers behind CommView, is a known name when it comes to networking software. Be sure to take a look at some of the other tools they offer as this WiFi sniffer is just a taster of their impressive products.
Solution #2 – Acrylic WiFi Professional
Maybe CommView for WiFi isn’t quite your “cup of tea”. Not a problem – another piece of software that might do the trick is Acrylic WiFi Professional. You’ll quickly notice that this program comes with a lot more features, but most of these are for professionals – you won’t need them just yet.
Acrylic WiFi is compatible with Windows 7 and newer. As you’d expect, it has the perfect features that allow you to use it as a WiFi sniffer. You can detect networks, view their strengths and the different frequency channels, and analyze the data packets that pass through those networks. Again, you won’t need some of these features if you aren’t a professional, but it’s good to know they’re there!
How to Install Acrylic WiFi Professional
If you’re curious about this piece of software, then follow our short guide below to install it.
Step #1 – Start by downloading the installation files for Acrylic WiFi professional. You can find them on the program’s website.
Step #2 – Run the installation file and start to follow the steps that you see.
Step #3 – During the install process you’ll be required to install a special network driver. Without the driver, Acrylic WiFi won’t be able to function properly, so this is a requirement.
Step #4 – Follow the rest of the installation steps and wait while the software installs.
Because the program installs a driver, it could take longer than installing other pieces of software. But once it is over, you can go ahead and open up the program and take advantage of the WiFi sniffer and its features.
Now that you have Acrylic WiFi installed on your computer open it up, and we can begin. Right off the bat, we have various options for network monitoring. For analyzing WiFi networks, here are the two features that are most useful.
WiFi Sniffer in Normal Mode
This is the simplest mode that you can use and which new users will find the most useful. It utilizes Windows networking features to detect nearby WiFi networks and frequency channels. However, that’s all the information that this mode can provide you with.
WiFi Sniffer in WiFi Monitor Mode
Alternatively, this mode shows you network activity in a bit more detail. You’ll be able to see WiFi networks that are near you as well as the devices that are connected to those networks.
Upon using this mode, you might notice that it disconnects you from your own WiFi network. This is completely normal and is because your laptop will be intermittently connecting with other WiFi networks. Since it isn’t possible to connect a laptop to more than one wireless network, Acrylic disconnects you from your current connection.
Download for Free
If you make the decision to use Acrylic WiFi, then you’re in luck! A free version is available, and it gives you access to all of the basic features that you need for a WiFi sniffer. By using this version, you won’t be able to see a network’s packets or traffic. If that’s a deal breaker, then you can go ahead and buy the full version, Acrylic WiFi Professional.
Before you instantly disregard using the professional version, it could be an interesting tool to mess around with. For more tech-savvy individuals, you can use the paid tool to improve your home network’s performance, and for professionals, you can optimize your workplace’s server network.
So if you do decide to use Acrylic WiFi, remember that there are two versions available to you.
We’ve all had times when we’re away from home and finding a WiFi network is a struggle. Instead of having to use your phone’s data, locating a public network will prevent you from using your valuable data. This is where using a WiFi sniffer is greatly beneficial. We gave you information about what features to look for when finding a sniffer, the legality of using these tools, and also two amazing pieces of software. Now that you have the knowledge and tools, put it to good use and start sniffing out strong WiFi signals!