Public WiFi has become exceptionally common. You can find free WiFi at most eateries, at airports, and bus terminals.

There’s also the fact that these networks are generally considered unsafe and dangerous because your information can be stolen by anyone willing to make an effort to steal it. The tool they’d use would most likely be a network sniffer.

This begs the question as to what a network sniffer is and what are the uses for it. Here it is.

Network Sniffer

A network sniffer is a tool that can monitor network traffic, and on its own it isn’t a bad or malicious tool. It has lots of ethical uses as well and there is a popular network sniffer called Wireshark that is open source and available for use by anyone. There are a whole host of other network sniffers and each offer their own set of features.


Generally, a network sniffer can check what data is coming from which device on a network, what protocol was used to transmit the traffic, the data that is being sent i.e. network requests, and sometimes it can even view passwords. That’s generally how someone hacks another system on the network.

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A network sniffer can also tell, for example, which two systems on a network are talking to each other via a LAN chat app. Normally, using encrypted tools for communication is a reasonable deterrent to this. Another way to protect yourself is to use a VPN that can encrypt traffic.

As we mentioned before, a network sniffer isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It all depends on how you use it and network administrators often use them to monitor and log traffic in closed, high security settings where the transmission and access of information must be closely guarded. Other uses can include monitoring network usage, for example, which device on a network is consuming excessive bandwidth or for checking how secure a firewall is.

Popular Network Sniffers

Wireshark is one popular network sniffer that’s available for Windows, and macOS. Linux users can use tools like TCPDUMP. Some tools that are available might specialize in sniffing a particular type of traffic and my not do everything that Wireshark does. Some other tools are as follows;

  • Cain and Abel
  • CloudShark
  • Free Network Analyzer
  • IP Tools
  • Microsoft Message Analyzer
  • NetworkMiner
  • Omnipeek
  • PRTG

On a public network, such as a public WiFi network at the airport or a coffee shop, anyone can run a network sniffer. The security protocols used by the network, and the network administrator might be able to detect when a network sniffer is in use but it’s unlikely that a coffee shop might use such high security or employ anyone with that level of competency. Airports might be more vigilant but you still cannot count on them.

A network sniffer can also be used on a private network provided someone has access to it. If you suspect your work place might be using a network sniffer, you can’t do much about it except be careful about what websites you visit. On your home network, only someone who has access to, and is currently connected to the network and run a sniffer on it so, ask mom.

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