A Packet Analyzer or Sniffer is a program or computer hardware that allow network traffic to be intercepted or logged.
As information and data passes through a network the packet sniffer is able to record each packet of data, decodes it and analyses it.
The Capabilities of a Packet Sniffer
Using a packet sniffer within a shared network, it may be possible to capture all network traffic from one device. On wireless networks, it may also be possible to capture traffic one channel at a time or, through the use of multiple adapters, several channels at the same time.
Using a packet sniffer and a network adapter, it is possible to capture traffic on wired networks using a network adapter set to promiscuous mode. This mode causes the adapter to pass all traffic sent through the network rather than only the traffic that is specifically sent to the controller.
When traffic has been captured by the packet sniffer, the entire content of the packet can be recorded or only the header which reduces the storage requirement of the device and still provides sufficient information.
Once captured by the packet sniffer, a protocol analyser can then be used to decode the data into a readable and understandable format. However, some analysers also generate network traffic.
Other Uses of a Packet Sniffer
A packet sniffer can be used to analyse network problems, detect intrusion attempts, detect network misuse, monitor bandwidth usage as well as by potential attackers to gain network information in order to mount a network attack or intrusion.
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