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Packet Sniffers

Published on Feb 21, 2020


A packet sniffer, the network analyzer, is a wire-tap device that plugs into computer networks and eavesdrops on the network traffic. To capture the information going over the network is called sniffing. It is a "sniffing" program that lets someone listen in on computer conversations.

However, computer conversations consist of apparently random binary data. Therefore, network wiretap programs also come with a feature known as "protocol analysis", which allow them to "decode" the computer traffic and make sense of it.

These tools known as network sniffers are named after a product called the Sniffer Network Analyzer. Introduced in 1988 by Network General Corp. (now Network Associates Inc.), the Sniffer was one of the first devices that let managers sit at their desks and take the pulse of the larger network. The original sniffers read the message headers of data packets on the network, giving administrators details about the addresses of senders and receivers, file sizes and other low-level information about those packets, in addition to verifying transmission. Using graphs and text-based descriptions, sniffers helped network managers evaluate and diagnose performance problems with servers, the network wire, hubs and applications.

Types of Sniffers

Today, sniffers exist in two broad varieties:

• The first is a stand-alone product incorporated into a portable computer that consultants can carry to customer sites and plug into the network to gather diagnostic data.

• The second is part of a larger package of network-monitoring hardware and software for helping organizations keep tabs on their LANs, WANs and Web services.

Thus Commercial packet sniffers are used to help maintain networks. Underground packet sniffers are used to break into computers.

How a Packet Sniffer works

A sniffer must be located within the same network block (or net of trust) as the network it is intended to sniff. With relatively few exceptions, that sniffer could be placed anywhere within that block

Under many networking protocols, data that you transmit gets split into small segments, or packets, and the Internet Protocol address of the destination computer is written into the header of each packet. These packets then get passed around by routers and eventually make their way to the network segment that contains the destination computer. As each packet travels around that destination segment, the network card on each computer on the segment examines the address in the header. If the destination address on the packet is the same as the IP address of the computer, the network card grabs the packet and passes it on to its host computer

But Packet Sniffers set up on a computer work slightly differently. Instead of just picking up the packets that are addressed to them, they set their network cards to what's known as promiscuous mode and grab a copy of every packet that goes past. This lets the packet sniffers see all data traffic on the network segment to which they're attached - if they're fast enough to be able to process all that mass of data, that is. This means that it is looking at everything that comes through. The amount of traffic largely depends on the location of the computer in the network.

Why Packet Sniffing Works ?

The reason that packet sniffing works is due to the way Ethernet networks send their packets. Ethernet was built around a "shared" principle: all machines on a local network share the same wire. Any time that a PC sends out a packet, it is sent out as a broadcast. This implies that all machines are able to "see" all the traffic on the same wire. Thus, Ethernet hardware is built with a "filter" that ignores all traffic that doesn't belong to it. It does this by ignoring all frames whose MAC address doesn't match. A sniffer program turns off this filter, putting the Ethernet hardware into "promiscuous mode". In order to sniff on the wire, a driver must be written that both puts the adapter into promiscuous mode, as well as buffers the incoming frames.

As mentioned, packet sniffing works by making a copy of each packet as it flows across the network. In the past, it has been difficult to tell if anyone on your network is engaging in packet sniffing. After all, no one is hacking into a server or anything, so the audit logs wouldn't indicate any sort of unusual activity. A person who's packet sniffing is merely reading information as it comes to them.

5Ways of sniffing a connection between two people

You have to have access to the wire that the communication is going across in order to eavesdrop. Same as with telephones, same as everywhere.
• In some situations, like cable-modems, DSL, Ethernet VLANs, etc., you can redirect traffic between two people to go through your own machine. This is because while you are not directly in the path of communication, you can sometimes move that path to flow past your own computer.
• Another possibility is to break into a person's machine and install a sniffing program. On UNIX, sniffing programs are part of most "rootkits". On Windows, sniffing is part of some RATs (Remote Admin Trojans, e.g. BackOrifice). To stop people from sniffing the data

Sniffing a switched network

In theory, you cannot sniff a switched network. All that the sniffing would do would be to see your own traffic anyway. In practice, there are numerous ways.

Switch Jamming

Some switches can be kicked out of "bridging" mode into "repeating" mode where all frames are broadcast on all ports all the time. This is done by overflowing the address tables with lots of false MAC addresses. This can be done with a simple traffic generation phase, or by sending a continual stream of random garbage through the switch. In security terms, this is known as "fail open" behavior rather than "fail close", meaning that when the device fails, security provisions are removed. Of course, switches aren't really designed with security in mind

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