What is WiFi&Reg; Sniffing?

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  • Originally Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Revised By: Bott
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2019
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WiFi® is the standard for Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN), while sniffing can be a synonym for snooping. When the terms are combined, WiFi® sniffing often refers to uncovering either the location of a wifi® network or the activity on a WiFi® network; this can be either for innocent or even laudatory purposes. It can also be done in an attempt to gain internet access illegally, or at least, unethically, and possibly with the intent to cause damage.

Also spelled Wi-Fi®, the wireless standard is based on a document known as IEEE 802.11, which was written and is maintained by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The name WiFi® is said to come either from abbreviations of the words Wireless and Fidelity or the words Wire, in reference to the traditional physical connection in LANs, and an alteration and shortening of Physical, referring to the Physical Layer of the Open System Interconnection (OSI)Reference Model.


How It's Done

WiFi® sniffing to locate viable networks can be legitimately used for activities like searching an unfamiliar urban area for a wireless hotspot. This can be done with an electronic device or with software; the same device can be used to detect and steal WiFi® from a homeowner who has it activated in their home. When used with ill intent from a moving vehicle, this practice is sometimes referred to as wardriving. Apple® removed all WiFi® sniffing software from its App Store in March of 2010, but the iPhone® has a built-in WiFi® scanning feature to locate wireless hotspots.

Packet Sniffing

The terms WiFi® sniffing and packet sniffing are sometimes used interchangeably, but packet sniffing does not refer to locating WiFi® networks, only to monitoring activity on them. The sort of WiFi® sniffing that can also be called packet sniffing is used by network administrators to find faults in a network so they can be plugged. This kind of sniffing identifies the packets of data that are being transmitted from or received by the network. The name of the tool for this job is a network analyzer when used by an authorized person, but is more likely to be called a packet sniffer when used by a thief to capture and decode other people’s data. Illegally gaining access to these packets is very similar to wire-tapping.

Preventing WiFi® Sniffing

To protect a WLAN from WiFi® sniffing, useful steps including changing the default administration password for the access point, such as a router, and making sure the firmware is up-to-date. One should also change the SSID (Service Set Identifier) name of the router, which is the public name and usually comes with a brand name as its default. Using network encryption and choosing Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), rather than Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), for encrypting are also good steps as well as using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption for browsing.


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Post 3

Both my laptop and phone have a WiFi scanning feature. It's actually very handy because I travel a lot and I always need help finding a hotspot. It's not a problem if I find a familiar cafe that I know has a WiFi hotspot. If I don't, I do use my WiFi scanner to find one. It's extremely helpful.

Post 2

@turquoise-- I'm not an expert on this topic but I think you can tell by keeping track of how many megabytes and gigabytes you usually use.

I use a WiFi wireless network. My network main page actually shows how many computers are connected to my internet at that time. I don't know if there is a way to hide a connection, but if there isn't, this is a reliable way to check.

Also, if you suddenly see a huge change in the amount of megabytes and gigabytes of data you download and upload through your WiFi, that's a good sign that someone is using it illegally.

Older wireless networks were at greater risk of WiFi sniffing. Recent ones however have a lot of precautions like coding to avoid this. So you might want to switch to a newer system if you're worried about sniffing.

Post 1

How do I know if my WiFi is being stolen? Are there signs that I can look out for?

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