Guide to Using a WiFi Sniffer

Finding a reliable one can take a long time when you’re out with your laptop and want to connect to a network 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 much easier.

This 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 your type, is to locate nearby wireless network connections. You’ll be shown the strongest if you’re in an area where more than one connection is found.

Generally speaking, the main purpose is to find WiFi signals and their strengths. Until recently, you’d have to buy a sniffer from a little-known retailer if you wanted one. 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. A “Prism2 driver” is used to analyze a WiFi signal strength.


How Does WiFi Sniffer 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 stop flashing, 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 will have to relocate and search elsewhere.


Common Features of a WiFi Sniffer

When choosing a WiFi sniffer, you’ll have to explore the different options and select one with features that 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 you buy must be easy to move and portable, and you shouldn’t need to rely on 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 it usually goes 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.


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 attempt 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 to hack or gain access to a network, there’s absolutely no reason you’d get into legal trouble. Sniffers are just electronic tools.

On the other hand, wireless sniffing is different and 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 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, and 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 find the connection strength.

WiFi Sniffer - CommView for Wifi

Key Features

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).

Trial Version

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 for networking software. Be sure to look at some of the other tools they offer, as this WiFi sniffer is just a taster of their impressive products.

To download the trial version of CommView, check out this page.

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 has many 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 downloading the installation files for Acrylic WiFi Professional. You can find them on the program’s website.

Step #2 – Run the installation file and follow the steps you see.

Install WiFi Sniffer - Acrylic Wifi Professional

Step #3 – You’ll be required to install a special network driver during the installation process. 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.

Key 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 most useful features.

WiFi Sniffer in Normal Mode

This is the simplest mode 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 this mode can provide you with.

WiFi Sniffer in WiFi Monitor Mode

Alternatively, this mode shows your 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 because your laptop will intermittently connect 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 of 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.


To Conclude

We’ve all had times when we’re away from home, and finding a WiFi network is a struggle. Instead of using 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 them to good use and start sniffing out strong WiFi signals!

Janice

Janice

10-Year Technical Editor, I Write Articles Only Based on Meticulous & Comprehensive Research!