The Beginning of Knowledge is the Discovery of Something We Do Not Understand

The Beginning of Knowledge is the Discovery of Something We Do Not Understand

By CWNP On 08/04/2009 - 6 Comments

Back when good ‘ole Netstumbler was introduced, WLAN discovery was a novelty.  Good protocol analysis tools were few and far between, and a little bit of information about the frames traversing the air was like informational gold, especially for the occasional hackers.  Nowadays, serious Wi-Fi troubleshooting is done with high performance—and usually high cost—sniffers  with wicked decoders, filters, aggregators, and simulators that make casual WLAN discovery tools like Netstumbler look like an alley cat next to a lion. 

No less, developers haven’t given up on the casual discovery tool market.  There are plenty of them out there, with new ones continually coming down the pipe.  Of course, you can still find the classics like inSSIDer, Kismet, Netstumbler, etc. around the web; and as a brief aside, there’s also a discovery tool called Airfart.  Sounds like something a group of female developers created (sarcasm).  Anyways, I’ve recently stumbled—a pitiful pun, I know—across a few newbie tools as well, like Xirrus’s Wi-Fi Inspector (http://www.xirrus.com/library/wifitools.php) and NutsaboutNets’s WifiEagle (http://nutsaboutnets.com/performance-wifi/products/product-wifieagle-wifi-channel-analyzer.htm), which is actually a channel analyzer, used for Wi-Fi channel analysis.  If you’re wondering, the difference between a discovery tool and a channel analyzer is pretty simple.  Discovery tools usually lay out a chart of some kind, showing the typical information about each network: SSID, operating channel, security, signal strength, etc.  Channel analyzers go the extra step and are more focused on helping the user select the best channel for an AP in a given location.

As a series of products aimed at casual users, discovery tools are typically either open source or fairly inexpensive.  It seems to me that the tradeoff comes in the form of customer support.  It’s simple really…you want support, you pay.  Granted, some of the open source tools are decent, but many of them end-of-lifed a good many years ago.  Lack of support for new adapters and OSs has given several of these products a short term in office, but there’s always something around the corner to fill the gap.    Some discovery tools are more sophisticated than others, but I really have to ask, “Are any of these tools worth paying for?”  Maybe it’s just me being cynical.

I know this is a shorter-than-usual blog, but I wanted to open a forum-style conversation for those who are interested. 

What inexpensive or free discovery tools do you use and recommend? 

What types of useful information do they offer that you can’t get from the typical client utility software? 

Is there one in particular that offers something that you haven’t found elsewhere?


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