Packet sniffer also known as network protocol analyzers, are tools that allow users to monitor and analyze network traffic. They can be used for a variety of purposes, including troubleshooting, performance monitoring, and security analysis. There are many different packet sniffers available, but the following five are considered to be among the best for bandwidth and network traffic analysis:
If you have worked in IT as a network administrator for any length of time you know one nearly universal truth: when something is not working the first people to check with is the network team. As much as we hate to admit it, we understand it.
The network, as the backbone of every organization, is always the transport layer.
To survive in a modern IT organization, the network administrators need to have a large and robust toolkit at their disposal.
One of the most important tools in the administrator’s arsenal is the packet sniffer.
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A Packet Sniffer is a piece of software which watches data flow across the network and intercepts, logs, and analyzes network packets.
The information gleaned from a packet sniffer is invaluable for troubleshooting network problems and understanding how data transverses the network.
With a packet sniffer, the next time you are asking if something is wrong with the network, you can determine application response time and say with confidence that nothing is wrong with the network.
Packet sniffers come in many different shapes and sizes, and luckily some of the best tools are completely free.
Here’s the Best Packet Sniffers of 2023:
Some tools are better than others, and they have different feature sets, but the following are the top 5 picks for packet sniffers.
- Wireshark: Wireshark is one of the most widely-used packet sniffers and is known for its powerful features and user-friendly interface. It can be used to capture and analyze network traffic in real-time, and it supports a wide range of protocols. Wireshark also has a large community of users and developers, which provides a wealth of resources and support.
- tcpdump: tcpdump is a command-line packet sniffer that is known for its speed and efficiency. It is often used in Linux and Unix environments and can be used to capture and analyze network traffic in real-time. It is also able to save the captured packets to a file for later analysis.
- Microsoft Network Monitor: Microsoft Network Monitor (Netmon) is a packet sniffer that is developed by Microsoft and is only available for Windows operating systems. It provides a simple and user-friendly interface to capture and analyze network traffic. It also offers advanced features such as filtering and decoding of protocols.
- PRTG Network Monitor: PRTG Network Monitor is a commercial packet sniffer that offers a wide range of features for monitoring and analyzing network traffic. It can be used to monitor bandwidth usage and detect bottlenecks, as well as to monitor network devices, servers, and applications. It also includes a range of alerting options to notify users of potential issues.
- Nagios: Nagios is an open-source network monitoring tool that can be used for monitoring bandwidth usage and network traffic. It can be used to monitor network devices, servers, and applications, and it can be configured to send alerts when certain thresholds are exceeded. Nagios also has a large community of users and developers, which provides a wealth of resources and support. | Packet Sniffer
It’s important to note that each of these packet sniffers have their own strengths and weaknesses, and choosing the right one depends on the specific needs and requirements of your organization. Additionally, some of them are commercial, while others are open-source, that can affect the overall cost of the solution. Therefore, it is recommended to evaluate them carefully before making a decision.
In conclusion, packet sniffers are powerful tools that can be used for monitoring and analyzing network traffic. The five packet sniffers mentioned above, Wireshark, tcpdump, Microsoft Network Monitor, PRTG Network Monitor and Nagios are all considered to be among the best for bandwidth and network traffic analysis. They offer a range of features and capabilities and can be used for a variety of purposes, including troubleshooting, performance monitoring, and security analysis.
Network Performance Monitor monitors display response time, availability, and performance of network devices and detects, diagnoses, and resolves performance issues with out-of-the-box dashboards, alerts, and reports.
It also graphically displays network performance statistics in real time via dynamic, drill-able network maps.
The included Netflow Analyzer identifies users, applications, and protocols that are consuming bandwidth down to the interface level, highlighst IP addresses of top talkers and stores and displays flow data with one-minute granularity.
It also analyzes Cisco® NetFlow™, Juniper® J-Flow, IPFIX, sFlow®, Huawei NetStream™ and other flow data.
- Simple and easy to use
- Intuitive admin dashboards
- Great fit for small businesses and home networks
- Simple setup Wizard allows for a quick install
- Better suited for smaller networks, use SolarWinds Network Bandwidth Analyzer Pack for enterprise features
Wireshark, previously know as Ethereal, is a powerful and robust open-source packet sniffer. Wireshark is the most popular packet sniffer around – paid or free.
It is so popular, in fact, that outside of network administrators the many people say “can we get a Wireshark?” when they are asking for you to run a packet capture. Wireshark is both an interactive packet sniffing and analysis tool.
The fact that Wireshark can run on Windows, Linux and Mac is just a small reason for its popularity. It includes an attractive graphical user interface, making it easy to capture and view data. | Packet Sniffer
Some of its most robust features include detail filters to see only the packets you are concerned about, the ability to view packets at whatever detail you want, and the ability to easily decode and view hundreds of protocols.
Wireshark is one of the best tools for creating and viewing information about packing going across your network
- Massive open-source community keeps the software updated and new features added periodically
- Built by network professionals, for network professionals
- Can save captured packet data for further analysis or archival purposes
- A steeper learning curve, even for those who use IT products regularly
- Pulls all data over the network unless intentionally filtered out
In the time before Ethereal, and arguably still today, tcpdump is the defacto standard for packet sniffing.
It does not have the pretty user interface of Wireshark, and it does not have built-in logic to decode application flows, but remains a standard for many network administrators. It is the tried and true standard for network packet sniffing since the late 80s.
It can capture and record packet with very little system overhead, making it a favorite for many people.
Tcpdump was originally designed for UNIX systems and is often installed by default. Since its creations, it has been bored to windows as WinDump. | Packet Sniffer
- Open-source tool backed by a large and dedicated community
- Simple syntax is easy to learn, especially for users who are comfortable with CLI tools
- Lightweight application utilizes CLI for most commands
- Completely free
- Isn’t as user-friendly as other options
- Packet capture can only be read by applications that can read pcap files, not saved in plain text files
In the past decade, wireless networks have been an extremely importantly past of most business networks.
We now use wireless networks for laptops, mobile phones, and tablets. As these devices have risen to importance in the office, so has the wireless network.
Packet sniffing on a wireless network has some unique challenges with supported adapters, and that is where Kismet shines. Kismet is designed for wireless packet sniffing and supports any wireless network adapter which supports raw monitoring mode.
It addition to 802.11 monitoring, it has plugin support for decoding, not wireless packets.
- Available for Linux, Mac, and OpenBSD
- Can scan for Bluetooth signals along with other wireless protocols outside of Wifi
- Allows for real-time packet capture that can be forwarded to multiple team members
- Uses plugins for additional features keeps the base installation lightweight
- Free to use
- Designed for smaller networks
- Lacks enterprise-level reporting capabilities
- Reliant upon the open-source community for support and updates
Like Wireshark, EtherApe is a free and open source piece of software designed to examine network packets.
Rather than displaying lots of information in text format, EtherApe aims to represent the captured packets visually and a series of connections and data flows.
EtherApe supports viewing network packets real time, but can also examine standard formats of existing packet captures.
This gives the administrator another valuable tool in troubleshooting network problems.
- Complete free
- Continuously updated
- Leverages simple but powerful data visualization to display information natively
- A transparent open-source project
- Only available for Linux, Unix, and MacOS
Packet Sniffer Review
Two broad categories of Packet Sniffers are Hardware Packet Sniffers and Software Packet Sniffers.
Software sniffers are more popular these days. Hardware sniffers also help with network troubleshooting. They are plugged directly into a network and store/forward the information which is collected.
Fact Check: Packet Sniffers can gather any type of data from passwords & login details to the websites visited by users. It can even tell what is viewed by the user on the website. Hence it is used by various companies for tracking the employee’s network use. It is also used to scan the incoming traffic for malicious code.
Any data pipeline for network capture and analysis consists of several steps like Packet Capture, Protocol Parsing, and Search & Visualize.
The below image will show you the network packet analysis pipeline with Wireshark and Elastic Stack:
Pro Tip: Various free & open sources as well as commercial tools for packet sniffing are available. Some tools are simple and provide reliable & clean data collection and leave a small footprint. For simple sniffing and quick diagnostics, free & open-source tools will be a good option.
Paid or commercial tools provide features like intuitive analysis along with capturing data, deep packet inspection, graphs & charts and alerts on exception cases, etc. These tools are suitable for large enterprises.
Packet Sniffing Tips:
- Collecting all the packet data will make the information overload. Experienced users use the filtered mode when using the packet sniffer and capture the specific information.
- They can capture the actual data of the packet if it is not encrypted during data transmission.
- For security, you can configure the network sniffers and copy the header data only. It will be sufficient for network monitoring and analytics.
- This restriction will reduce workload and storage requirements, but still, a large volume of data will fill up space. To avoid this, we can use packet sampling.
- Packet Sampling is copying a packet data at set frequencies, for example, at every 10th packet. It may not provide the exact picture but gives sufficient results for a longer period of monitoring.
How do Packet Sniffers work?
Every network has various components like workstations and servers, which are called nodes in networking terminology. The data is transferred in the form of packets between these nodes.
Every packet has actual data and control information. This control information helps the packet to reach the destination for the source. This control information includes various details like IP addresses of sender and receiver, packet sequencing information, etc.
When the data packets are transmitted through the network, they pass through several nodes in the network. These packet’s control information will get checked by each network adapter and the connected device. It is checked for the node it is headed toward.
For the normal circumstances, the packet gets ignored if it is addressed for another node. Packet sniffing programs make some nodes to collect all or a defined sample of packets regardless of their destination address. Packet Sniffers analyze the network by using these packets.
List Of Top Network Sniffing Tools
Here is the list of popular Network Sniffers:
- SolarWinds Network Packet Sniffer
- Paessler PRTG
- ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer
- Colasoft Capsa
- Telerik Fiddler
Comparison of Top Network Sniffers
|Our Ratings||Best Features||Platform||Free Trial||Price|
|Auvik||Geolocation, easy-to-read charts.||Web-based||Available||Get a quote|
|SolarWinds Network Packet Sniffer||Deep packet inspection & Detailed insights.||Windows||A fully functional free trial available for 30 days.||Get a quote.|
|Wireshark||Packet Capturing & data Analysis.||Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, NetBSD, etc.||—||Free & Open Source.|
|Paessler PRTG||Monitor web traffic, mail traffic, file transfer traffic, etc.||Windows, iOS, Android.||Available for 30 days.||It starts at $1750.|
|ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer||In-depth traffic analysis.||Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, etc.||Available for 30 days.||Essential: $595 &
The price is for 10 interfaces.
|TCPdump||Command-line packet sniffing & provides packet info.||Mac, Android, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, etc.||—||Free|
Review of the Network Sniffers:
Best for intelligent analysis of network traffic.
Auvik Networks is a Network Management Software with the capabilities of providing deep visibility into traffic flows. Network traffic analysis can get the traffic data from any device supporting NetFlow v5, NetFlow v9, j-Flow, IPFIX, or sFlow.
Even with the encrypted traffic, the solution provides information about who is on the network, their activity, where their traffic is going, etc.
- Auvik Traffic Insights uses machine learning and traffic classification. It provides the details of the applications that are using the bulk of network bandwidth.
- It provides easy-to-read charts with destination addresses, source addresses, conversations, ports, etc.
- The geolocation feature will give you exact information of where the traffic is going and when it leaves the network.
- It provides a facility to dig into device flow data.
Verdict: Auvik’s Network traffic analysis gives deep visibility into traffic flows across the network. It intelligently analyzes the network traffic and provides visibility on who is on the network, what are they doing, and where the traffic is going, etc.
Price: Auvik offers two pricing plans, Essentials & Performance. You can get a quote. A free trial is available for the tool. As per reviews, the price starts at $150 per month.
#2) SolarWinds Network Packet Sniffer
Best for small to large businesses.
SolarWinds Network Packet Sniffer provides the information of the application or the network whether it is affecting the end-user experience or not. It comes with the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (NPM). SolarWinds NPM will provide you an at-a-glance overview of real performance stats based on packet-level data through a dashboard.
This helps with pinpointing problematic traffic. It performs a deep packet inspection.
SolarWinds Network Packet Sniffer has a WiFi packet capture tool. It can differentiate normal traffic from abnormal traffic and provides detailed data and transaction volume according to the application. These insights will help you with spotting the problem and avoid the network security concern.
- NPM can gather data over 1200 applications, including social media apps.
- The packets traveling across your network will be examined on a granular level.
- Administrators will find out the reason for slowdowns. Is it because of applications or network-wide problems?
- It helps administrators to stay on top of network security threats.
- Administrators will be able to use their bandwidth more effectively.
Verdict: The tool will keep your network running smoothly and ensure that the end-user experience will remain unaffected. It provides the benefits of enterprise-grade network packet sniffing to optimize your network.
Price: A fully functional free trial is available for SolarWinds NPM. It offers the product with Perpetual licensing (Starts at $2995) and Subscription licensing (starts at $1583).
Best for small to large businesses.
Wireshark is a network protocol analyzer. You will get to see what is happening on your network at a microscopic level with the help of this tool. It is a popular tool and is used in many commercial and non-profit enterprises, government agencies, and educational institutions as a de facto standard. It supports various platforms such as Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, NetBSD, etc.
- Wireshark can perform a deep inspection of hundreds of protocols. It keeps adding new protocols.
- It can capture live or perform offline analysis.
- Files that are compressed with gzip can be captured by Wireshark and decompressed on the fly.
- It will allow you to export the output to XML, PostScript, CSV, or Plain Text.
Verdict: Wireshark has powerful display filters in the industry. It supports many protocols for decryption like IPsec, ISAKMP, etc. It can read the live data from Ethernet, IEEE 802.11, PPP/HDLC, ATM, etc.
Price: Wireshark is a free and open-source tool.
#4) Paessler PRTG
Best for small to large businesses.
Paessler PRTG network monitor is a professional all-in-one packet sniffing tool. It will provide valuable insights into your infrastructure and network performance. It supports Windows. It has various possibilities for monitoring everything like bandwidth and traffic. PRTG makes the use of various technologies like SNMP, NetFlow, WMI, network sniffing, etc. while monitoring the data packets.
- PRTG can monitor traffic and data packets.
- It can filter by IP address, by protocol, and by data type.
- PRTG will provide a constant & comprehensive overview.
- It uses multiple network-sniffing options.
- It has a mobile app for iOS and Android devices.
Verdict: Paessler PRTG is not just a network sniffing tool but works as comprehensive monitoring software. You will be able to monitor all the vital hardware parameters like CPU and memory. For all your hardware, PRTG is a perfect solution as a network sniffer.
Price: Paessler PRTG offers a free version. You will get an unlimited version of PRTG for 30 days, then you will revert to the free version. The price for the tool starts at $1750 for 500 sensors.
Website: Paessler PRTG
#5) ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer
Best for small to large businesses.
NetFlow Analyzer is a traffic analysis tool by ManageEngine. It will perform in-depth traffic analysis. It provides real-time traffic graphs and reports. NetFlow Analyzer is available in two editions, Essential and Enterprise. The Essential edition is for a single network and Enterprise edition is for distributed networks.
- NetFlow Analyzer performs application and protocol monitoring.
- It has a customizable dashboard that will give you a bird’s-eye view of the most vital traffic information.
- You can set up alerts based on the thresholds for your network traffic so that you will get to know about the violations in your network usage.
- It provides the features for advanced monitoring such as distributed monitoring, capacity planning report, Cisco NBAR reporting, etc.
Verdict: NetFlow Analyzer is a complete bandwidth management solution that will provide comprehensive visibility into your network traffic. The mobile app will let you monitor the network traffic on the move from anywhere, anytime. It supports Android and iOS devices.
Price: There are two editions of NetFlow Analyzer, Essential ($595 for 10 interfaces) and Enterprise ($1295 for 10 interfaces). You can try both the editions for 30-days. You can get a quote for Perpetual and Subscription licensing. It also offers a free edition that can monitor 2 interfaces without any license.
Website: ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer
Best for users with in-depth knowledge of the tool.
TCPdump is a packet analyzer. This data-network packet analyzer is a powerful command-line tool. It is a portable C/C++ library for network traffic capture. It supports most of the Unix-like OS such as Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, NetBSD, Mac OS, etc.
You can make the use of short and simple commands to perform the functions like capturing only failed packets, saving the captured packets to file, etc.
- TCPdump can print the contents of network packets.
- Packets from a network interface card can be read.
- It can write packets to standard output or a file.
Verdict: TCPdump is distributed with a BSD license. There is no need to have a heavy-duty PC to function the tool smoothly. There is a learning curve for this tool and you should know to use this tool while using it.
Price: TCPdump is free to use.
Best for Windows users.
WinDump is a TCPdump’s version for Windows OS. It provides full compatibility with TCPdump. It has functions to watch, diagnose, and save to disk the network traffic based on the complex rules. It supports Windows 95, 98, ME NT, 2000, XP, 2003, and Vista.
- WinDump makes use of the WinPcap library and drivers to capture.
- WinPcap library and drivers are freely available to download.
- WinDump can be used for 802.11b/g wireless capture and troubleshooting through the Riverbed AirPcap adapter.
Verdict: Like TCPdump, WinDump is distributed under a BSD-style license.
Price: WinDump is available for free to use.
Best for incident response teams and for law enforcement.
NetworkMiner is a Network Forensic Analysis Tool by Netresec. It supports Windows, Mac, Linux, and FreeBSD. It has functionalities for passive network sniffing and packet capturing. It can detect operating systems, sessions, hostnames, open ports, etc. To perform the offline analysis and regenerate transmitted files & certificates from PCAP files, it can parse PCAP files.
- By parsing a PCAP file and sniffing the traffic directly from the network, NetworkMiner can extract files, emails, and certificates transferred over the network.
- NetworkMiner doesn’t put any traffic on the network while capturing packets or doing passive network sniffing.
- With the Professional edition, you will get the features of DNS Whitelisting, Web browser tracing, online ad & tracker detection, etc.
Verdict: NetworkMiner is popular among organizations around the world. It has an intuitive user interface that provides the extracted artifacts and will make it easier to perform advanced Network Traffic Analysis. This data presentation in an intuitive UI that helps the analyst or forensic investigator with the analysis.
Price: NetworkMiner is available in two editions, NetworkMiner Free edition and NetworkMiner Professional (USD 900).
#9) Colasoft Capsa
Best for network administrators and network engineers.
Capsa is a Network Analyzer that has functionalities to monitor, analyze, and troubleshoot your wired & wireless network. It is a portable tool for network performance analysis and diagnostics. It has powerful packet capturing and analysis capabilities. It has an easy-to-use interface. It is suitable for both veteran and novice users.
It can protect and monitor networks in a critical business environment.
Colasoft’s free plan, Capsa Free, has limited features like monitoring of 10 IP addresses, 4 hours session timeout length, manually saving files, and provides adapter monitors. With the Enterprise plan, there are no limitations on IP addresses to be monitored and session timeout length.
- Capsa can capture the packet in real-time.
- It can save the data transmitted over local networks, including wired networks and wireless networks.
- It supports over 1800 protocols and sub-protocols.
- It can monitor multiple network behavior like monitoring of email & instant messaging traffic and identifying security and data handling violations.
Verdict: Capsa is powerful and comprehensive for packet capturing and analysis. You will be able to quickly pinpoint the network problems. It provides the extensive statistics of each host.
Price: A free plan is also available with Capsa. Capsa Enterprise will cost you $995. It offers a free trial for 30 days.
Website: Colasoft Capsa
#10) Telerik Fiddler
Best for small to large businesses.
Telerik Fiddler is a free web debugging proxy. It can log all HTTP (S) traffic between the computer and the Internet. It will help you with inspecting traffic. It will let you set breakpoints and fiddle with the request/response. Fiddler Everywhere can be used for any browser, application, and process. It supports Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms.
- Fiddler Everywhere can inspect web sessions, remote API calls, cookies, and header properties in detail.
- It supports both HTTP and HTTPS protocols for all app scenarios on the web and desktop.
- It can help you to decrypt HTTPS traffic and securely displaying/modifying requests that are otherwise hidden to network observers.
- It has a feature of filtering out the noise and limiting your view to specific apps, URLs, and processes.
Verdict: As it is a proxy, all the network requests from a browser or app will be routed through Fiddler Everywhere. It supports all the major browsers.
Price: Fiddler Everywhere is currently available in two editions, Free and Pro. Pro plan will cost you $12 per user per month. Teams and Enterprise plans are coming soon.
Website: Telerik Fiddler
Best for wireless packet sniffing.
Kismet is a free tool that has functionalities to work as a wireless network & device detector, sniffer, wardriving tool, and WIDS framework. It can work with WiFi interfaces, Bluetooth interfaces, some SDR hardware, and other specialized capture hardware. It supports Linux and OSX and limited support to Windows 10 under the WSL framework.
For Linux OS, most of the WiFi cards, Bluetooth interfaces, and other hardware devices are supported by Kismet. For OSX, built-in Wi-Fi interfaces are supported and for Windows 10 Kismet will work with remote captures. Kismet has the ability to capture “Per-Packet Information” headers.
- Kismet has basic wireless IDS features like detecting active wireless sniffing programs
- It can log all the sniffed packets.
- Kismet will save all the sniffed packets in a TCPdump/Wireshark or Airsnort compatible file format.
- It can detect default or non-configured networks, probe requests. It can identify the level of wireless encryption used on a given access point.
Verdict: Kismet is one of the popular tools. It is up to date and an open-source tool. It can detect the presence of wireless access points & wireless clients without sending any loggable packets and can associate them with each other.
Price: Kismet is a free network sniffer tool
Network Sniffers are used in various use cases like managing bandwidth, increasing efficiencies, ensuring delivery of business services, enhancing security, etc. SolarWinds Network Packet Sniffer, Wireshark, PRTG Network Monitor, ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer, TCPdump, and WinDump are our top recommended network sniffing tools.
Wireshark, TCPdump, WinDump, Kismet are completely free tools. SolarWinds Network Packet Sniffer, PRTG Network Monitor, ManageEngine NetFlow Analyzer, Network Miner, Colasoft Capsa, and Telerik Fiddler are commercial tools. NetworkMiner, Colasoft Capsa, and Telerik Fiddler offer free plans.
Many free and commercial packet analyzers are available in the market. All of them vary in features and functionalities. We hope this article has helped you with choosing the right packet sniffer.