How to protect from packet sniffers

What Are Packets?

When using the internet to send emails, access bank accounts, upload images, or even type in a URL, the data being sent is broken into pieces. These pieces, or packets, are sent from your computer to the receiving end. The receiving end could be another computer or a server.

These packets must travel through the Internet to their destination, which could leave the packets vulnerable to packet sniffers.

Wireshark Packet Sniffer Software Screenshot

What Is A Packet Sniffer?

A packet sniffer is also known as a packet or protocol analyzer. Furthermore, this tool works by intercepting and logging the traffic between two computers on a network. Additionally, a packet sniffer can be bought and used as an independent physical piece of hardware or used as software on a computer.

The software would use the device’s network card to monitor network traffic. A popular and open-source packet sniffer is Wireshark, which is typically used by security researchers as a penetration testing program.

How Does A Packet Sniffer Work?

For wired networks, a packet sniffer is able to have access to all or a portion of the traffic being transmitted depending on the configuration of the network switches.

For wireless networks, a packet sniffer is only able to scan one channel at a time. If the host device running the packet sniffer has multiple wireless network interfaces then it is possible to scan multiple channels.

Who Uses Packet Sniffers?

The original purpose of a packet sniffer was for administrative uses, such as penetration testing and monitoring the traffic on a network. Therefore, network admins utilize packet sniffers on a corporate network to run diagnostics and to troubleshoot problems.

Hackers now use packet sniffers to steal information and data from victims. Traffic is more susceptible to being seen and stolen when it is sent on an unencrypted network.

Sometimes, packet sniffers can be used with other tools and programs to intercept and manipulate packets. These manipulated packets can be used to deliver malware and malicious content.

Public wireless networks are especially susceptible to packet sniffing attacks, as they are usually unprotected and can be connected to by anyone.

Protecting Yourself From Packet Sniffers

Aside from refraining from using public networks, encryption is your best bet to protect yourself from potential packet sniffers. Using HTTPS, the secure version of HTTP, will prevent packet sniffers from seeing the traffic on the websites you are visiting.

To make sure you are using HTTPS, check the upper left corner of your browser.

One effective way to protect yourself from packet sniffers is to tunnel your connectivity a virtual private network, or a VPN.

A VPN encrypts the traffic being sent between your computer and the destination. This includes information being used on websites, services, and applications. A packet sniffer would only see encrypted data being sent to your VPN service provider.