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Taming the wireless LAN

Taming the wireless LAN

Wireless LANs are quickly becoming a viable alternative to traditional wired networks in the enterprise. The flexibility and cost-savings they provide are getting a second look from IT managers. One problem that companies face with wireless LAN installations is that few strong tools exist to monitor and troubleshoot them.

Sniffer Wireless 4.6 from Sniffer Technologies is based on the award-winning Sniffer Pro, Sniffer Wireless provides traffic monitoring, troubleshooting, and analysis for 802.11b wireless networks. Unauthorised network users can easily consume your bandwidth. But by knowing where unauthorised users are, administrators can quickly and easily disable illicit network access as well as pinpoint congestion areas and rogue systems trying to access the network.

Those acquainted with the Sniffer product line will find Sniffer Wireless very easy to use: The familiar Dashboard display interface, filters and triggers are all there. On top of that, Sniffer has added a few features specifically for wireless networks, such as automatic channel surfing and WEP (wired equivalent privacy) support.

Along with those wireless-specific features, Sniffer Wireless automatically scans available channels to capture all wireless traffic. This capability helps administrators identify mis-configured devices or devices being used in an attempt to piggyback the company network.

Using the WEP decryption options, administrators can specify the network keys to be monitored. They can then encrypt and decrypt wireless traffic, a valuable benefit because they can use the recommended security features for wireless LANs but still have the opportunity to monitor and analyse network traffic.

The Dashboard displays not only how many packets are travelling across the network, but also specific 802.11b information. It provides administrators with an overview of how many packets were sent at what speed, as well as how many data, management, control and WEP packets have crossed the network. The host table shows the details about every single network station. Sniffer Wireless monitors all details, including transmission speed and signal strength, for each station.

Equally valuable is the Decode display, which shows all detailed packet and protocol information for the 802.11b network. Here, administrators can see everything that passes across the network and identify rogue stations, trouble spots and overall network health.

The Expert System analyses 802.11b frames from the physical to application layers, giving network managers automated problem-solving information. This system helps them identify problems quickly without having to analyse reams of data.

Installing Sniffer Wireless is a very simple, straightforward process. The greatest difficulty in our testing was getting the Cisco Systems card to work on our Intel wireless LAN. Currently, Sniffer Wireless only supports the Cisco Aironet 340 and Symbol Technologies Spectrum24 Model 4121 wireless network adapters. Although both products are based on the 802.11b standard, their respective default configurations differ. We had to go through all configuration information step by step to make sure everything matched before we were finally able to get the card and LAN to work together.

When the system was set up, capturing wireless traffic with Sniffer Wireless was a breeze. First, we captured approximately 30 seconds' worth of traffic, which amounted to several thousand packets, mostly management and control packets such as beacons from the access point. We then created a filter to capture only data traffic from a specific wireless machine. This step was very easy to accomplish, and we quickly found a user ID and password as we caught someone logging on to Yahoo.

When Sniffer Wireless is monitoring the network, the machine on which the software is running can't be used for other network-dependent tasks such as accessing e-mail or the Internet. This is a little troublesome, especially for those who want to monitor a network for an extended period of time. However, the work-around is simple enough: Run Sniffer Wireless on one system and do your other work on a second machine.

Sniffer Wireless is an easy-to-use tool that helps network managers monitor the health and overall traffic on their 802.11b wireless LAN. If you are using wireless LANs in your organisation, Sniffer Wireless is a must-have tool.

The bottom line - Sniffer Wireless 4.6

Business Case: Sniffer Wireless is an invaluable tool for any organisation using wireless LANs. It helps administrators quickly identify network problems that may otherwise take several days to find. The price is a little steep, but the time it saves administrators may well be worth the cost.

Technology Case: Easy to install and use, Sniffer Wireless is a great tool for wireless network administrators. We wish it supported more than two wireless network cards and that it could be used simultaneously with the network. However, both of these minor drawbacks are easy to work around.

Pros:

* Provides detailed analysis of your wireless network.

* Supports WEP to monitor encrypted networks.

Cons:

* None significant.

Platforms: Windows platforms using the Cisco Aironet 340 or Symbol Spectrum 4121 network cards.

Price: $34,606.00 (perpetual), $23,067.00 (two-year subscription).

Sniffer Wireless 4.6 is currently available in Australia.

Contact: Naomi Wright for more details.

Sniffer Technologies: (02) 9761 4239, www.sniffer.com.


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