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Packet sniffer

Packet sniffer

(also network analyzer, protocol analyzer, or packet analyzer)

Packet sniffer definition

A packet sniffer is a tool, whether in software or hardware form, that captures and analyzes data packets transmitted over a network. It has multiple functions, including legitimate ones like network troubleshooting, performance analysis, and security audits. However, it can also be misused for malicious activities such as eavesdropping, data theft, or cyberattacks.

See also: packet sniffing, network security protocols

Network sniffing examples

  • Wireshark: A popular open-source network protocol analyzer used by network professionals to inspect and analyze data packets transmitted across a network.
  • Tcpdump: A command-line packet analyzer tool that captures and displays packets from a network interface for troubleshooting purposes.

Comparing network sniffing to similar terms

Deep packet inspection (DPI): While both packet sniffers and DPI analyze network traffic, DPI goes a step further by examining the actual data content within packets, allowing for more granular inspection and filtering.

Packet sniffer pros and cons


  • Identifies network bottlenecks and performance issues.
  • Helps in detecting and diagnosing security vulnerabilities.
  • Assists in network troubleshooting and optimization.


  • Can be exploited by hackers for malicious activities.
  • May raise privacy concerns when used without proper authorization.

Packet sniffer tips

  • Ensure that packet sniffers are used only by authorized personnel.
  • Use a VPN like NordVPN to encrypt your internet connection and protect your data from packet sniffers deployed with malicious intent.

Further reading

Ultimate digital security