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April 2003

Network packet analyzers enable enterprise 'packet peeking'

At one time or another, it happens to us all: Something weird is traversing the network, but you can't quite pin it down. In such cases, a packet capture and analysis program can come to your rescue, providing detailed discovery, detection or forensic information on TCP/IP traffic. These tools enable you to decipher raw data streams, learn what systems "touched" each other (and when), what protocols were in use (and how), and what was sent and received between two hosts. Packet grabbers come in many shapes and sizes. Commercial tools such as Network Associates' Sniffer and Network Instruments' Observer have powerful features and friendly interfaces, but may be too expensive for cash-strapped IT departments. While bare-bones freeware tools are less user-friendly, they can be just as effective. The main distinguishing feature among sniffers is how they decode and present the traffic. Some give you data fields or statistics; others give you colorful pictures. Keep in mind that no matter what sniffer you're using, it won't be able ...

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