10 Free Networking Tools
By Eric Geier
This isn't another laundry list of freeware or free trial applications. We're going to review ten hand-picked, totally free, applications and tools that will help you install, troubleshoot, and use your network.
We'll touch on a variety of solutions helping you with remote desktop and sharing, traffic monitoring, password recovery, Wi-Fi installation and troubleshooting, and more. Now let's get started!
Windows gives you Remote Desktop (RDP) to access your computers when away from the office, but it's not as user-friendly or feature-rich as other solutions. Unlike Microsoft's RDP, TeamViewer works on all Windows editions and it supports Mac OS X as well. However, just remember TeamViewer is only free for personal use or non-commercial use.
You can remote control another's desktop, present your desktop, transfer files or establish a VPN between users. All this without configuring your router or firewall like you would have to with Remote Desktop. Instead of identifying each other by IP addresses, which usually change often, you just have to swap IDs and passwords.
This is a relatively new tool that serves as a front-end to a new wireless feature in Windows 7 that Microsoft calls Wireless Hosted Networks, which lets you create a virtual a wireless router with your wireless adapter.
This tool has several different uses. It could offer Wi-Fi access in a router-less network, where the Windows 7 machine is hooked directly to the Internet modem. You could share an Internet connection at a hotel or Wi-Fi hotspot to other Wi-Fi devices and users, while only paying for one connection. It might even come in handy to extend a Wi-Fi signal.
This tool listens to your network and Internet traffic and displays detected passwords. You can, for example, recover passwords saved (behind the asterisks) for websites or e-mail you lost or forgot. You might even use it to demonstrate, to yourself or others, the insecurity of clear-text protocols. The particular protocols it supports include: POP3, IMAP4, SMTP, FTP, and HTTP. Simply start scanning, login to sites or services, and watch the passwords appear.
Windows offers the My Network Places or Network browser to access shared folders, drives, and printers on the network. However, this utility provides even a quicker listing of shared resources. Furthermore, it shows all workgroup/domains and includes hidden and administrative shares, which aren't shown by default in Windows. It even gives you the computer's IP and MAC addresses.
This is a popular tool for doing simple Wi-Fi surveying. It shows you nearby wireless access points and their basic details, such as MAC address, channel, encryption status, and signal strength. Since it includes the signal, noise, and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), you can do raw RF site surveying. It also features exporting and GPS tracking features, so you can use the captured data for mapping wardrives.
This serves as a great tool when surveying, deploying, or troubleshooting Wi-Fi networks. It includes many more features than NetStumbler. You'll see more than just the basic details of nearby wireless access points.
NetSurveyor provides many real-time charts: AP Timecourse, AP Differential, Channel Usage, Channel Timecourse, Channel Heatmap, and Channel Spectrogram. You can also export these reports to a handy PDF. Additionally, its data logging feature lets you save and play or browse back the capture.
This is a simple Wi-Fi survey tool, much like the popular NetStumbler, which shows you the details of nearby access points. Though this utility doesn't include the signal noise and SNR like NetStumbler, it does give you a better indication of what encryption methods are being used. It even differentiates between networks using Enterprise (802.1X) and Personal (PSK) authentication and tells you the underlying encryption method, either TKIP or CCMP/AES.
Run this utility to see the network encryption (WEP/WPA/WPA2) keys or passphrases stored by the Wireless Zero Configuration service of Windows XP or by the WLAN AutoConfig service of Windows Vista and 7. This is great way to recover lost or forgotten keys, so you don't have to reset to factory defaults and reconfigure all the clients. You can reference the keys on-screen, export as a text/HTML/XML file, or copy a single key to the clipboard.
This is arguably the most popular network protocol analyzer. It's open source, multi-platform, and was originally named Ethereal. It sniffs, captures, and displays the raw traffic on network interfaces. It includes many filtering, analyst, and statistic features to help you monitor and troubleshoot your LAN or wireless network.
If you're new to network sniffing, it might be overwhelming at first. You might want to reference the documentation, articles, or a book to better understand what you're looking at and the packet contents.
Many networking manufacturers and vendors tout high data rates that are usually unrealistic. This tool lets you quickly check the real throughput of your wired or wireless connection. It gives you a real-world idea of the data rates you can expect.
To calculate the throughput, it runs a test between two computers you choose on the network. Simply install the application on both PCs, activate one as the server, and then you can start the test from the client. You can run the test among various points to pinpoint bottlenecks and issues.
Eric Geier is the Founder and CEO of NoWiresSecurity, which helps businesses easily protect their Wi-Fi with enterprise-level encryption by offering an outsourced RADIUS/802.1X authentication service. He is also the author of many networking and computing books.
For more help, check out the PracticallyNetworked Forums.
|Home | Networking | Backgrounders | Internet Sharing | Security | HowTo | Troubleshooting | Reviews | News | About | Jobs | Tools | Forums|