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Complaint: Why Don’t You Allow Employees to use Wireshark?

Check out these great references as well: 

 Our custom profiles repository for Wireshark
 Our Udemy course on Wireshark 
 Our Udemy course on Wireless Packet capture



Let me begin with a little background.  At CellStream, and the Online School of Network Sciences, we have taught hundreds of Wireshark classes for general networking, voice networking, data center networking and wireless networking.  As our students and clients know, we depend heavily of a hands on approach to learning.  For Wireshark classes, this means installing and running Wireshark on the student’s local machine (Wireshark is free, and installs on Windows, MAC OSx, and Linux).  We then provide a variety of packet capture files to study how to best use the tool.  Our clients vary from equipment manufacturers to networking companies, like service providers.

Now I can start on my complaint.  I direct my complaint primarily to the service providers and networking companies that either a) restrict their technical staff to not being able to download and install Wireshark – the employee does not have the appropriate Administrative privileges, or b) refuse to use Wireshark because they think it is some kind of hacking tool.  Instead of using this great tool, they often choose to swap equipment or update software until the problem ‘goes away’.

A screenshot of Wireshark packet analyzer:  Even a beginner can tell there are issues here!  And all the lights would be green on the modem/router!

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Naturally, there is no black and white here, but allow me to define some clarity.

Let’s start with the ‘hacker tool’ accusation.  Without question, you can use Wireshark to capture someone’s traffic/packets that contain a clear case password.  However, leaving that statement as the reason for not trusting the tool actually demonstrates a very poor, limited understanding of how networking in general, and packet capture specifically, actually works.  Wireshark is a protocol analyzer.  Such tools have been necessary (like T1 BERT testers and dozens of other similar tools) since the beginning of digitization!  What makes Wireshark special, and necessary, is that most network problems today are based on data communications that occur in differnet protocols at many different layers.  Anyone trying to solve slow performance or connectivity issues must use a tool like Wireshark to examine these layers, and be proficient in it – not as a last resort, but maybe even as the first step in analyzing the problem.  So let me be more precise: not using this tool is handicapping your staff and company from being able to solve network issues and foster customer satisfaction – and it’s free!  Now some further clarity: a) you cannot use Wireshark to bring down a network, b) Wireshark cannot magically unencrypt encrypted traffic, so without the encryption keys, data is safe (with the keys nothing is safe and Wireshark is not the tool to use if you have the keys and you want to do damage), and c) Wireshark does no hacking functions (there are plenty of other tools to do that).  So the next time someone uses the ‘hacker tool’ excuse, do what I do, forgive them for not understanding, or knowing what they are talking about.  If that is the IT person at your company – they need knowledge and understanding (send them to us!!).

Now let’s tackle the restrictions placed on employee laptops.  Again, no black and white.  I understand, just like anyone at SONY will confirm, once a bad peice of software is installed on the corporate network, the result can be catastrophic.  Stopping there is not the answer, however.  For example, the SONY hack and many other came from Email or Web Browsing, not from installation of software from reliable sources.  If you took this more bluntly you would never install anything from Microsoft!!  It is a ridiculous excuse.  But let’s get back to Wireshark.  I understand that the issue here is with ‘open source’.  Wireshark is open source.  Once again, knowledge and understanding are key.  It would be ignorant to say that anyone can contribute code into the Wireshark repository.  That is simply not the case, and that is simply not the case for most every legitimate open source projects.  Contributions are carefully vetted and considered and tested by such projects and Wireshark is no exception.  Access to their core code is limited to a very special group of people, and further there has never been an issue with the Wireshark code to date.  Does that mean that you can expect this software to be bug free?  Of course not.  What is at steak is a bigger issue, that I have even witnessed.  Due to these unjustified, unlearned assertions and policies, networking professionals can say “I can’t use that tool”  or “My company does not approve of it.” Thus the policy has become the reason for ignorance, and limited skill building, at a time when networking is getting ever so much more complex such that the understanding and skill set that a tool like Wireshark leverages are critical in today’s Internet.  Again, I say that if this is the case in your company, send them to us so we can educate, inform, and change their modality.

Every company should have policies about how to use corporate resources and tools.  In the case of Wireshark, it should be crystal clear how capture files that contain customer traffic are ethically and properly handled.  They can even be anonymized using free tools like Tracewrangler. 

Any network is a forward thinking infrastructure by its nature.  Whether it is roads or fibers, technology rapidly advances to get better, cheaper, and more complex usage models in play as swiftly as possible.  Look at cars, trucks, planes, trains, and shipping. And ofcourse the Internet – that of course being packets.  None of these networks is standing still, least of all the Internet itself.  The Internet of Stuff is expanding and you have to ask yourself, what are the tools you need to mater to understand when something goes wrong?  A packet/protocol analyzer is a must have – and the must have analyzer is Wireshark.

If you want to make a big difference to your networking company, to your customer satisfaction, to your technical employee knowledge, the one thing you can do is start allowing your team to learn and use the tool.  Do it today!


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