Alternatives to Wireshark

I have hesitated to write this article for – well – about 15 years! Why? Because I love Wireshark!!

That said, I was asked this question in a recent class. I asked back, why? The individual said they were just curious and perhaps something had come out that was better or next generation. Seemed reasonable, but honestly there has been nothing, at least in my opinion, that is better.

learn wireshark

Wireshark is an incredibly powerful and widely used network packet analyzer, offering deep visibility into network traffic and the ability to dissect and analyze packets at a very granular level.  That said, there are reasons you might want to consider an alternative to Wireshark:

  1. Complexity for Beginners: Wireshark’s depth and breadth of features, while powerful, can be overwhelming for beginners or those who need simpler network analysis tasks. An alternative tool might offer a more user-friendly interface and easier learning curve.
  2. Performance Concerns: For capturing and analyzing high volumes of traffic in real-time, Wireshark might strain system resources, especially on less powerful machines. Some alternatives are designed to be more lightweight or offer cloud-based analysis to offload processing from the user’s computer.
  3. Different Use Cases: Depending on your specific needs, you might require a tool that focuses more on security, such as intrusion detection systems (IDS) like Snort, or on network performance monitoring and analysis, such as SolarWinds or PRTG Network Monitor. These tools might offer specialized features that Wireshark doesn’t focus on.
  4. Platform Compatibility: While Wireshark is available on multiple platforms, there might be situations where an alternative tool is better optimized for a specific operating system or offers features more suited to certain environments (e.g., mobile networks).
  5. Legal and Privacy Considerations: In some environments, the use of packet capture tools like Wireshark might be restricted due to privacy laws or corporate policies, especially if there’s a risk of capturing sensitive information. Alternatives might offer more targeted data collection methods that comply with these restrictions.
  6. Integrated Network Management Solutions: Some network administrators might prefer a more integrated approach that combines packet analysis with other network management and monitoring functionalities. Alternatives that offer a broader range of network management features in a single package might be more appealing.

That said, there are alternatives.  When considering an alternative, it’s essential to evaluate how well it aligns with your specific requirements, such as ease of use, specific functionalities, performance demands, and compliance with legal and organizational policies.  So before we dive into my list, let’s put down some important requirements for any replacement of Wireshark. They are in no particular order, and I am sure I am not covering all the requirements, but here is my minimum requirement list:   

  • Must be multiplatform (Windows, MAC, and Linux) with simple transferrable configuration.
  • Must support an infinite capture and display filtering capability to find/zoom in on particular packet types/content.
  • Must support all possible network interfaces seamlessly (LAN, WLAN, USB).
  • Must be backward compatible to all my capture files/formats.
  • Must clearly show packet contents in a variety of formats (binary, hexadecimal, graphic, actual content).
  • Must support both a GUI and a command line usage model, with remote support as well.
  • Must provide detailed statistics and analysis of packet captures.
  • Must run extremely fast being able to handle large captures efficiently.
  • Must be free or very low cost.

Great. What alternatives I am aware of?  Do they meet all these requirements? Wireshark certainly does meet them all. The ones below, well, not exactly. They do serve a variety of different purposes however.

Here is a list, and the appropriate web links if available.

  1. tcpdump – A powerful command-line packet analyzer. It’s widely used for network debugging and packet filtering. It can capture packets and display them in detail but lacks a GUI, making it more suitable for experienced users comfortable with command-line interfaces.
  2. TShark – Essentially Wireshark’s command-line counterpart, so perhaps this does not count, TShark allows for packet capturing and analysis in a non-GUI environment. It’s useful for automated tasks and remote sessions.
  3. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor – A comprehensive network monitoring tool that offers fault, performance, and availability monitoring along with packet analysis capabilities. It’s designed for larger networks and comes with an intuitive user interface, but it is a commercial product.
  4. PRTG Network Monitor – Offers network monitoring along with packet sniffing and analysis features. PRTG provides a user-friendly interface and is suitable for monitoring bandwidth, diagnosing network issues, and more. It uses sensors for monitoring various network components and services.
  5. Nmap/Zenmap – While primarily known as a network scanning tool, Nmap (with its GUI version Zenmap) can be used to perform packet capture and analysis to some extent, especially in identifying hosts and services on a network.
  6. Ettercap – A packet sniffer that is widely used by hackers and can give useful information to network defenders.
  7. EtherApe – A graphical network monitor for Unix modeled after etherman. It displays network activity graphically with nodes and links representing traffic among them. It’s simpler and more visually oriented, making it accessible for those who prefer graphical representations.
  8. NetworkMiner – A network forensic analysis tool (NFAT) that can parse PCAP files and show details such as hosts, sessions, and open ports without putting the network interface into promiscuous mode. It’s particularly useful for forensic analysis and for investigating network security incidents.
  9. SmartSniff – A free packet sniffer that includes packet analysis functions.
  10. Arkime – An open source, large-scale, full packet capturing, indexing, and database system. Arkime is geared towards security research and is designed to handle tens of thousands of simultaneous connections, making it suitable for large organizations.
  11. Snort – Primarily an intrusion detection system (IDS), Snort can also be used for packet logging and analysis. It’s highly configurable and can be used to monitor network traffic for signs of suspicious activity.
  12. Suricata – Another intrusion detection system that can perform real-time packet capturing and analysis. Suricata is multi-threaded, making it capable of high performance and capable of analyzing encrypted traffic.
  13. Kismet – A wireless packet sniffer that evades intrusion detection systems.
  14. LiveAction Omnipeek – A traffic analyzer with a packet capture add-on that has detailed packet analysis functions. This tool installs on Windows.
  15. netsh trace – this applies to Windows machines only, but you can use the netsh tool to capture packets.  The problem is the output is in Microsoft’s event log format and need to be converted.  There are ways to accomplish this.  You can read more details here:
  16. pktmon – is a packet monitoring tool included in Windows 10 and later versions, providing capabilities similar to those of network sniffing tools like Wireshark, but directly from the command line. It’s designed for capturing, filtering, and analyzing network packets.  You can read more about this here:

Choosing the right tool for packet capture depends on your specific needs, such as the complexity of the network environment, the level of detail required in the analysis, user interface preferences, and whether you need additional features like network monitoring or intrusion detection.

Did I miss any?

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