9 free Wi-Fi stumbling and surveying tools

Discover SSIDs, signal strength, channels, MAC addresses, security status and more

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Stumbling and surveying

Here are 9 tools that provide important details on known and unknown aspects of your Wi-Fi network. Each of these tools gives you the basic wireless details: SSIDs, signal strength, channels, MAC addresses and security status. Some can even reveal “hidden” or non-broadcasted SSIDs, display the noise levels, or display statistics on successful and failed packets of your wireless connection. Two of the tools include Wi-Fi password cracking tools as well, useful for educational or penetration testing purposes.

Acrylic WiFi (Windows)
Acrylic WiFi (Windows)

Tarlogic Security offers Acrylic WiFi Free for non-commercial use, in addition to a paid/commercial version with more features. Both editions support a monitor or promiscuous mode to capture more traffic and have a built-in simple brute-force password cracking utility to test password security. The free edition has a simple but attractive and user-friendly GUI. You always see the list of SSIDs and their details on the top portion of the application. Negative dBm values are shown for RSSI, it can distinguish 802.11ac, and it recognizes larger bandwidths and the multiple channels utilized. Any hidden SSIDs that are discovered from captured packets will be shown. There is no exporting or saving functionality except for a feature that allows you to post a screenshot to Twitter. Overall, Acrylic WiFi Free is a feature-rich Wi-Fi stumbler.

AirGrab WiFi Radar (Mac OS X)
AirGrab WiFi Radar (Mac OS X)

AirGrab WiFi Radar is a free Mac-based Wi-Fi stumbler. Though optional, free registration is required to get rid of their snag screen. The GUI displays the networks and graphs in a different way than most stumblers. On the upper left is a list of detected SSIDs with just their MAC address and channel. To see other details you must click on an entry. In addition to the usual details, WiFi Radar shows the noise level, which can be very helpful when doing wireless surveying or troubleshooting. On the upper right of the screen is the channel usage graph. AirGrab WiFi Radar could be a useful tool for Wi-Fi surveying and troubleshooting, especially since it offers noise levels, allowing you to calculate the signal-to-noise ratio of access points. Also, both the network list and channel graph can be saved and exported.

Cain & Abel (Windows)
Cain & Abel (Windows)

Cain & Abel is a multi-purpose password recovery and cracking application that also features Wi-Fi stumbling, sniffing, and cracking tools. Like Acrylic WiFi, it also has a monitor or promiscuous mode to capture more traffic. It has an older simplistic look and feel, with an old-style toolbar. On the Wireless tab, you’ll find the Wi-Fi stumbler. In addition to the typical SSID and signal info, you can see a list and details of connected clients. Like Acrylic WiFi, any hidden SSIDs discovered from packets are revealed in the GUI as well. Most of status and data captured can be exported into a simple text file. Due to the lack of graphs and inability to distinguish 802.11ac access points and larger channel-widths, Cain & Abel might not be a great choice for general Wi-Fi stumbling and surveying. But it certainly would be useful when performing penetration testing.

heatmapper wi fi stumbler slideshow
Credit: Ekahau
Ekahau HeatMapper

HeatMapper is the free version of networking design toolmaker Ekahau’s Wi-Fi Site and Survey Planner. It offers an attractive graphical overview of the airwaves around you and even some information about the security settings on detected Wi-Fi networks. The one downside for today’s user is that the app’s promotional literature still advertises it as being able to see “a/b/g/n” wireless, so it’s unclear whether it supports 802.11ac. Windows only.

Homedale (Windows)
Homedale (Windows)

Homedale is a relatively simple and portable Windows-based stumbler with an optional command-line interface. Other than showing basic network and signal details, it supports GPS and other geo-location support logging. This utility has a simple GUI that resembles more of a multi-tabbed dialog box than a full application. On the Access Points tab, you see all the usual details. However, it does not detect hidden SSIDs, though it does show their other network details. Homedale offers a line graph of the signal levels for each SSID, but no graph is provided for visualizing channel usage. This tool might be most useful when a simple location-aware stumbler is needed, especially if you need to save or log the results.

LizardSystems Wi-Fi Scanner (Windows)
LizardSystems Wi-Fi Scanner (Windows)

LizardSystems offers a free edition of their Wi-Fi Scanner application for non-commercial use and a paid edition with more functionality. In addition to Wi-Fi stumbling, it displays statistics and graphics on certain types of network packets, but only during the first 30 days of the free edition. The application has a modern looking GUI that’s easy to get around and understand. Two tabs switch between the screens for the stumbler functionality and the wireless information with packet details. Overall, Wi-Fi Scanner would be an OK tool for general surveying needs, keeping in mind it won’t allow you to save or export the findings, reveal hidden SSIDs, nor fully recognize 802.11ac.

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WirelessNetView (Windows)

The WirelessNetView utility is freeware from NirSoft, offered for personal or commercial purposes. It’s a very simple Windows-based Wi-Fi stumbler, available in an installable or portable download. For the signal strength, it shows negative dBm values and for percentages, it shows values for the last signal received and the average over time. Another unique detail it offers is how often each SSID has been detected. All this data can be exported to a simple text file. This utility lacks advanced features, like graphs, hidden SSID detection, full 802.11ac support, and recognizing all channels for access points utilizing larger channel-widths.

Wireless Diagnostics (Mac OS X Lion and later)
Wireless Diagnostics (Mac OS X Lion and later)

In Mac OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.4 and later, Apple provides the Wireless Diagnostics tool. It’s more than just a stumbler; it can help you detect and fix Wi-Fi issues as well. Best of all, it’s a native tool included with the OS. To get started, press the Option key and then click the Airport/Wi-Fi icon. This displays more details on your current Wi-Fi connection while also making the Wireless Diagnostics shortcut available. When you open Wireless Diagnostics, it will begin running tests to detect any issues. Otherwise you can choose Window > Utilities to access the other wireless tools. You can see the current connection and environment details, perform frame captures, configure logging, scan for network details, and view performance info, including noise and SNR values. For more info, Apple provides a great tour and tutorial on Wireless Diagnostics.

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xirrus wi-fi inspector
Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector

Wi-Fi Inspector provides a detailed breakdown of every hotspot it detects, along with a simple positional “radar” display that looks a little like the one from Alien. It’s the former feature that looks the most impressive, however, with an abundance of well-presented detail available.