8 free Wi-Fi stumbling and surveying tools

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

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.

Tarlogic Security

Acrylic WiFi (Windows)

Acrylic Wi-Fi Home, a Wi-Fi stumbler that is a scaled down version of their a commercial offering.The GUI always shows the list of SSIDs and their details on the top portion of the application. It shows negative dBm values for RSSI, can name the 802.11 standard (including 802.11ac), recognizes larger bandwidths and displays the multiple channels that are utilized. It does not reveal the actual hidden SSIDs, but does show the other network details of hidden SSIDs.


Cain & Abel (Windows)

Cain & Abel is a multi-purpose password recovery and cracking application that also features Wi-Fi stumbling, sniffing and cracking tools. It has a monitor or promiscuous mode to capture more traffic. The main portion of the application is tabbed to sort the different utilities. Due to lacking graphs and inability to distinguish 802.11ac APs and larger channel-widths, Cain & Abel might not be a great choice for general Wi-Fi stumbling, but it would be useful when penetration testing.


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 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 geolocation detection.This utility has a simple GUI that resembles more of a multi-tabbed dialog box than a full application. The first tab, Adapter Overview, displays a listing of all the network adapters and their IP gateway and MAC addresses.


LizardSystems Wi-Fi Scanner (Windows)

LizardSystems offers a free edition of their Wi-Fi Scanner application for non-commercial use, which has the same features and functionality as their paid product. In addition to the Wi-Fi stumbling, it offers some great analysis and reporting capabilities. On the Scanner tab is a list of detected SSIDs that shows signal strength in both negative dBm values and percentages. Along with specifying the 802.11 standards, it shows the multiple channels used by any SSIDs with larger channel-widths.


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 as an installable or portable download. The GUI is very simple. 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.


Wireless Diagnostics (Mac OS X Lion and later)

In Mac OS X Mountain Lion v10.8.4 and later, Apple provides the Wireless Diagnostics tool that's more than just a stumbler: it can help detect and fix Wi-Fi issues as well. The Scan utility is a simple Wi-Fi stumbler, showing the usual details of detected networks along with a summary of network types and best channels.The Info utility shows current network connection and signal details.

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NetSpot (Windows and Mac OS X)

NetSpot is a Wi-Fi stumbler and map-based survey tool, but for the free home edition we reviewed, the map-based survey tool is disabled. This is the only tool reviewed here that’s available for both Windows and Mac OS X. On the simple GUI, network details of the SSIDs are shown bold and clear. The signal levels are shown in negative dBm values and percentages. It doesn't show hidden networks at all on the network list.