All currently available wireless sniffers can be classified under two broad categories: passive sniffers and probing sniffers. The difference between the two categories lies in the fact that passive sniffers do not send out any traffic while sniffing. They sit quietly and receive wireless frames for as long as the WNIC is operating in RFMON mode.
On the other hand, probing sniffers detect APs by actively sending out probes. As far as 802.11 is concerned, when a wireless station wants to see a list of APs in its vicinity, it sends out probe request frames, both for the wireless networks set up in its profile as well as for any wireless networks that may be in the vicinity. APs that hear these probe request frames will respond with probe responses. Probing sniffers use this same technique by probing for APs in the vicinity and thus receiving information (e.g., SSID, signal strength, noise level, operating channel, and supported data as well as encryption capabilities) about the discovered APs via the probe responses.
Examples of passive sniffers include Kismet, Airodump-ng, and Prismstumbler, whereas examples of probing sniffers include Wellenreiter and the Windows-based Netstumbler tool.
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