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Many users may power on a Wi-Fi access point, create an SSID, and assume they are good to go. However, blindly provisioning wireless access can lead to poor connectivity, poor performance, and other problems.
Issues are often related to:
- Nearby competing Wi-Fi networks
- Overpowered access points
- Access points provisioned on the same wireless band
- Unknown devices that may be transmitting wireless access
- Weak wireless signal or "dead spots"
The above list mentions only a few of the issues that can happen when configuring a new wireless network or troubleshooting an existing wireless configuration.
What is a Wi-Fi stumbler? ^
A Wi-Fi stumbler is a Wi-Fi analyzer that provides meaningful details about nearby wireless networks. They can be loaded on Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, and IOS devices.
There are also commercial hardware implementations of Wi-Fi stumblers, which are dedicated devices that organizations may have on hand for network professionals.
Cybersecurity experts and hackers may use Wi-Fi stumblers to detect wireless networks, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and other characteristics. They can also be used for wardriving (driving around looking for weak or vulnerable Wi-Fi networks).
Free Wi-Fi stumblers ^
While you can purchase commercial Wi-Fi stumbler devices, many free Wi-Fi analyzing tools are readily available for download. Let's look at the following tools:
- Wi-Fi Analyzer
Kismet is an open-source wireless stumbler solution that can also serve as a wireless network stumbler. It can work with Wi-Fi network interfaces, Bluetooth, and even software-defined radio hardware. It is a Unix-centric solution that is available for Linux and OSX. In addition, it is said to be compatible with Windows 10/11 running WSL.
Learn more about Kismet and download it here.
NetSpot is a professional utility that offers many capabilities, including Wi-Fi analysis and troubleshooting, visual graphs, and details, including channels, frequencies, and other information. In addition, you can see the security mode used, signal strength, SSID (hidden and visible), and signal averages.
It is also available cross-platform for download on macOS and Windows. In addition, Android, and IOS apps are available from the respective app stores.
You can download NetSpot here.
Vistumbler is an open-source solution that provides a visual representation of wireless networks. You can see Mac addresses, SSIDs, signal strength, RSSI, channel, authentication configuration, encryption, etc. The tool also offers the ability to use GPS data to show more accurate representations of wireless networks and access point details.
Download Vistumbler here.
Wi-Fi Analyzer ^
Many prefer to use their mobile phone to analyze wireless networks. All you need is an application to turn it into a Wi-Fi stumbler troubleshooting and discovery tool.
One such app that is widely known for Android is Wi-Fi Analyzer. When you launch the app, it will use the wireless adapter in your Android mobile device to discover nearby networks. In addition, it provides a nice UI to visualize the access points in the area, channels, signal strength, and many other characteristics, such as overlapping APs.
Download Wi-Fi Analyzer here.
NetStumbler is a simple and easy-to-use utility that provides core functionality, including signal discovery, access point enumeration, continuous scanning, and GPS data. It works with 802.11a/b/g, but may not support newer Wi-Fi standards.
Learn more about and download NetStumbler here.
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Concluding thoughts ^
If your Wi-Fi is not working, your day might be ruined. Wi-Fi stumblers are unique Wi-Fi analyzing tools that provide the tools needed for visibility and troubleshooting. They allow seeing nearby wireless networks, tweaking bands, finding dead spots, and discovering rogue access points or wireless-enabled devices that may be causing issues.