Hack 29. Detect Networks with Kismet

Troubleshoot network problems with one of the most advanced wireless monitoring tools available.

Unlike simple beacon scanners such as NetStumbler [Hack #24] and MacStumbler [Hack #27], Kismet is one of the most advanced diagnostic tools available for wireless networking. It will run on Linux, Mac OS X, and the various BSDs. There is a port for running Kismet on the Linksys WRT54G, and you can even use it to collect data from remote sources on Windows.

Figure 2-26. KisMAC channel selection

Kismet is a completely passive network scanner, capable of detecting traffic from access points and wireless clients alike (including NetStumbler clients). It finds closed networks by monitoring the traffic sent from network users and logs all raw 802.11 frames in a standard format for later use with specialized diagnostic and analysis tools, as discussed in "Analyze Traffic with Ethereal" [Hack #31].

If you have a machine with multiple wireless cards, Kismet even splits the work of network scanning across all of them, making a scanner capable of simultaneously tracking all 802.11 traffic in range. These are just a few of the features of this amazing piece of free software.

Figure 2-27. Relative traffic graph

Of course, with all of this power comes a fair amount of complexity. For starters, you need an 802.11a/b/g card driver capable of entering Monitor mode. Some of these drivers include Prism-based cards using the HostAP or wlan-ng drivers, Atheros-based cards using the Madwifi or ath(4) drivers, Prism54-based cards using the Prism54 drivers, and the Cisco Aironet cards using Cisco or airo-linux drivers.

2.8.1. Installation

If you don't need to compile any additional options into Kismet, all of the major Linux distributions provide a package. Ubuntu and Debian users can do an apt-get install kismet, Fedora and Red Hat users can use yum install kismet. Users of other distributions should check their package manager for kismet.

This hack also covers compiling Kismet from source. Download Kismet from http://www.kismetwireless.net. Unpack the source tree and navigate into the newly created folder. If you want to use Kismet's dump files with Ethereal (highly recommended), you need a copy of the Ethereal source tree. Configure Kismet with a line like this:

	./configure --with-ethereal=../ethereal-0.9.12/

Of course, substitute the full path to your Ethereal source tree. Now, you should be able to build Kismet with a standard:

	make; make dep; make install

Next, create a user that Kismet will assume when it isn't running as root. You can also use your own UID if you wish. Kismet needs to run as root initially, but it will drop its privileges to this UID as soon as it begins capturing data.

Edit /usr/local/etc/kismet.conf (if you compiled from source) or /etc/kismet/kismet.conf (if you installed a package) to suit your system. Here, you'll set the user ID that Kismet will use:


You'll also need to set the source= line to match your hardware. The format for this line is driver,device,description. See the comments in the file for supported drivers. Here's what I entered for my test Atheros card using the Madwifi driver:


If you want Kismet to be able to read the SSID of detected networks aloud, download and install the Festival text-to-speech software. Fedora, RedHat, Debian, and Ubuntu users can all install the festival package. Kismet will play sound effects if you wish; by default, it expects /usr/bin/play to be installed (part of the SoX sound utility), but any command-line audio player will work. All of the audio and other display parameters are configured in kismet_ui.conf.

2.8.2. Running Kismet

By default, Kismet will attempt to write logs and keep a .pid file in /var. If your user does not have access to /var, you'll need to start kismet as root or by using sudo. Note that once Kismet is in Monitor mode, your card can no longer associate with a wireless network, so you should use Ethernet (or another wireless card) if you need a network connection. Running Kismet will present you with a screen that looks something like Figure 2-28.

Once Kismet is up and running, you should see the main screen spring to life with all sorts of information. By default, Kismet initially sorts the network list based on the last time it saw traffic from each network. This list constantly changes, making it impossible to select one network for more detailed operations. Change the sort order by pressing S at any time, followed by the desired sort order (e.g., to sort on SSID, press SS). You can now use the arrow keys to select a particular network for further inspection.

Figure 2-28. Kismet's main screen

Press H at any time to see the keystroke help, and press Q to close any pop-up window.

Now that networks are sorted, you can get more information on any one of them by selecting it and pressing I. Figure 2-29 shows the network information screen.

Figure 2-29. Detailed network information

In addition to standard access points (APs), Kismet displays ad hoc networks, as well as closed networks (i.e., ones that do not broadcast their SSID). If there are no clients actively using a closed network, it displays the network information with a name of . Once a client associates with the closed network, this information is updated with the proper SSID.

Kismet also tracks a great deal of information about wireless clients. For example, to see the associated clients of a particular AP, as shown in Figure 2-30, press C from the main screen.

Figure 2-30. Viewing associated clients for a particular wireless network

Kismet attempts to guess the IP network in use based on the traffic it sees. It also keeps statistics about how much traffic each client is generating, making it easy to discover who is hogging all of the bandwidth.

If you find that you are missing packets while monitoring a particular wireless network, this is probably because you are still scanning for networks. To focus on a specific channel, press L to lock channel hopping to the current 802.11 channel.

When tuned to one channel, Kismet captures much more data, because it doesn't have to divide its time between multiple channels. Consult the documentation if you would like to add more radio cards to completely cover the entire available spectrum.

2.8.3. Cleaning Up

When you are finished using Kismet, press Shift-Q to quit. This takes your wireless card back out of Monitor mode, but does not always reset its original network parameters. You might need to either eject the card and reinsert it or configure your SSID and other settings manually to start using wireless normally.

These are just a few of the insanely useful features that Kismet has to offer. On top of everything else, Kismet saves all recorded frames to a standard format, so you can use tools such as Ethereal [Hack #31] or AirSnort to pour over your captured data for later analysis. Getting Kismet running can be daunting at first, but it is worth the effort when serious network analysis is called for.

2.8.4. See Also

  • Tons of information on RF Monitoring drivers (http://airsnort.shmoo.com)
  • AirSnort on the iBook (http://www.macunix.net:443/ibook.html)
  • Passive RF Monitoring on the iBook (http://www.swieskowski.net/code/wifi.php)

Bluetooth, Mobile Phones, and GPS

Network Discovery and Monitoring

Wireless Security

Hardware Hacks

Software Hacks

Do-It-Yourself Antennas

Wireless Network Design

Appendix A. Wireless Standards

Appendix B. Wireless Hardware Guide

Wireless Hacks
Wireless Hacks: Tips & Tools for Building, Extending, and Securing Your Network
ISBN: 0596101449
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 178

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