A network detector is a hardware device or software program designed to help the user detect nearby wireless networks. Laptop users access network detectors any time they seek a new wireless connection to the Internet, but network detectors can also be employed by hackers. Advanced network detectors are tools used in a practice called wardriving, part of which includes discovering wireless Internet connections by driving around town and detecting them. A network detector can also be called a network sniffer, and network detector software is sometimes called network discovery software.
Hardware network detectors are standalone devices dedicated to the purpose of detecting nearby networks. They are usually hand-held devices that work without the aid of a computer. When activated, a network detector emits a series of lights designed to let the user know whether an active wireless network is operating nearby. An advantage to hardware network detectors is that they tend to take up less space than a laptop. Though advanced hardware network detectors can offer greater functionality than a computer-based network connector, the most basic network detectors do not always indicate whether the user can access the Internet through the available connection.
Software network detector programs give a user the ability to scan for available networks without a separate hardware device. Standard wireless network cards generally come with their own network detector to allow a wireless card user to detect nearby wireless networks. This type of network detector will generally tell the user what network connections exist within the geographic area and usually indicate whether the connection is open and offers a pathway to the Internet.
Wardriving is a form of wireless hacking. Users broadcasting a wireless network connection for their own use can put safeguards in place to keep wireless hackers from discovering or accessing their wireless Internet connection. Methods of protecting a wireless network against unauthorized access include passwords and connection restrictions. Network intrusion detectors can tell a network administrator when the network has been authorized by an unauthorized party using hardware or software network detectors to sniff out the network.
Advanced network detecting software is not necessary for the average user, but can help a wireless networking hobbyist discover otherwise hidden nearby networks. A basic network detector in a wireless card may not be able to detect a network that is not broadcasting its service set identifier (SSID), but advanced wardriving equipment can detect other identifiers broadcast by the network. Local laws may prohibit this. Unauthorized access to a private network is a crime in some areas, particularly if done using hacking equipment or software.