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SnifferTime for a pop quiz. Was “The Sniffer”:

A.     The title of a 1959 B-movie

B.     A piece of barware

C.     A revolutionary diagnostic tool for Local Area Networks

If you guessed C, then you are either a network administrator or you remembered that you’re reading a technology blog. The Sniffer was the 1986 creation of Network General Corporation, founded by Len Shustek and Harry Saal in Silicon Valley on May 13, 1986.

Shustek and Saal’s Sniffer was one of the first tools that allowed network administrators to see a centralized global view of all network activity. Using the Sniffer, an administrator could see information from the data packet message headers, accessing information such as senders and receivers, file sizes, etc. The Sniffer provided graphs and text descriptions to help administrators detect and resolve network problems.

Following in the Sniffer’s footsteps

Today’s network or packet sniffers provide far higher levels of data than the 1980s Sniffer and can even trigger alarms based on administrator-defined parameters. Some sniffers are standalone and used by consultants to run diagnostics at worksites. Others are bundles that allow network admins to monitor LANs, WANs, and web activity. (That’s why you want to use the Internet at work judiciously.) Of course, sniffers are also used by hackers to gain access to any data transmitted over a network by plain text.

Network General Corporation has gone through many iterations, including a stint as part of McAfee. In 2007, NetScout acquired Network General for $205 million. Shutsek is now chairman of the board of trustees at the Computer History Museum, and Saal is chairman of the board at biotech company Retrotope.

(For the record: The barware is a “snifter,” and the B-movie is The Tingler.)

Photo: Pap Kutasi Szilvia/

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

One Comment

  1. NetworkWorld’s timeline for Network General shows that the Sniffer software was released in 1986, not in 1988.


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