Sniffing a switched network i gave an introduction, on how a switched networked can be sniffed and what are the popular different techniques. In this article i am explaining one of the techniques i discussed in my previous article.
Port mirroring, or port spanning, is perhaps the easiest way to capture the traffic from a target device on a switched network. In this type of setup, you must have access to the command-line or web-management interface of the switch on which the target computer is located. Also, the switch must support port mirroring and have an empty port into which you can plug your sniffer. To enable port mirroring, you issue a command that forces the switch to copy all traffic on one port to another port. For instance, to capture the traffic from a device on port 3 of a switch, you could simply plug your analyzer into port 4 and mirror port 3 to port 4, allowing you to see all traffic transmitted and received by your target device. Figure illustrates port mirroring.
The way that you set up port mirroring depends on the manufacturer of your switch. For most switches, you’ll need to log in to a command-line interface and enter the port mirroring command.
When port mirroring, be aware of the throughput of the ports you are mirroring. Some switch manufacturers allow you to mirror multiple ports to one individual port, which may be very useful when analyzing the communication between two or more devices on a single switch. However, let’s consider what will happen using some basic math. If you have a 24-port switch and you mirror 23 full-duplex 100Mbps ports to one port, you could potentially have 4,600Mbps flowing to that port. This is well beyond the physical threshold of a single port, so it could cause packet loss or network slowdowns if the traffic reached a certain level. In these situations, switches have been known to completely drop excess packets or even “pause” their internal circuitry, preventing communication altogether. Be sure that this type of situation doesn’t occur when you are trying to perform your capture.