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Is it possible, with a normal wifi adapter, to detect present wifi devices in the surrounding? Let's say, is it possible to detect an Iphone with wifi switched on in the range of my wifi adapter?

Perhaps it's possible to create a fake AP with an ESSID and encryption thats stored in the favorites list of the device that should be detected, but actually I am searching for a more generic way, without knowing the favorite networks.

Also, I remember I had found special hardware once for this purpose, but again, I am looking for a method where standard hardware can be utilized.

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

You will need a wireless nic that permits a 'monitor' mode, and that requires some special drivers and special nics.

  • Kismet's list of cards for Linux
  • tests on different cards
  • pineapple device (special device)
  • airpcap nic (specialized nic for Windows)

Once you get a card, you will need software to deal with the data and Kismet is the leader in this area right now.

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+1 Kismet. The easiest hardware I found was an old Macbook. Just load up Backtrack on bootable media. – mgjk Feb 29 '12 at 18:33
+1 Backtrack makes a very easy environment for wireless site surveys - Kismet and associated packages let you also map wireless devices along with google map plugins - very useful for larger sites. – Rory Alsop Feb 29 '12 at 19:04
I've got a few alfa usb adapters in the lab. there are the recommended ones for aircrack, I think they might work, I will give it a try. thanks! – Erik Mar 1 '12 at 16:40

There could be some methods.

  1. Capture WiFi packets and analysis it, though it requires promiscuous mode. A software airodump-ng is one of options.
  2. Inject some packets to detect hosts. Below is an example. (This method assumes that every WiFi client has a valid IPv4 address.)
    1. send an ARP packet (eg. use ping)
    2. receive the response (if Linux, type arp to show the result of ARP)
    3. Loop above for every IPv4 addresses.
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The method described will only work if I the clients are in the same network as me, right? – Erik Mar 1 '12 at 16:41
@Erik, yes, it will work for clients in the same network only. – kamae Mar 1 '12 at 23:02

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