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I'm following a CEH formation in which we have to buy an alfa card. What's the difference between an alfa card and my laptop's network card?

I thought it was that alfa card can be set in monitor mode but it seems to be possible with my network card.

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Every card uses a chipset from different manufacturers. The Alfa card gets recommended all the time as it uses a chipset (Ralink RT3572 on the V2) compatible with the tools you will be using (aircrack etc).

It also has good throughput and if you want to do more than just monitor, e.g Evil Twin etc you will need two NICs anyway, so always good to have a selection.

Your built in NIC may very well have the right chipset and be compatible with the tools. Most cards can go into monitor mode it is only when you start doing more complex work that you may or may not notice issues with your internal NIC.

Another advantage of an external card is the ability to add a better arial. The Alfa comes with a 7dBi antenna as standard, good for picking up a broad range of networks close by. If you need longer, narrower range and have a direct line of sight to your target a 25dBi Yagi antenna gets good results.

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All depends on drivers. Some support Packet Injection, Monitor Mode, Wireless Access Point, some don't. Alfa uses Realtek chips, which are the most common in wireless penetration testing. Realtek is known by most wireless security professionals deemed as at least above average, while being best for the price. Realtek chips because of this reason usually have more optimized custom drivers for penetration testing.

Talking about Realtek chips, the newest Kali Linux supported 802.11ac (current highest wireless standard) chip is RTL8812AU, with the best wireless adapter for the task being Alfa AWUS036ACH. Basically it supports all kinds of modes for pentesting, including Monitor Mode, Injection and Wireless AP. You can read more about it on my blog here.

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