The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had for years used a sniffer system called the Carnivore Sniffer to help it detect illegal Internet communications of suspected criminals and terrorists. By definition, a sniffer is a software program or a piece of hardware with appropriate software that monitors data in transmission on some network. In other words, a sniffer acts as a network “snoop” that examines network traffic, including emails, and makes a copy of the data without changing it. Sniffers are currently popular with hackers and crackers.
As of January 2005, the FBI abandoned Carnivore. According to reports submitted to Congress, the agency not only changed to using unspecified software sold to the public but also encourages Internet providers to conduct wiretaps on suspicious individuals and to pass the intelligence to the FBI.
In Brief. FBI Abandons Carnivore Surveillance Technology. The Globe and Mail, January 20, 2005, p. B9; Mitchell, B. “Sniffer.” [Online, 2004.] Compnetworking Website. http://compnetworking.about.com/od/networksecurityprivacy/g/bldef_sniffer.htm.