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tcpdump is a common packet sniffer for Unix-like operating systems (linux, BSD, etc).


tcpdump prints out a description of the contents of packets on a network interface that match the boolean expression. It can also save the packet data to a file for later analysis.

Using Tcpdump with Netcat

When gathering network-based evidence, Tcpdump is an extremely useful tool. It is a widely-known program that offers a myriad of options to gather exactly the information that you want from the network. The output of Tcpdump can also be formatted as a PCAP file, which can then be opened and investigated using many different packet analyzing tools, including Wireshark. Tcpdump also comes installed by default on many UNIX-like system distributions. If not installed, binaries can be downloaded using apt-get (or an equivalent) or compiled using the source code from here.

Below you will find some of the Tcpdump switches most useful in typical digital forensic investigations, including the ability to transfer Tcpdump output in binary form (which creates a PCAP file) to a forensic workstation using Netcat. See here for a complete list of Tcpdump switches, along with other information on the Tcpdump manpage.

In order to transfer the output of Tcpdump on the victim machine to a PCAP file on your forensic workstation using Netcat, you will first need to set Netcat up to listen on your forensic workstation using the following command (see here for a refresher on using Netcat for digital forensic investigations (note that here we use the extension ".pcap" instead of ".txt" because we are creating a binary PCAP file, rather than just text ouptut)):

nc -v -l -p 2222 >.pcap

Next, run a command similar to the following one on your victim machine:

tcpdump -s 0 -U -n -i eth0 not host-w - | nc2222

The "-s 0" tells Tcpdump to use the default snapshot-length bytes of data from each packet (65535 bytes) to ensure that packets aren't truncated. The "-U', when used with "-w" tells Tcpdump to write the packet information to the output immediately, rather than waiting for the output buffer to fill. The "-n" tells Tcpdump to use the IP addresses in the packets, rather than trying to resolve them into host names using DNS. The "-i eth0" tells Tcpdump to listen for all packets on the "eth0" interface (information about different interfaces can be located using the "ifconfig" command; using "-i any" instead will tell Tcpdump to listen on all interfaces). The "not host " is the filter syntax for Tcpdump, and tells it not to gather packets involving the specified host IP address--in this case, our forensic workstation. This is very important when using Tcpdump with Netcat because otherwise Tcpdump would get stuck in an endless loop of sending the same packet data as output through Netcat since each transmission from Netcat would then immediately be recaptured by Tcpdump and sent to Netcat again and again until either the program crashes or we run out of disk space on a forensic workstation. There are also many other filters you can use with Tcpdump (see the manpage link above). The "-w" tells Tcpdump to redirect the output to a file, but since we have included a "-" after it ("-w -"), Tcpdump knows to output the binary data so that we can pipe it to whatever we want (in this case, Netcat). This allows the data to be sent to our forensic workstation in a full PCAP file so that we can perform various analyses on it.

Video Demonstration

The following YouTube video provides a tutorial on how to conduct a basic packet capture with tcpdump: