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Aditya Cakrawidya
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Tracking Your Network Traffic - Finnegan Pierson - Blog

Tracking Your Network Traffic

Businesses today are more complex than ever before. The data that moves across networks—healthcare records and banking transactions— often have high stakes.  Businesses have evolved to rely on the security of highly confidential, complex data sets, yet network infrastructure was created to simply move “data packets” with little regard to their complexity or confidentiality— in its purest state, the network doesn’t care if your data is from the FBI or your mom. Luckily, computer scientists and engineers have created a solution: network monitoring. 

Network Infrastructure and the Data Problem

Network infrastructure was built on a remarkable simplicity of basic communication protocols— computers send information back and forth to each other based on a series of inputs and outputs. The unbelievable interconnectedness of the modern world comes down to a rather simple system of computer communication; however, the beautiful simplicity of this system causes complications. 

The computer recognizes network communications as “data packages.”  The problem with this aspect of network infrastructure is that all information passed through the web looks the same to the computer. This style of data transferring becomes a challenge for businesses that rely on sensitive information. Since every data package looks the same, it becomes difficult to know if you’re sending the correct information. When you’re a bank or a doctor’s office, this is a huge liability. Network monitoring, such as a fiber tap, provides businesses visibility into individual packets of data to ensure security. 

Data Monitoring and IT Security

The large majority of modern businesses have full departments designated to networking monitoring and security. It is essential that companies that use sensitive information are sending the data they want where they want. While there is a large variety of networking tools available, they all seek to discover the contents of individual data packets. The two most common methods for monitoring network traffic are TAP(Test Access Point) and SPAN (Switched Port Analyzer). 


TAPs and SPANs identify the data inside packets using different methods. A network TAP is a hardware device that is inserted into the cabling network to copy and monitor data packets A SPAN is a software program that is applied to a router and duplicates the incoming and outgoing traffic.  SPANS will usually forward the duplicated traffic to a specific port. 

The Benefit of a Network TAP 

Most commonly, businesses choose a network TAP over a SPAN due to common problems in SPAN software including:

  • SPAN software requires a lot of work from the computer’s CPU, which can result in poor performance. 
  • Errors in data copying are easily “dropped” from a SPAN port, which can result in inconsistent reporting.
  • The storage requirement of data packets can exceed the space available on a port, which can cause crucial errors to be left undetected. 

Different Kinds of TAPS: Passive and Active

Network TAPS fall under two subcategories: passive and active. Passive TAPs require no power generation and don’t communicate or interact with other “players” in the network infrastructure.  Passive TAPs are an attractive option to businesses because they are highly reliable and don’t require a lot of maintenance or configuration. 

Active TAPS require a power source to send their signals and copy data packets. While active TAPS are able to efficiently copy network traffic, many businesses prefer passive TAPs because they don’t require a power source. If a company experienced a power outage, active TAPS would not be able to generate a signal and would not be reliable, whereas passive TAPS would still generate and receive signals. 

The infrastructure of the Internet is brilliant— it has enabled modern wonders, such as online banking and E-commerce. The majority of contemporary companies have harnessed the simplicity of network structure to create the products that define modern society. Although network infrastructure's simplistic nature has created a world in which you can send money to your friends via applications, it has also posed some security complications. Today, modern companies rely on network monitoring to ensure the security of their data. 


Publish Date: May 7, 2020 3:05 PM



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