How To: Buy the Best Wireless Network Adapter for Wi-Fi Hacking in 2017

Buy the Best Wireless Network Adapter for Wi-Fi Hacking in 2017

To hack a Wi-Fi network using Kali Linux, you need your wireless card to support monitor mode and packet injection. Not all wireless cards can do this, so I've rounded up this list of 2017's best wireless network adapters for hacking on Kali Linux to get you started hacking both WEP and WPA Wi-Fi networks.

Wi-Fi Hacking for Beginners

Kali Linux is by far the best supported hacking distro for beginners, and Wi-Fi hacking on Kali (previously called BackTrack) is where I started my own journey into hacking. In order to hack Wi-Fi, you will quickly learn that a wireless network adapter supporting packet injection and monitor mode is essential. Without one, many attacks are impossible, and the few that work can take days to succeed. Fortunately, there are several good adapters to choose from.

A range of Kali Linux compatible network adapters. Image by SADMIN/Null Byte

If you're new to hacking Wi-Fi, Null Byte's Kali Pi hacking platform is a great way to get started hacking on Kali Linux for as little as $35. Any of the wireless network adapters on this list can be combined with a Raspberry Pi to build your own Wi-Fi hacking computer.

A Raspberry Pi with a supported network is a powerful, low-cost Kali Linux hacking platform. Image by SADMIN/Null Byte

What's so great about wireless network adapters? By swapping out the antenna or adapter type, we can target different kinds of networks. We can even target far-away networks with the addition of special super long-range directional antennas like the Yagi antenna.

Chipsets Supported by Kali Linux

So how do you pick the best wireless network adapter for hacking? If you're hacking on Kali, certain chipsets (the chip that controls the wireless adapter) will work without much or any configuration needed.

Atheros AR9271 chipset inside the ALFA Network AWUS036NHA. Image by Maintenance script/Wikidev

Chipsets that work with Kali include:

  • Atheros AR9271
  • Ralink RT3070
  • Ralink RT3572
  • Realtek 8187L (Wireless G adapters)
  • Realtek RTL8812AU (newly in 2017)
  • my research also suggests the Ralink RT5370N is compatible

In 2017, Kali Linux began supporting drivers for the RTL8812AU wireless chipsets. These drivers are not part of the standard Linux kernel and have been modified to allow for injection. This is a big deal because this chipset is one of the first to support 802.11 AC, bringing injection-related wireless attacks to this standard.

Kali Linux compatible adapters. Image by SADMIN/Null Byte

Adapters That Use the Ralink RT3070 Chipset

The Alfa AWUS036NH is a b/g/n adapter with an absurd amount of range. This is amplified by the omnidirectional antenna and can be paired with a Yagi or Paddle antenna to create a directional array.

The AWUSO36NH. Image by SADMIN/Null Byte

If you're looking for a somewhat more compact wireless adapter that can be plugged in via USB, the Alfa AWUS036NEH is a powerful b/g/n adapter that's slim and doesn't require a USB cable to use.

The AWUS036NEH, relatively compact with extreme range. Image by SADMIN/Null Byte

Sometimes you need a stealthier option that's still powerful enough to pwn networks without making a big fuss about plugging in large, suspicious network adapters. Consider the g/n PAU05, affectionately nicknamed "El Stubbo" and a personal favorite both for its low profile and its aggressive performance in the short and medium range. Consider this if you need to gather network data without including everything within several blocks.

A note on the Panda from one of our readers: The Panda PAUO5 on Amazon won't do packet injection. It seems they now ship with an unsupported chipset (RT5372), so make sure yours has the correct chipset!

The PAU05, a super low-profile option that is one of my favorites. Image by SADMIN/Null Byte

Adapters That Use the Atheros AR9271 Chipset

The Alfa AWUS036NHA is my current long-range network adapter and the standard by which I judge other long-range adapters. For a long-range application, this paired with a ridiculously big adapter is a stable, fast, and well-supported b/g/n wireless network adapter.

The AWUS036NHA, featuring great long-range performance. Image by SADMIN/Null Byte

A favorite for newbies and experienced hackers alike, this compact b/g/n is among the cheapest but boasts surprisingly impressive performance. That being said, only v1 of this adapter will work with Kali Linux. The v2 version of this adapter is a different chipset, so make sure you check to see which yours is!

WARNING: Only version ONE of this adapter will work with Kali. Image by SADMIN/Null Byte

Adapters That Use the RT3572 Chipset

While the previous adapters have been 2.4 GHz only, the AWUS051NH is a dual band adapter that is also compatible with 5 GHz networks. While slightly pricier, the dual-band capacity and compatibility with 802.11n draft 3.0 and 802.11a/b/g wireless standards make this a more advanced option.

The Alfa AWUS051NH. Image by SADMIN/Null Byte

Adapters That Use the Ralink RT5370N Chipset

While I haven't tested this IEEE 802.11n compatible adapter personally, the chipset is supported in Kali and it supports monitor mode. For an extremely compact adapter with an external antenna mount for swapping different types of antennas, the Detroit DIY Electronics Wifi Antenna For Raspberry Pi is a good starter option.

Compact option from Detroit Electronics. Image via Detroit Electronics

Adapters That Use the Realtek RTL8812AU Chipset (New)

Newly supported in 2017, the Alfa AWUS036ACH is a beast, with dual antennas and 2.4 GHz 300 Mbps/5 GHz 867 Mbps – 802.11ac and a, b, g, n compatibility. This is the newest offering I've found that's compatible with Kali, so if you're looking for the fastest and longest range, this would be the adapter to start with.

To use this, you may need to first run the following.

apt update
apt install realtek-rtl88xxau-dkms

This will install the needed drivers, and you should be good to go.

The Alfa AWUS036ACH, ready to hack on 802.11ac. Image via Alfa Website

Wireless G Only USB Adapters Using the Realtek 8187L Chipset

The following USB adapters use an older chipset that is less useful and will not pick up as many networks. These cards still will work against some networks, so I've included mine that's worked for over five years.

The equivalent to an old Honda or Toyota, these adapters just keep kicking. These are great for beginners, and there are a ton around. While they only offer 802.11b/g compatibility, they continue to be useful.

By far my oldest network adapter, the AWUS036H has been hacking networks for years and will not go quietly into the night. Image by SADMIN/Null Byte

Others Options

During my research, I also came across the following adapters with supported chipsets, but only anecdotal evidence of packet injection and monitor mode. If you're feeling adventurous, you can pick up one of the following supported adapters mention in the comments how it works for you.

The WiFi Module 4 by Hard Kernel uses the supported Ralink RT5572 chipset, which adds 5 GHz capabilities, and also works in 2.4 GHz.

An ultra compact option is also the WiFi Module 0, also by Hard Kernel, based on Ralink RT5370N chipset.

Some of the top wireless network adapters for hacking. Image by SADMIN/Null Byte

That completes my roundups of wireless network adapters for hacking in 2017. Got a favorite I didn't list? Leave a comment and link us to it!

You can ask me questions here or @sadmin2001 on Twitter or Instagram.

Cover photo and screenshots by SADMIN/Null Byte

51 Comments

Great guide!!! Love it!!!
Is the antenna on the tp-link TL-WN722N the original antenna??
If not, what is the model and name of the antenna?? And is it better??
Thanks

I swap my antennas around a fair amount, that was a good catch. The original is white and smaller. I did notice a slight increase when I stuck one of the Alfa antennas on it, but it wasn't substantial. I'll do another piece on antennas, hopefully, next week!

Another wonderful guide!!
My opinions:

  • Realtek chip-sets are buggy.
  • Atheros = best, old and gold.
  • TP-LINK TL-WN722N, you won't be able to raise the tx-power.
  • Buy an Alpha.

Thanks Admin.

Hi ANON USER

My wn722n (wlan1) txpower is 27 dBm (501 mW)

Must be V1, higher versions don't support it (>20), actually, even V1 doesn't supp it, you will end up frying the chip-set, like my friend did (on V2).

Anyone else having issues with the Alfa AWUS036ACh? I get great range with it, but it doesn't catch beacons anywhere near as fast as my built-in card with airodump.

I own both the Alfa H and TP Link adapters and love them both. What are your thoughts on the WiFi Pineapple though? I just purchased one about a week ago.

I thought it might be a little expensive for some of our beginners, but I could do a piece on it if there's demand.

I have an Alpha AWUS036H and a Hawking 150N adapter. Is one better than the other for Kali?

I'm having problems with the AWUSO36ACH. I've installed the drivers as suggested but it isn't detected by Kali Linux. Please help!

Hey! What is your hardware setup?

I'm running Kali Linux in a virtual box

I tried getting the driver setup in Kali terminal.

However I get the error :Unable to locate package

Cant get AWUSO36ACH to work!

what about awus052nh ? it uses rt3572

Shit I might have to make a part 2 after testing some of these suggestions

Is Alfa AWUS036AC good?? It has duel 5dbi antenna.
Will it be able to be on monitor mode and inject packets??
I m planning on changing my TL-WN722n to something better.
I m open to any suggestions, thanks. :)

So should I get the AWUSO36ACH or the wifi pineapple? Which one is better? Apparently, the pineapple cannot hack 802.11ac.

I'm about to buy my first Alfa. Please can you suggest best one? I know it might be dump question as they all good, but still. I seen that new one came out AWUS052NH and it has no problems with drivers as AWUS036ACH. Which one would be better?

Alfa AWUS036NHA

Transfer rate low, single band. What about new ones I mentioned above, they cover more networks + more powerful with two antennas, transfer rate higher and both dual bands?

I haven't tried the AWUS052NH, I'm going to check it out asap

Sometimes practical beats theory,
I own Netgear N150 WNA1100(Atheros), TP-Link TL-WN822Nv3(Realtek), Alpha AWUS036NHA(Atheros) (recent).

I got the Netgear one for free with a router, and it works far better than TP-Link (dual antennas) in range and speed (for Pentesting).

Reading reviews for AWUS036NHA(A), AWUS036ACH(R) and AWUS052NH(R), it was clear what I wanted to get for Pentesting.

Conclusion: Atheros>>Realtek for Pentesting.

Why would you think Admin still uses AWUS036NHA?, cuz it works perfectly fine for him.

AWUS036ACH seems the top choice, but obviously it has been confirmed problems with the driver numerous times, though on the website it clearly states that it should support Linux kernel 2.4 or later.

I'm currently testing the crazy orange one and so far I hate it.

In your opinion, nowdays, is it best to buy AWUS036ACH or AWUS036NHA?

I'm a bit confused. I don't care a lot of 5GHz band, but if i can have it as an option without losing in range, stability and injection quality, why not.

Or AWUS036NHA is better in some aspects? (excluding plug&play on kali)

Sadmin, really? How come? I think it is the most expensive one. Share your thoughts, please.

I have alfa AWUS036NHA and its working great but I couldn't increase its TX power from 20dbm.Can I increase tx power of alfa awus036nh 2000mw if I buy it?

It seems like I have to purchase all of them to have all powers.

Did anyone get this damn AWUS036ACH running on Kali at Raspberry Pi 3?

Trying some hours to get this running as a second wlan so I can SSH with my phone via wlan0 and do some "other things" with my ALFA... no chance yet. frustrating -.-

Have you tried mailing to Alfa, because they claiming AWUS036ACH should support Linux kernel 2.4 or later?

I've sent them message, and when you get reply something like "will come back as soon as possible" occasionally means they will never respond. I will re-post here if they do.

no I did not send them a message yet. The thing ist, that Kali doesn't recognize the adapter as an wlan device and I really don't know what else I could do. I downloaded the driver via

apt install realtek-rtl88xxau-dkms

rebooted a few times but nothing happened...

Not sure if this info helps, but it seems since this problem was raised, there were lot of talks about it and development going on, so Kali distro added it to their repositories in the end, which is mentioned above in the article. I guess it should simply work out of repositories.

I recently purchased the Alfa AWUS036ACH and to be honest, I'm not massively impressed and I am actually thinking of returning it and continuing to use my trusty little TL-WN722N...

It's quite sad that I will have to send a decent adapter back but I don't want to keep something that doesn't work amazingly well and still has issues with Kali...

Hey @Josh What was your hardware setup with the Alfa Awus036ACH?

I mainly use 722, it's nice, though no power up function and range is not long.

Wow! you guys are still on about it?, even though I told you which Alpha is the best?

a great article SADMIN, but i have a question,
does the antenna you refereed to in this article (alfa 9dbi) works with TL-WN722N ?

MOSTAFA, it is only an antenna and it will definitely work on 722.

ANON USER, I finally bought + 9dBi alfa antenna and it doesn't seem to work any much better than 722 with it's smaller antenna.

BTW, anyone tried increasing power on AWUS036NHA? I found few tutorials online, but couldn't make any of them work for my set up: AWUS036NHA + Ubuntu 17.04.

in europe where can people buy the AWUS036NHA original? in this list, this one seems to be a good piece for kali on a raspberry

Just a little heads up..
The Panda PAUO5 of Amazon won't do packet injection. It seems they now ship with a unsupported chipset (RT5372)

Thank you for this! I added it to the article

Hello, I have the Panda PAUO5 with the RT5372 chipset and when I run the test of Aircrack-ng it says "Injection is working" does it mean it works for packet injection or I'm missing something?

You can see in the photo what I mean.

@NULLBYTEADMIN This is in monitor mode. I have to admit I don't really know what I am doing I just follow up the steps I saw in aircrack-ng and other forums. This is with the same chipset RT5372 of PAUO5.

Hi,
I'm thinking of buying the Alfa AWUS036ACH do you think that's a good choice??

Hello Everyone. Could someone help me? I would like to buy a great adapter, but i cant find any in EUROPE. The shipping price from USA is kinda high, do you have any tips how should i solve this problem?

I found 2 wireless adapter tenda w311mi and tenda w311ma but i dont know which one is supported
Please help me with this

judging from the line of code to install the newest realtek chipset driver

apt install realtek-rtl88xxau-dkms

RTL8814AU should work just fine like RTL8812AU
Is this correct?

Hi everyone,
is it possible to use one of these wifi adapters on a Windows 10 laptop?
and if not, does anyone know what adapter i could use?
thank you all,

Mr Null

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