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 2018's best wireless network adapters for hacking on Kali Linux to get you started hacking both WEP and WPA Wi-Fi networks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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 install realtek-rtl88xxau-dkms
This will install the needed drivers, and you should be good to go.
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.
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.
That completes my roundups of wireless network adapters for hacking in 2018. Got a favorite I didn't list? Leave a comment and link us to it.