Previously, this blog has looked at both software and hardware recommendations for the CompTIA A+ exams, today we will take a step further up on the ladder and tackle Network+. For this article, please note that I am using the CompTIA Exam Objectives for the most recent update to the Network+ exam. One important thing to remember as you browse the objectives is to keep the old saying, “a mile wide and an inch deep,” in mind. The exam, as the objective list will plainly tell you, can throw questions at your from a wide range of topics, but the chances are many of them don’t go beyond a simple “What does acronym X or concept Y really mean?” You won’t be tasked with correctly complex BGP routing issues in a simulated environment or anything like that. Working from the list of types of software to be familiar with (beginning on page 32 of the objectives document), here are my recommendations for each category:
Protocol Analyzer and Packet Sniffer: Wireshark
Wireshark is a powerful packet analysis tool, and although it can look daunting when a packet capture session starts flooding information onto your screen, you won’t find another free tool that can offer you this kind of insight into exactly what’s in a packet.
Terminal Emulation Software: PuTTy
Good old PuTTy has never failed me, and although there are some really strong alternatives such as SecureCRT if you are willing to spend some money, PuTTy is rock solid and totally free. Learn it, use it, develop a Stockholm Syndrome-like love for it!
I’d recommended sticking with Windows, either 7 or 8.1, if you’re not already a Linux user. All of my other software recommendations in this article will be for Windows. Focus your work on configuring your network connections (IP addressing, DNS servers), and common troubleshooting/information gathering commands such as: ipconfig, netstat, tracert, and nslookup.
Software Firewall, Software IDS/IPS, and Antimalware Software
With too many vendors and offerings to choose from, I highly recommended you stick to mastering general knowledge of these items, specifically their strengths/weaknesses and when it is appropriate to use them based on an analysis of network security requirements.
Network Mapper – Spiceworks
I don’t have a lot of experience with Spiceworks, or really any network mapping software. But, for the price, or lack thereof, I have heard good things about this offering. This is another topic where you will want to know the general purpose of such software.
The business of virtualization is a topic that has spawned dozens of websites and millions of conversations all by itself. Virtualbox is free, runs on a variety of platforms, and most importantly, can support a wide range of guest OSes. There’s a bit of a learning curve in creating virtual disks and controlling your keyboard/mouse input across multiple windows, but it is a very effective tool.
While many vendors will offer paid virtualized network labs, Cisco VIRL would be an example of such a thing, GNS 3 has served me well all the way through to my CCNP studies. You’ll likely come upon some difficulties as you configure a lab in GNS 3, so be sure to use the support of the software’s very active community for help.
WiFi/Spectrum Analyzer – Acrylic Wifi Free
Again, not a tool that I often use on a Windows PC, so I will refer to the consensus pick of Acrylic Wifi Free. Network World has an article containing recommendations Network World – 7 Free WiFi Tools.
Network Monitoring Software
“Network monitoring” is something of a nebulous term, and there are a lot of product offerings that all offer different scopes of feature sets. This is another topic where you should focus more generally on the benefits of monitoring software and when/where to best implement it. Here is an article with recommendations for free network monitoring software.