Sniffing data: in-depth interview with a data engineer
Data sniffers have been around for a long time now. Traditionally, they have been used either by companies interested in maintaining their networks, either by hackers trying to break into computers and intercept precious information. As new powerful technologies emerged, the impact data sniffing can have on a company’s success is larger than ever.
Datumize applies data sniffing tools to help businesses get better insights and take smarter, more informed decisions. We discussed sniffing data and what makes a great data engineer with one of our field experts Ismael Rodríguez, software engineer at our central offices in Castelldefels.
1. What do we mean by sniffing data and how does it relate to what we do at Datumize?
Sniffing data is the concept of extracting data from the network without altering the systems that are talking. Imagine two computers that are exchanging data. If we want to know what they are talking about, we could ask such computers, but it would impact their performance. Sniffing means listening to what’s in the cable, so the computers that exchange information are not affected in any way.
At Datumize we sniff data to help companies discover information that is actually there but is not being analysed because they do not want to alter their servers in any way.
2. Sniffing data is often described as an “evil hacking activity”. Is it really?
Since we need the company’s permission and configuration, there is no evil in the way Datumize sniffs data. Indeed, sniffed data only belongs to the company and is not shared with us.
3. How does sniffing data contributes to a company’s success?
Well, it helps to discover communications that you didn’t know were there. For instance, consider managing a company in the hospitality industry that owns many hotels and imagine that the different branches of your company use your servers to book rooms. Sniffing allows you to find out, for example, whether some branches are selling rooms for a price that is not the one agreed. The same data could also be used to analyze those bookings, visualize the information in a dashboard without altering your systems and eventually take better decisions thanks to those insights.
4. What are the main advantages and disadvantages of data-sniffing compared to other methods of data collection, such as the SNMP protocol?
The main advantage of data-sniffing is that it does not require to alter in any way the systems that are talking. This is very important as such systems are usually critical machines, whose failure could compromise an entire business, and any modification always implies some risk. The SNMP protocol is used to know which devices are connected to an access point. It does have an impact on the systems, but it’s very low, so even though it is an intrusive technique, it implies almost no risk.
5. What are the main tasks of an engineer working on data-sniffing?
An engineer working in data-sniffing must have the knowledge to understand the structure of a computer network and should be able to apply it to analyze the company’s network where data is being sniffed, discover the type of communications that can be extracted and configure a data capture tool to extract such information. Clearly, he or she must also be good at coding in order to actually achieve the amazing stuff the extracted data will allow him/her to do.
6. What skills are critical to be a good data engineer in general and, more specifically, at Datumize?
Well, there is not a general rule to be a good data engineer, though there are some skills that are very valuable. Definitely, and especially here at Datumize, being able to create and understand big data models, a strong knowledge of databases (relational and non-relational) and the ability to code in languages such as Python, are all skills daya engineers need to master. Finally, be humble and ask for help when there is something you don’t know.
Bonus content: if you enjoyed reading Ismael’s opinions, check also the latest episode of the Datumize podcast, in which Isma tells a bit more about his life and experiences as a software engineer.