BackTrack is a very popular free Linux distribution that is commonly being used to hack into wireless networks by using Aircrack-ng to crack the WEP/WPA encryption. The reason why BackTrack is being used instead of Windows is because there are no patched drivers available for Windows that supports injection, unless you are willing to fork out $300 or $700 for an AirPcap TX/NX adapter. It is relatively easy to get BackTrack running by installing using UNetbootin and booting up the live version from USB but the most important thing is to make sure that your USB wireless adapter supports monitor mode and packet injection.
If you’re looking to purchase a fully compatible plug and play USB wireless adapter that works really well with BackTrack 5, it can be tricky because some brands with the exact model can have a different chipset for different version numbers. For example, the TL-WN822N USB wireless adapter by TP-LINK comes with 3 versions. The version 1 uses two different chipsets, which is Atheros AR9170 and AR9102 while version 2 has the Atheros AR7010 and AR9287 chipsets, and the latest version 3 uses Realtek RTL8192CU. The chipset on a USB wireless adapter is the most important information but normally is not shown on the product box or even on the device itself.
To help you in purchasing the correct adapter, here we list the safest USB wireless network adapter that we’ve tested to have the best plug and play compatibility with BackTrack 5, Kali Linux and Aircrack-ng. You can find a few online resources suggesting some USB wireless adapters that are compatible with BackTrack 5, but most of them are either outdated or simply recommend the Alfa AWUS036H which only supports B and G wireless standards but not N. We do not recommended to just blindly purchase any of the newer adapters released and sold by the manufacturers because most likely BackTrack 5 would not have the updated drivers to support it.
After testing more than a dozen USB wireless network adapters, we found out that the 3 chipsets listed below are the most stable with BackTrack 5. You can click on the hyperlink to see the list of brands that use the chipset.
- 1. Atheros AR9271 – IEEE 802.11B/G/N
- 2. Ralink RT3070 – IEEE 802.11B/G/N
- 3. Realtek RTL8187L– IEEE 802.11B/G
Most of the wireless network adapters listed on the page from the hyperlink above were released a few years back making it difficult to purchase because manufacturers normally releases new products very frequently and phase out the old versions. After screening through the list, here are our recommended USB wireless adapters that have the best compatibility with BackTrack 5, Kali Linux and Aircrack-ng. Alfa prices were taken from Rokland Technologies, an official Alfa distributor in the USA while TP-LINK from Amazon.com.
Atheros AR9271 chipset
1. Alfa AWUS036NHA – $28.97
2. TP-LINK TP-WN722N OR TP-WN722NC $15.99
TP-LINK TP-WN722N USB Wireless Network Adapter
1. Alfa AWUS036NH – (Bigger size) $27.99
2. Alfa AWUS036NEH – (Smaller size) $21.97
Alfa AWUS036NEH USB Wireless Network Adapter
1. AWUS036H – (Bigger size) $24.99
2. AWUS036EW – (Smaller size) $19.97
Alfa AWUS036H USB Wireless Network Adapter
We’ve put some of the USB wireless adapters mentioned above to the tests to determine the signal performance and you can find the results on page 2.
We’ve managed to test up to 8 wireless network adapters (6 USB + 2 internal) on BackTrack 5 to determine the signal strength of each device using the command “airodump-ng mon0” after putting the adapter in monitor mode . Obviously the adapter that detects the most access points with lowest signal level (PWR) deserves to be crowned as the best compatible USB wireless adapter for BackTrack 5.
You’ll find that Alfa AWUS036H is the most recommended USB wireless network adapter because it is very stable and works right out of the box for BackTrack 5. If you don’t mind paying the extra premium price for an adapter with no support for 802.11n wireless standard, then it is quite a good choice. Because Alfa AWUS036H is so popular, there are counterfeit versions being sold online. We recommend you directly contact Alfa Networks if you’re looking for an authorized local distributor.
The AWUS036NHR is currently the most powerful wireless adapter by Alfa with very good signal strength. It may seem to be plug and play in BackTrack 5 because you can put it in monitor mode and passes the injection test, but unfortunately it is very unstable because the chipset is not recognized in BackTrack 5 R3.
TL-WN722N is a cheaper alternative to the Alfa AWUS036NHA which uses the Atheros AR9271 chipset. It is claimed to be high gain and comes with a 4dBi detachable antenna where you can upgrade to a more powerful antenna to achieve better signal. Although this product was released back in 2009, it is still listed in TP-LINK’s official website and can be easily purchased from many sources on the Internet. There is another very similar model which is the TL-WN722NC. It is exactly the same as TL-WN722N except it comes with an additional cradle.
4. ASUS USB-N53
ASUS USB-N53 uses Ralink RT3572 chipset and is fully compatible with BackTrack 5 but is not recommended due to the poor performance.
This USB wireless network adapter uses the same chipset as ASUS USB-N53 which is Ralink RT3572 and has been discontinued. If you check the results at the end of this post, you’d notice that the performance of this adapter with the USB-N53 is very similar.
This adapter is the oldest in the list and it is no surprise that it performed badly on the test. Comparing with the best adapter, DWA-110 merely detected 3 out of 9 access points.
7. DELL 1510
Although it seems to have better performance that some of the external USB wireless adapters, only monitor mode works but not injection due to the Broadcom chipset.
8. Intel 5100
Interestingly the Intel 5100 did quite well and the performance is comparable to the TL-WN722N. However do note that the TL-WN722N uses a 4dBi antenna in this test which can be upgraded to a better one to achieve better signal strength. Both monitor mode and packet injection works perfectly.
Results and Summary
The result table below shows the number of access points the adapters can detect and also the lowest signal level.
Summary: Although AWUS036NHR is the successor of the popular AWUS036H which has better signal strength, unfortunately it is currently not supported on BackTrack 5. Alfa AWUS036H is still the best choice, followed by TP-LINK TL-WN722N especially if you can get a higher dBi antenna. There is no harm trying out your internal card to see if it works on BackTrack 5 but take note that internal cards will only work on Live CD/USB but not on virtual machine such as VirtualBox/VMware.