Using the macOS command airport to perform wireless signal strength scans

There is a hidden command in macOS, airport, which is used to view wireless signal strength from the command line. By wrapping the airport command in a simple shell script, we can search for and sort wireless networks by their signal strength.

I have used this command to perform site surveys and validation of signal strength after wireless hardware deployment.

The airport command is not in the default search $PATH: /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/Apple80211.framework/Versions/Current/Resources/airport.

Symlink the command into /usr/local/bin/ to make it easier to remember:

ln -s /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/Apple80211.framework/Versions/Current/Resources/airport /usr/local/bin/airport

The following script performs the signal strength testing:

#!/bin/bash

SSID=$1

while [ 1 ] ; do
    date
    airport -s | egrep "$SSID" | sort -k 3 -n -r
    sleep 1
done

This script takes a wireless network SSID as the input. It will then scan for all access points broadcasting the SSID and sort them by signal strength:

[email protected]:~/Documents/scripts/shell $ ./airport-scan.sh msecure
Mon Jun 22 16:24:50 CDT 2020
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d8:fc:28 -37  11      Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d9:07:5f -47  6       Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d8:fc:24 -48  149     Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d9:07:5b -56  149     Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d8:fc:6a -57  1       Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d8:fc:66 -62  149     Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
Mon Jun 22 16:24:55 CDT 2020
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d8:fc:28 -37  11      Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d8:fc:24 -46  149     Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d9:07:5f -47  6       Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d9:07:5b -56  149     Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d8:fc:6a -58  1       Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d8:fc:66 -61  149     Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
Mon Jun 22 16:25:00 CDT 2020
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d8:fc:28 -41  11      Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d8:fc:24 -46  149     Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d9:07:5f -47  6       Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d9:07:5b -56  149     Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d8:fc:6a -58  1       Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)
                         msecure 58:cb:52:d8:fc:66 -62  149     Y  us WPA2(PSK/AES/AES)

I will run this command and slowly walk around a room or building marking off the signal strength for surveys or adjust wireless hardware as necessary to fix signal strength issues. It is a poor man’s wireless survey tool.


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