Wireshark Foundation Responds to 'Fork in the Road' Story

Use of Wireshark trademarks remains disputed, but there's good faith on both sides.

First, I have a confession to make. Two days after I posted the GoCertify article titled "Wireshark Certification Hits Fork in the Road," I left on an 11-day vacation.


I had wanted to give the other parties to the Wireshark Certification mixup the opportunity to tell their side of the story, but I couldn't find the time to do that right away. Earlier this week, I talked by phone to Gerald Combs, the original developer of the Ethereal protocol analyzer that has since become Wireshark, and heard his side of the story.


Mr. Combs has also written an interesting, informative, and ultimately conciliatory blog post about this matter at Sniff free or die: The official Wireshark blog that explains his take on things pretty completely. Appropriately enough, it's titled "Dedication and Disagreements."


In fact, he and I, during our phone conversation, didn't deviate much (if at all) from what he explains therein.


About "Dedication and Disagreement"


In the blog post, Mr. Combs makes some pretty key points. He reiterates his own dedication to and passion for Wireshark, and observes that the software "is and will always remain Free and Open Source software."


He also gives credit to the community that's grown up around Wireshark, and asserts that "there was never any question that Laura is welcome to keep using the Wireshark trademark to describe the purpose of her training courses, books, and the WCNA certification program."


In fact, he goes onto to say next that, "I would personally prefer that she [Laura Chappell] continue to use the name 'Wireshark Certified Network Analyst,' " stipulating further that "we would just need to have a proper agreement in place." He even strikes the conciliatory note of saying "If any of this wasn't made clear to her over the past few months then that's on me."


He does, however, state the following: "In order to serve the developer community and fund the project we must explore options such as charging for non-exclusive use of the Wireshark University trademark."


Ultimately, the real disagreement here is about money. Understandably, Laura is upset and concerned that something for which she had an agreement in place (use of the various trademarks, including Wireshark and Wireshark University) is now apparently changing.


I can understand that all parties want to serve their own best interests, and that some kind of accommodation to provide funding for the project that ultimately drives the certification must be found. Frankly, I found user TomLaBaude's comment (No. 1 after the blog text) to Mr. Combs' post a fruitful potential approach to handling such matters.


Tom LaBaude proposes additional funding sources that could take the pressure off assessing substantial annual fees on the certification and training program, which arguably also supports and facilitates more and better use of Wireshark.


His suggestion: create a donation mechanism for Wireshark, and encourage users to contribute based on the value and/or income that that they derive from using that software. He says, "I'd donate yearly part of my revenue to Wireshark Foundation."


I myself, as co-author of a book based around Wireshark that teaches TCP/IP protocols and services to community college students, would happily do likewise. Wireshark has hundreds of thousands of users who could provide useful funding, even with only modest annual contributions of $1 or $2 each.


Arriving at an Agreement; Generating Income for Wireshark


Just today, Ms. Chappell contacted me via e-mail to request a "clarification" of her statement, quoted in my earlier Wireshark blog post, that reads "Riverbed owns the Wireshark project." Instead she wishes to say the following:


"To our team and many others, the 'Wireshark project' is more than just the code — it includes the education, certification, conferences, and community that surround the open source project. Riverbed does not own the Wireshark open source code. It is, after all, open source. All of the surrounding elements, however, are owned and controlled by Riverbed since their 2015 corporate filing in which they replaced Gerald Combs with Riverbed management team members. We would also love to continue using the name 'Wireshark Certified Network Analyst.' We await Riverbed's fee/duration information for such use."


Monetizing assets to support Wireshark is certainly one way to generate income for that project. As Mr. LaBaude pointed out, however, the large and active Wireshark user community is another potential funding source that shouldn't be overlooked either.


What I'm hoping will ultimately emerge from ongoing discussions is the understanding that the training and certification program can't carry the entire funding load by itself, and that other sources of funding can — and should be — developed to support Wireshark as well.


Personally, I'm ready to plunk down at least $50 a year for as long as my book remains in print — to put my money where my mouth just was.


I'd propose to Ms. Chappell, in fact, that she consider paying a "royalty" of sorts to the Wireshark Foundation for each book or class session that she sells. Something like the $1 or $2 per user that I suggested in a previous paragraph would no doubt help, and shouldn't impact her own bottom line overmuch.


That might make the best basis for her training, publication, and certification efforts to provide financial support to the Wireshark Foundation, because it is based on actual income earned, rather than some abstract yearly licensing fee.


One More Thing ...


In our conversation, Mr. Combs did observe that he was "unaware of Riverbed planning a competing certification program" for Wireshark. I'm comforted to believe that the rift between the parties has not widened to point where they will feel compelled fight things out on the training and certification front.


Hopefully, everyone can come to an agreement and put this controversy behind them. I respect and revere all the parties involved, especially both Ms. Chappell and Mr. Combs, and sincerely wish for a mutually beneficial resolution. But as always, time will tell. In the meantime: Keep your fingers crossed!


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.