A network tap is a hardware device which provides a way to access the data flowing across a computer network. In many cases, it is desirable for a third party to monitor the traffic between two points in the network. If the network between points A and B consists of a physical cable, a "network tap" may be the best way to accomplish this monitoring. The network tap has (at least) three ports: an A port, a B port, and a monitor port. A tap inserted between A and B passes all traffic through unimpeded, but also copies that same data to its monitor port, enabling a third party to listen.
Network taps are commonly used for network intrusion detection systems, VoIP recording, network probes, RMON probes, packet sniffers, and other monitoring and collection devices and software that require access to a network segment. Taps are used in security applications because they are non-obtrusive, are not detectable on the network (having no physical or logical address), can deal with full-duplex and non-shared networks, and will usually pass through traffic even if the tap stops working or loses power.