How to Use Nessus for Vulnerability Scanning and Management

November 28, 20234 min read

Introduction to Nessus

Nessus is one of the most widely recognized vulnerability scanners used in the field of information security. Developed by Tenable Network Security, it is designed to automate the process of vulnerability scanning to identify weaknesses in the network and infrastructure. Nessus supports both the detection and prioritization of security vulnerabilities.

Setting Up Nessus

Before using Nessus, you will need to install and configure the software. Follow the detailed steps below:

  • Installation:
    • Purchase a Nessus license or obtain the free version, Nessus Essentials, from the Tenable website.
    • Download the appropriate installer for your operating system.
    • Run the installer and follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation process.
  • Configuration:
    • Start the Nessus service on your system.
    • Access the Nessus interface through your web browser (default is https://localhost:8834).
    • Create an administrator account when prompted.
    • Enter the activation code provided with your license to register Nessus.
    • Allow Nessus to download and compile the plugin database; this process may take some time.

Conducting a Vulnerability Scan

  • Creating a new scan:
    • Log into the Nessus web interface.
    • Navigate to the “New Scan” button and click it.
    • Choose a template that fits your scanning need (such as Basic Network Scan, Web Application Tests, etc.).
    • Configure the scan by giving it a name and setting the target IP addresses or ranges.
  • Scan configuration options:
    • Set the scan schedule – you can run it immediately or set a future start time.
    • Define the scanning method and performance settings such as scan speed, number of retries, and timeout.
    • Configure advanced settings, if desired, like custom plugins, credentials for authenticated scans, and compliance checks.
  • Running the scan:
    • Review the configuration and click “Launch”.
    • Monitor the scan progress from the Scans page.
    • Nessus will display real-time results as vulnerabilities are identified.

Analyzing Scan Results

Once the scan is complete, Nessus will generate a detailed report containing the found vulnerabilities.

  • Understanding the report:
    • The vulnerabilities will be categorized by severity – Critical, High, Medium, Low, and Informational.
    • Each vulnerability comes with a detailed description, risk level, and the associated CVE or other identifiers.
    • Recommendations for mitigation and resources for further information will also be provided.
  • Interpretation of findings:
    • Prioritize remediation efforts by addressing critical and high-severity vulnerabilities first.
    • Consider the context of each vulnerability – not all findings may be exploitable depending on your network configuration.
  • Exporting the report:
    • Reports can be exported in various formats (e.g., HTML, PDF, CSV) for sharing and documentation purposes.

Utilizing Nessus for Vulnerability Management

  • Continuous scanning:
    • Schedule regular scans to ensure new and evolving vulnerabilities are identified.
    • Adjust the scanning frequency based on the critical nature of the systems and the changes in your network environment.
  • Review and remediation:
    • Regularly review scan results and take appropriate actions to patch or mitigate vulnerabilities.
    • Document the remediation process to track security improvements over time.
  • Maintaining Nessus:
    • Regularly update Nessus to ensure the latest plugins and features are being utilized.
    • Adjust scanning policies as needed to fine-tune performance and effectiveness.
  • Integration with other tools:
    • Nessus can be integrated with other security solutions like patch management systems, SIEMs, and ticketing systems for a more comprehensive security posture.


Nessus is a powerful tool for vulnerability scanning and management, offering a robust set of features. When used correctly, it can greatly improve an organization’s security posture by providing timely and actionable intelligence on potential security weaknesses. The critical takeaways involve proper setup, regular scanning, timely analysis, and effective vulnerability management practices, all of which contribute to a solid foundation for cybersecurity defenses.