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Actively Monitoring a Mobile Workforce with SecurityCenter

Note:  Nessus Cloud is now a part of Tenable.io Vulnerability Management. To learn more about this application and its latest capabilities, visit the Tenable.io Vulnerability Management web page.


As the boundaries of the traditional workplace expand from users in the traditional single office building to mobile road warriors and remote workers, the effectiveness of a vulnerability management program across all endpoints becomes more challenging. Systems and devices that are not connected to a local network cannot be scanned reliably and can incur more risk to the organization. When more systems and technologies are placed outside of the corporate firewall, the organization can face additional challenges. For example, scanned systems with external IP addresses can frequently change from employer-owned devices to systems of another organization or nation. Or systems hosting the scanners could be compromised themselves which could reduce network protection, especially if the normal defense in depth strategies are lacking. To address such issues, Tenable has an easy to use, secure and reliable solution.

Nessus Cloud

The Tenable Nessus® Cloud is a SaaS vulnerability management solution that combines the powerful detection, scanning and auditing features of Nessus with multi-user support. Nessus Cloud supports sharing of scanning resources like scanners, policies, and schedules; it also supports agent-based scanning. Nessus agent scanning enables administrators to install an agent on a local computer. Then as scans are scheduled, the agent will contact Nessus Cloud and run the policy defined for that agent group. 

Organizations that embrace and deploy Nessus Cloud agents greatly benefit from a consistent and scalable total vulnerability scanning solution

Organizations that embrace and deploy Nessus Cloud agents greatly benefit from a consistent and scalable total vulnerability scanning solution. Traditional models of vulnerability scanning assumed all systems and devices could be reached through internal networks. However, modern organizations need a model where any device can reside on an internal network, be relocated to another location in the office with all networked features intact, and used remotely at non-company locations such as a hotel while still being actively available for vulnerability scanning. With Nessus Agents, users and their computers can move to any internet-accessible network and still enable analysts to scan and assess the system. Pairing the functionality and depth of SecurityCenter® with the reach of Nessus Cloud, organizations greatly increase the visibility and coverage to scan systems across the world. This native functionality reduces complexities and enables organizations to seamlessly and quickly identify and triage vulnerabilities, regardless of where a device is in the world.

Nessus Cloud scalability and flexibility

The ability for Nessus Cloud to scale to a large number of assets with Nessus Agents helps you organize these systems into agent groups, which extends the asset list functionality in Tenable SecurityCenter. The agent groups enable you to group similar devices and then track groups by assigning the group a scan policy name in SecurityCenter. By using a scan policy name, SecurityCenter can use the plugin text found in Tenable Nessus plugin 19506 to identify the policy to create a Dynamic Asset. As the name implies, the asset is dynamic and automatically updates the asset list to be used for further analysis within SecurityCenter. 

Here is a sample output from Nessus plugin 19506 identifying the host that was scanned in Nessus Cloud using an agent scan:

Plugin 19506 output

SecurityCenter supports two primary methods of scanning systems using Nessus Cloud: active and agent-based

SecurityCenter supports two primary methods of scanning systems using Nessus Cloud: active and agent-based. For active scanning, the Nessus Cloud instance operates like any other Nessus scanner you may already use for traditional vulnerability scanning. However, when an agent scan is required, the first step is to set up an agent scan policy in Nessus Cloud. Within SecurityCenter, go to Scans>Agent Scans and click on Add an Agent Scan.

Adding an agent scan in Nessus Cloud

For additional detailed information on how to configure the Nessus Agents, review the whitepaper about agent support.

Nessus Cloud scanning

When you configure scans within SecurityCenter to collect Nessus agent data, you can compare vulnerability data collected from agent scanning to data collected from active scanning. By using plugin 19506, there are predefined assets available to identify systems scanned with and without agents. The dynamic assets are:

  • Scanned by Nessus without Agent Software - Plugin 19506: This plugin output contains “Scan type : Normal” indicating a normal or active Nessus scan was performed on the system
  • Scanned with Linux, Unix, or macOS Agent - Plugin 19506: This plugin output contains “Scan type : Unix Agent” indicating a Linux, Unix, or macOS agent was used to collect the vulnerability data
  • Scanned with Windows Agent - Plugin 19506: This plugin output contains “Scan type : Windows Agent” indicating a Windows agent was used to collect the vulnerability data

You can also use these assets as filters in matrices and other components to review vulnerability data and to compare it to data collected via other methods.

Incorporating Nessus Cloud scan data into your SecurityCenter workflow

When you use the Nessus Scan Summary Dashboards within SecurityCenter, you can quickly see the number of devices identified on the network without the use of an asset:

Nessus scan summary dashboards

However, to derive more data from SecurityCenter, you can use the assets mentioned above to create a matrix that compares the data from each asset location. In the sample matrix below, test assets have been applied as the filter along with a vulnerability severity level. You can see further information by clicking on the cell in the matrix, and also by viewing the filters applied from the matrix in the Vulnerability Analysis screen:

Custom dashboard to compare data from each asset location

SecurityCenter and Nessus Cloud: the cloud-backed solution for device monitoring

By using SecurityCenter with Nessus Cloud, you can quickly set up a series of components to view in-depth information of devices and assets across the organization. Additionally, you can analyze the risk of local systems compared to systems detected by Nessus Cloud and Nessus Agents. Comparing data from these two asset groups can help you tailor updates and protective software to better suit each device in your unique environment.