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NIST Audit Policies for Nessus 3

Tenable has released our first batch of audit policies which can test Windows 2000, 2003 and XP Pro systems for compliance with NIST best practice configuration standards.

These ".audit" checks are currently available on Tenable's Support Portal (available to Tenable customers) and can be downloaded to any Nessus 3 Direct Feed scanner or SecurityCenter.


The US National Institute of Science and Technology has many different groups which keep track of and publish guides for a wide variety of standards, including several for computer security. The NIST Secure Content Automation Program (SCAP), offers content which can be used to automate security testing. The end result of SCAP is to have common configurations and security settings across the federal government. By leveraging more default consistency and security that can be enabled on each operating system, federal agencies will decrease their attack surface and also have infrastructures that is easier to manage. 

The main technology of the SCAP program is a common format to describe system configuration settings known as XCCDF. XCCDF stands for the Extensible Configuration Checklist Description Format. It is an XML file that leverages OVAL descriptions for computer system audits. XCCDF content is available under the SCAP program for a variety of operating systems and applications. Each XCCDF file may include support for different types of reference network functions, as well as different levels of security hardening.

Tenable and XCCDF

Tenable has developed an in-house tool that automatically converts XCCDF polices for Windows to Nessus 3 compatible .audit files. These .audit files are available on Tenable's Support Portal to existing customers. As the SCAP program develops new XCCDF content, Tenable will update these audit policies accordingly. Tenable is also actively developing XCCDF content for Vista, RedHat, and Solaris platforms.

There are 24 new polices. These primarily consist of a combination of Windows XP Pro and Windows 2003 systems which have been deployed in one of the following profiles:

  • Enterprise
  • Legacy (Support for NT4)
  • Stand Alone

In addition, NIST has also published XCCDF templates for several DISA and NSA recommendations to harden Windows XP Pro. Audit files for these policies are also available.


The Office of Management and Budget has recently announced that all federal agencies are required to implement a common configuration standard for their Microsoft operating systems. Throughout the next year, organizations are to implement a plan and then implement procedures to ensure compatibility with existing software and to have consistent configurations across all Microsoft desktop operating systems.

The content available from NIST is ideally suited for choosing a consistent configuration because there are many types of enterprise reference models and the content was developed by NIST and NSA security experts.

Using Tenable's Direct Feed or SecurityCenter to perform these checks is also a good choice because it does not require any agents to be deployed and the specific audit policies can be easily customized.

Using these Audit Files

Any of the .audit files can be loaded into the SecurityCenter for enterprise scanning or leveraged as part of a Nessus 3 Direct Feed scan.

SecurityCenter uses should download the polices they need and place the polices in the /opt/sc3/admin/plugins directory as owner 'tns'. They will then be available as a Compliance Audit policy for any Vulnerability Scan Policy.

Nessus 3 Direct Feed users should download the desired audit policies to their laptop or system where their Nessus client is operating. Nessus 3 clients can reference one or more audit policies for their credentialed scans.

For More Information

Companies interested in purchasing the Direct Feed (now called ProfessionalFeed) can visit the Tenable Store. For more information on SecurityCenter, please contact Tenable sales at [email protected].

To learn more about Tenable's involvement with NIST and configuration auditing, please consider these previous blog entries:

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