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The Growth of Vulnerability Assessment: A Look at What Nessus Offers Today

The Growth of Vulnerability Assessment: A Look at What Nessus Offers Today

The Nessus team continues to develop advanced assessment capabilities, including visibility into new operating systems, exploitable vulnerabilities and container instances.

When Renaud Deraison first announced Nessus on Bugtraq on Apr. 4, 1998, it was an “alpha” release. Today, as Nessus nears its 23rd birthday, the alpha release has become the alpha vulnerability scanner, the most widely adopted vulnerability assessment tool in the world.

The enduring growth of Nessus is now industry lore. When first released, Nessus compiled on Linux and had 50 plugins. Less than five years later, Nessus had over 1,000 plugins and helped launch Tenable, the enterprise platform that pioneered the risk-based vulnerability management space. After five more years, Nessus’ operating system support had expanded dramatically to include over 20,000 plugins and Nessus had been downloaded over 5,000,000 times. A generation of security professionals has grown up with Nessus, and many can still recall the experience of their first scan.

It's no secret as to why Nessus has consistently remained #1 in accuracy, coverage and adoption in the market. 

Over the past decade, Nessus has continued to add features and enhance performance. Today, Nessus runs on all common (and a few less common) Linux distributions, FreeBSD, Apple macOS, Windows Servers and desktop operating systems. It has more reporting options than ever, a robust API, preconfigured scan templates for common vulnerabilities and an estimated 152,000 plugins covering 61,000 Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs). In 2020 alone, Tenable Research released over 12,000 plugins and updated over 16,000 plugins. We don’t just release plugins once—we work to continuously improve them as new information becomes available.

More impressive than those large numbers are the people behind them. It takes a team of dozens to write, test, update and deploy our plugins and audit files. Tenable doesn’t just react to published vulnerabilities; we have an impressive zero-day research team that continuously finds new vulnerabilities, disclosing 100 zero-days in 2019 and 141 in 2020.

Even as Tenable expands our enterprise solutions, we never forget our roots with Nessus. Over the past year alone, our team has added many new features that continue to advance the vulnerability assessment space:

  • Added support for six additional operating systems to natively run Nessus, expanding the total footprint across Mac, Linux and Windows:
    • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 15
    • FreeBSD 12.x
    • Kali 2018, 2019, 2020
    • Unbuntu 20.04
  • Six new predefined reports for users ranging from operating system detections to persistent vulnerabilities that are older than one year: 
    • OS Detections - Security analysts receive a summary of the most prevalent operating systems on the network to help identify systems with the most risk.
    • Exploitable Vulns - Security analysts can focus remediation efforts and better protect the network by identifying the most at-risk vulnerabilities that have known working exploits in the wild.
    • Unsupported Software - System administrators receive a summary of the software that is no longer supported by vendors to help understand the associated risk.
    • Known Accounts - Security analysts can review and identify systems with configuration issues related to user accounts to prevent lateral movement in the network.
    • Hosts with Vulnerabilities - System administrators can view the top 25 most prevalent vulnerabilities and a list of IP addresses associated with each vulnerability.
    • Vulnerabilities Older Than One Year - Security analysts gain awareness of persistent vulnerabilities in their environment that were published more than a year ago.

  • Improved scan performance and templates make Nessus faster than ever before.

  • The ability to deploy Nessus as a Docker ImageCustomers can deploy a managed Nessus scanner or an instance of Nessus Professional as a Docker image to run on a container.

  • New backup and restore functionality enables users to create Nessus backups that are easily and quickly restored. This can be a previous backup of Nessus to restore later on another system, even if it is a different operating system.

  • More than 28,000 Nessus plugins and updates published by Tenable Research, which continues to lead the industry in CVE coverage, zero-day research and vulnerability management.

Why do we put so much effort into discovering vulnerabilities? Because security begins with visibility, and strong vulnerability assessment is the bedrock of an effective cyber defense.

While it was great watching Nessus grow when I was a user, it has been even better as a member of the Tenable team, watching from the inside as Nessus continues to add features, improve performance and reimagine the user experience. We’re still early in the story, and I can’t wait for you to see what comes next.

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