Cyber-attacks are escalating at alarming rates, both in sophistication and frequency. Therefore, the cyber-security experts face a dynamic challenge, which shifts every now and then. Due to the skyrocketing computer threats, vulnerability assessments and scans have become handy.  A vulnerability scan is defined as the process of identifying and quantifying threats in a network.  The vulnerability scan checks for the threats in the network and reports the potential exposures.  Therefore, vulnerability scanning is a crucial part of the computer information security, and it should be carried out more often.

There are various computer security software programs available in the market today, with some being open source, while others are closed source. The computer security software also varies in capabilities and compatibility with different operating systems and other programs. NeXpose and Nessus are examples of the computer security managements available in the market today. These two programs are vulnerability scanners, which are most frequently utilized to deal with threat issues. They possess diverse capabilities, features and compatibilities with different programs and operating systems. This paper seeks to compare both NeXpose and Nessus vulnerability management tools, based on their availability, features, capabilities, and compatibility with various operating systems and other programs.

Nessus network vulnerability scanner is open source, and uses the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposure architecture for easy cross-linking amongst compliant security tools. Nessus uses a simple language that describes particular potential attacks and threats, known as Nessus Attack Scripting Language (NASL) (Chen 2011, par. 2). Furthermore, Nessus has a modular architecture comprised of the centralized servers, which carry out scanning, and remote clients, which enable administration interaction (Information Assurance Technology Analysis Center 2011, p. 92). The administrators have the ability to include NASL descriptions of all the vulnerabilities they suspect and develop customized scans. Therefore, Nessus is an open source and enables the users to customize its operation.

Nessus was an absolutely free and open source but the source code was closed by its manufacturer in 2005. Also the free “Registered Feed” was removed in 2008, and the annual charges introduced. Nessus still outgoes its competitors and it has retained its popularity even with the introduction of the charges. It includes more than 46,000 plug-ins and it is being updated continuously. Its key features include client/server architecture in a web-based interface, local and remote security checks that are authenticated, an embedded scripting language, which allows the user to interact with it and write own plug-ins as well as comprehending the existing ones.

Similarly, NeXpose is also a vulnerability scanner. NeXpose identifies vulnerabilities of networks, databases, web applications, operating systems and a various system platforms via an integrated and intelligent Rapid7. NeXpose operation involves its prioritizing of vulnerabilities by exploit risk scoring and asset criticality ratings (Chen 2011, par.1).  NeXpose vulnerability scanner aims at supporting the entire cycle of vulnerability management, which includes discovery, detection, verification, impact analysis, risk classification, mitigation and reporting. NeXpose is available as standalone software, virtual machine, a managed service, an appliance, or private cloud deployment (Information Assurance Technology Analysis Center 2011, p. 94).  The NeXpose users can only interact in a web browser. Therefore, NeXpose is a closed source vulnerability scanner, with capabilities defined by the manufacturer.

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The evaluation criteria






Nessus Audit is intended only for Windows operating systems as it comes for free. But more functionality is possible with the professional feed, which goes for a considerable yearly cost (Information Assurance Technology Analysis Center 2011, p. 94).

NeXpose functionality is full, but has a restriction of not more than 32 IPs in the User Interface at one time, when using the “Community” version. The regulatory audits for the “community” versions are also disabled.  Another important functionality of NeXpose is that it integrates directly with Metasploit, which simplifies the audit process actual testing portion by simply hoping down to the console and test for the indicated vulnerabilities instead of hunting the source in order to verify a reported issue (Information Assurance Technology Analysis Center 2011, p.95).

Installation and Setup

The Nessus installation process is easy as it does not require any dependencies and it is installed rapidly.  The setup requires one to have a Unix or Windows operating system, and as a recommendation, prior installation of several external programs. The Lynx (included in many Linux versions) automatic install is the simplest installation method (Anderson 2010, par. 3).  The Nessus fact that installation is more simple than that of NeXpose could have contributed in giving its application an upper hand over Nexpose.

The installation of NeXpose is also easy although it requires dependency, which is, however, easy to locate, after which it is installed rapidly. The installation process of vulnerabilities scanners is important as many people are not willing to go for the complicated scanners which might challenge them in installing. Therefore, the easiness of NeXpose installation has favored its popularity over some other vulnerabilities scanners.

Audit Policies


Nessus comes without any pre-configured audit policies, and it has some user documentation. In many cases, the first policy configuration fails, which usually signifies that most of the options described in the User Guide are not supported, or it may include recommendations by Tenable.

In Nessus, one creates his policy and then executes the scan, after which he is offered a technical report. The report gives cursory overviews of the vulnerabilities detected along with the CVSS score assignment that is normally granted after detecting the vulnerability. That marks the end of the Nessus function, after which one generates the report and commences on the process of addressing individual vulnerabilities (Chen 2011, par.4).  The report is generated externally by the vulnerability management system, and is in HTML or the Nessus specific file formats.  In case one wants to re-audit the system with Nessus, one has to repeat the processing and entering the IP or netblock and re-scan and assign the policy. Therefore, re-auditing with Nessus is time-consuming and can be annoying. This can work against its being more favoured than the NeXpose vulnerabilities scanner.



On the other hand, NeXpose comes with a number of pre-configured audit policies to test for the regulatory regulations such as SARBOX, PCI, web application audit, full blown penetration test, “full” and “exhaustive” audits, and HIPAA Audit Functioning and Reporting.

NeXpose, on the other hand, offers an automated option for scheduling process, which means that one only needs to enter the netblock or IP information once into the User Interface as the information is stored. At the same time, NeXpose offers its users a chance to create an asset object. Upon completion of the audit, the NeXpose console lists all the discovered vulnerabilities and provides the entire asset’s overall CVSS score together with the Risk score per system within the asset group (Wang 2010, par. 3).

Moreover, NeXpose has two reporting options, which are either Technical or Executive. The technical reports give a complete list of all issues discovered, the way they were discovered and a step to step way of resolving them. The Executive report gives the high level overview, together with graphs, risk levels and charts (Chen 2011, par.5).

With NeXpose one can also track the issue directly via the NeXpose console, and after the issue is resolved, one should click the “exclude” function and specify why he/she is excluding the vulnerability. Therefore, the management of vulnerability is easier in NeXpose and all information required is within the single system as the whole lifecycle of discovery, verification, and resolution is in a single webpage (Information Assurance Technology Analysis Center 2011, p 98).


Nessus is a freeware, but commercial organizations using it must purchase a ProfessionalFeed subscription so as to use Nessus in scanning their networks, and also to obtain updates and support. The ProfessionalFeed subscribers also obtain a hardened, Web-based VMware virtual appliance for hosting Nessus. Pre-installed Nessus is also available on one of two rack-mountable hardware appliances.  Nessus HomeFeed is available for home users, with ability to scan up to 16 IP addresses within a non-business network.

There are four versions of NeXpose, including 1) NeXpose Enterprise, designed for the organizations with large, intricate networks of above 1,024 IP addresses; it is intended for installation on dedicated servers hosting no other security software; 2) NeXpose Express, intended for small-to-medium sized businesses, which are classified as Class C networks, consisting of 256 IP addresses and below. It is also designed for laptops; 3) NeXpose Consultant aimed for independent security consultants and auditors as it is designed to work on laptop; it also has configuration features for tuning the tool for one-time integrated tests; 4) NeXpose Community, which is a free single-user edition designed for home business use on networks of up to 32 IP addresses or single user on network.



Nessus is a Multilevel Scanner.


NeXpose is an Automated Pen Testing Suite.



Nessus targets TCP/UDP/IP networks, operating systems, Windows file content types, Web servers, SQL data bases, CGI scripts, and Cisco IOS devices.

NeXpose targets networks, operating systems, web applications, and databases.

Operating Systems Compatibility

Nessus is compatible with Linux (Debian 5, Red Hat ES 4/5/6, SuSE 9.3/10.0/11, Windows XP (pre SP2)/Server 2003/Server 2008/2008 R2/Vista/7; Fedora Core 12/13/14, Mac OS X 10.4/10.5/10.6; Ubuntu 8.04/9.10/10.04/10.10;  SPARC Solaris 10 FreeBSD 8; and VMware if  the simulated machine does not use Network Address Translation (NAT)( Information Assurance Technology Analysis Center 2011, p 92).

NeXpose is compatible with Windows Server 2003 SP2/R2, Enterprise Linux5, VMware ESXi 4, Red hat and Ubuntu 8.04 Long Term Support (SANS, 2010, par. 3).



Nessus is a freeware, although operation and support/updates are subscribed for.

Nexpose is a commercial tool but its Community edition is a freeware. As it can be standalone software or a plug-in, its licensing is not a static concept.



The standards for Nessus are OVAL, CVSS, SCAP, and CVE

The standards for NeXCpose are SCAP, OVAL, CVE, CVSS



Nessus is supplied by Tenable Network Security.

NeXpose is supplied by Rapid7, which also supplies other penetrating software, which is also compatible with NeXpose.



According to Welberg (n.d, n.p) Nessus can find environmental vulnerabilities due to the fact that they also employ information through Intrusion Detection System as they create vulnerabilities reports.

Nessus does not have the capability of creating its own vulnerabilities numerical score.

NeXpose does not find environmental vulnerabilities.




According toWelberg (n.d, n.p) NeXpose has its inbuilt capability of building its own numerical scores for vulnerability.



NeXpose and Nessus are relatively popular vulnerabilities management tools. While Nexpose is largely used in organizations, Nessus is mainly intended for home usage. This is mainly because of these two vulnerabilities management tools’ capabilities and their availability. From the comparison criteria followed in this paper, NeXpose vulnerabilities management tool has auditing reporting tool, which enables it to create numerical scores.  It is also available in different versions tailored for diverse levels of application. There is a version for the consultant and private auditors and there are versions for organizational application.

The Nessus vulnerabilities management tool has also been shown to possess its unique capabilities. Since the Nessus vulnerabilities management tool is an open source, it has received significant application at home level. The Nessus vulnerability tool can also be customized by its users to carry out certain functions within a user’s set network. It is beyond the scope of this paper to determine which vulnerabilities scanner is better to use - NeXpose or Nessus. However, its analysis of different criteria of the two vulnerabilities scanners can be of significant help in selecting a scanner for a particular type of network.

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