How to Install Nessus on Kali Linux & Windows

How to install Nessus on Kali Linux and Windows

To find vulnerabilities in systems or networks using the Nessus vulnerability scanner, you first need to understand how to install it.

In this step-by-step tutorial, we’ll briefly discuss Nessus and then show you how to download, install, and start it on both Kali and Windows. This allows you to choose the platform that best suits your needs.

We’ll also briefly show you how to run Nessus on Kali, set up a scan, and interpret the results.

Finally, we’ll show you how to create a report enabling you to analyze and present the results of your vulnerability scans in an organized format.

If you’re ready to learn how to install Nessus, let’s begin.

What Is Nessus?

Nessus is a robust tool by Tenable that can scan for vulnerabilities in networks, operating systems, databases, and applications.

It provides detailed reports on security weaknesses and prioritizes them based on severity.

It scans and looks for misconfiguration, missing patches, and CVEs (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) and is often used in security assessments and penetration testing.

Nessus is compatible with numerous platforms and operating systems, such as:

  • Amazon Linux 2
  • Debian
  • Fedora
  • FreeBSD
  • MacOS
  • Red Hat
  • SUSE
  • Windows and Windows Server

Nessus has two paid tiers, professional and expert, which have extra features and capabilities, and a free essentials edition.

Nessus Essentials: This free Nessus offering is geared towards educators, students, and individuals. You can use this tool to scan up to 16 private IPs.

Nessus Professional: This Nessus version is geared towards consultants, penetration testers, and small-to-medium businesses. Nessus Professional provides unlimited vulnerability scanning across IT infrastructure without any caps on the number of IPs you can assess. The current cost for a one-year license is $3990 USD.

Nessus Expert: This Nessus offering for web application security is also recommended for consultants, pen testers, and developers. Nessus Expert allows you to extend your IT assets by protecting your web applications and cloud infrastructure and allowing you to clearly see your attack surface. The cost for a one-year license is currently $5990 USD.

Nessus by the numbers:

  • Over 40,000 paid clients, including 60% of the Fortune 500 and over 30% of the Global 2000
  • The industry’s lowest false positive rate, with 0.32 defects per one million scans
  • Coverage of over 82,000 CVEs
  • Includes more than 203,000 plugins
  • More than two million downloads

(Source: Nessus)

How to Install Nessus on Kali Linux

This section will walk you through downloading, installing, and starting Nessus Essentials in Kali Linux. Nessus doesn’t come pre-installed with Kali and needs to be downloaded from the Nessus website.

Nessus Download

To download Nessus, visit the download page and select the Linux-Debian-amd64 file.

Then, select “Download” to download the file to Kali. Alternatively, you can use curl to download the file or download and install Nessus as a Docker image.

Download Nessus for Kali

Nessus Installation

To install Nessus, simply enter the following command in the terminal, ensuring you’re in the same folder as the downloaded file.

sudo dpkg -i <File>

Install Nessus in Kali

To begin installing the plugins needed before you can use Nessus, enter sudo systemctl start nessusd.service in the command line.

Start Nessusd Service

After starting the service, go to https://kali:8834/ in your web browser to access and configure Nessus.

When you try to access the URL, you'll see a warning message. Click on “Advanced…” and select “Accept the Risk and Continue.”

Nessus Warning Message

Next, you’ll be presented with a Nessus welcome screen. Click on “Continue” to move forward.

Nessus Welcome Screen

Select “Register for Nessus Essentials” on the following screen and click on “Continue.”

Register for Nessus Essentials

On the next screen, provide your name and email address and click on “Register” to continue.

Get Activation Code

On the next screen, you’ll be presented with an activation code. Copy and save this code somewhere for future reference. Click on “Continue.”

Nessus Activation Code

On the next screen, you must create a Nessus administrator user account, which will be used to login to Nessus.

Create Nessus Account Kali

Nessus will now begin downloading the plugins.

Nessus plugin download Kali

Once finished, you’ll be taken to the Nessus dashboard.

From here, Nessus will start configuring the plugins, which will take a while to complete. So grab a cup of coffee and relax while it works its magic.

Nessus plugin compiling Kali

Once finished, you’re ready to use Nessus.

Starting Nessus

To start Nessus, use the command sudo systemctl start nessusd.service and then open https://kali:8834/ in your browser.

You’ll need to log in with the credentials you set earlier.

Nessus log in Kali

Once you’re logged in, you can begin to use Nessus.

Nessus Essentials interface Kali

Once you are finished working with Nessus, you can stop the service with the command sudo systemctl stop nessusd.service.

Later in this tutorial, we’ll show you how to use Nessus in Kali.

How to Install Nessus on Windows

The next section will show you how to download, install, and start Nessus Essentials on Windows.

Nessus Download

First, go to the Nessus download page and choose the installer for your Windows version to download Nessus. For 64-bit Windows, select the 64-bit installer. For 32-bit Windows, select the 32-bit installer instead.

We’ll be installing the 64-bit version.

Nessus download Windows

Nessus Installation

After the download is complete, we can begin the installation. To do so, simply double-click on the Nessus installer file from wherever you saved it.

Nessus installation Windows

The installation wizard will begin guiding you through the installation process. Click on “Next” to continue.

Nessus InstallShield Wizard

Read and accept the license agreement terms and click on “Next.”

Nessus license agreement

Choose where you want to install Tenable Nessus and click on “Next.”

Nessus destination folder

If you need to make any changes, click on “Back”; otherwise, click on “Install” to begin the installation process.

Begin Nessus installation Windows

The Nessus package will now begin the installation process.

Nessus installation progress Windows

Once the wizard is finished, click on “Finish” to complete the installation.

Nessus installation Windows complete

After the installation is completed, Nessus will automatically launch your default browser to complete the initial configuration at http://localhost:8834/WelcomeToNessus-Install/welcome.

This configuration must be finished before you can start using Nessus. To begin, click on “Connect via SSL.”

Nessus connect via SSL

You will be presented with a message about the connection not being secure; simply ignore it and continue.

On the following screen, click on “Continue” to begin the configuration.

Nessus welcome screen Windows

Select “Register for Nessus Essentials” and click on “Continue.”

Register for Nessus Essentials

On the following screen, enter your name and email address and click on “Register” to receive an activation code.

Get Activation Code

Your activation code will appear on the next screen. Copy and save this code somewhere safe. Then click on “Continue.”

Nessus activation code Windows

Next, you’ll need to create an account to use with Nessus. Enter a username and password and click on “Submit.”

Create Nessus account Windows

Nessus will now start downloading the necessary plugins, which will take a few minutes to complete.

Nessus downloading plugins Windows

You’ll then be taken to the Nessus interface, where the plugins will begin to be configured. This will take a while to complete, so be patient and do not close the window or interrupt the process.

Once the configuration is finished, you’ll be able to start scanning.

Nessus interface Windows

Starting Nessus

There are two ways to manage the Nessus service on Windows. You can use the Services application or the command line. You can easily find the Services application by typing “services” into the search bar in your Windows Start Menu.

Services application

Find "Tenable Nessus" in the Services application’s Name column. To stop Nessus, right-click "Tenable Nessus" and click on "Stop." To restart the service, right-click it and click on "Start."

Start/Stop Nessus service Windows

You can also manage the service from an administrative command prompt. Type net start "Tenable Nessus" and press Enter to start Nessus, or type net stop "Tenable Nessus" and press Enter to stop it.

Note that administrative permissions are required to run the "net start" and "net stop" commands.

Start/Stop Nessus service command line

After starting the Nessus service, go to your web browser and enter https://localhost:8834. Enter the credential you created earlier and click on “Sign In.”

Nessus log in Windows

Once you’re logged in, you can start scanning.

Running Nessus

We’ll now show you how to use Nessus in Kali to perform a scan against a target host within your network. But first, let’s briefly describe some of the main sections of the Nessus Essentials interface.

Nessus interface sections labeled
  1. My Scans: View and manage scheduled and launched scans. You can import results, create scan folders, or launch scans.
  2. Settings: Check Nessus version details and plugin information, configure plugin updates, licenses, proxies, SMTP servers, and more.
  3. Policies: Build custom templates that control scan actions and plugin behaviors.
  4. Plugin Rules: Customize how plugins work during scans.
  5. Terrascan: Terrascan checks infrastructure code for security issues.
  6. Notifications and Account: Manage account settings and scan notifications.

Nessus Scan

Let’s begin scanning our target. The first thing we need to do is click on “Create a new scan.”

Nesses create a new scan

From here, we’re given the option to choose a scan template. These are predefined templates for host discovery, basic network scans, web app tests, malware detection, and more.

We’ll choose the “Basic Network Scan” for our demo.

Nessus basic network scan

After selecting the Basic Network Scan, you must configure some key settings before launching the scan. We won't cover every available setting here, but we'll highlight the most important ones to get you started.

The first setting you’ll need to update is under Basic-General. You’ll set the information for the target you want to scan here, setting the name, description, and IP address.

nessus-scan-settings

The next important setting is Discovery, where you configure the port scanning behavior. You can choose to scan common ports only, all ports, or create a custom port specification.

We’ll be choosing “Port scan (all ports).”

Nessus discovery settings

The next setting you’ll set is under Assessment, where you’ll set the scan type you want.

Options include “default,” “scan for known web vulnerabilities,” “scan for all web vulnerabilities (quick),” “scan for all web vulnerabilities (complex),” or “custom.”

We’ll be setting this to “Scan for known web vulnerabilities.”

Nessus assesment settings

You can explore additional settings, such as report options and advanced configurations.

The Credentials tab allows you to enter login credentials like SSH keys or Windows accounts to perform credentialed scans.

The settings we’ve covered will get you started running a basic vulnerability scan. You can customize it further as you get familiar with its capabilities.

Save all configured scan settings before launching the vulnerability scan by clicking on “Save.”

Save Nessus settings

Once you’ve saved your settings, you can begin the scan by going to “My Scans” and clicking the play button.

Start Nessus scan

The scan will take some time to complete. Once finished, you’ll see a checkmark next to the “Last Scanned” column.

Click on your scan to be taken to the scan details page.

Nessus scan finished

Now, we can examine the vulnerabilities detected in the scan results.

Nessus scan results

Here’s a breakdown of the different sections of the results page.

  1. Hosts: Indicates the number of hosts scanned, which is one in our case.
  2. Vulnerabilities: The total number of vulnerabilities found.
  3. Remediations: Suggests the number of recommended remediation actions.
  4. Notes: A note providing additional information on the scan.
  5. History: Indicates there is one historical record of this scan.
  6. Host IP Address (192.168.37.144): The specific IP address of the scanned host.
  7. Vulnerability Severity Bars: Represents the count of vulnerabilities by severity—Critical (39), High (35), Medium (52), Low (7), and Info (211).
  8. Scan Details Section: Provides details on the scan policy used, status of the scan, severity base (CVSS v3.0), type of scanner (Local Scanner), start and end time, and total duration of the scan (25 minutes).
  9. Vulnerabilities Pie Chart: Representation of vulnerabilities categorized by severity—Critical, High, Medium, Low, and Info.

To view the vulnerabilities in detail, click the "Vulnerabilities" tab. This lists all detected vulnerabilities, which can be filtered by severity, CVSS score, VPR rating, name, family, or count.

We’ve filtered ours by CVSS.

Nessus found vulnerabilities

Let’s quickly look at the “NFS Exported Share Name Disclosure” to see the information provided by Nessus.

Nessus NFS share vulnerability

The vulnerability details provided by Nessus include a description of the issue, recommended solutions to remediate it, proof of the vulnerability found, and the specific port where it was detected.

Nessus Report

Finally, we’ll show you how to create and export a Nessus report in a format easily shareable with stakeholders or other team members.

This report will provide an overview of the vulnerabilities identified during the scan and recommendations for remediation.

Click on the “Report” button from within the scan results to configure your report. You can choose whether you want the report in HTML, PDF, or CSV.

You can also select the report template. Once finished, click on “Generate Report.”

Nessus generate a report

The report will be generated and downloaded to your system.

Nessus export report

Conclusion

After following this tutorial, you’ll know how to install Nessus on both Kali and Windows.

We’ve also shown you some of its capabilities, including performing a basic scan and creating a report you can share with your team or clients.

Nessus is a powerful scanner, and we encourage you to test its capabilities on your network to identify any potential vulnerabilities.

Are you looking to strengthen your cyber security knowledge? Elevate your skills with the StationX Accelerator program, offering comprehensive courses, hands-on labs, personalized roadmaps, and access to mastermind groups, and more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Level Up in Cyber Security: Join Our Membership Today!

vip cta image
vip cta details
  • Richard Dezso

    Richard is a cyber security enthusiast, eJPT, and ICCA who loves discovering new topics and never stops learning. In his home lab, he's always working on sharpening his offensive cyber security skills. He shares helpful advice through easy-to-understand blog posts that offer practical support for everyone. Additionally, Richard is dedicated to raising awareness for mental health. You can find Richard on LinkedIn, or to see his other projects, visit his Linktree.

>