Network scanning is a fundamental part of online security. While it’s rarely performed by regular internet users, security professionals perform network scans on a frequent basis to discover vulnerabilities and potential attackers.
As the process involves a lot of repetition, various tools have been developed. Network administrators or anyone else setting up machines can make mistakes, most of which are repeated across businesses and organizations. So, network scanning tools make it easier to catch all of these potential errors and solve them.
What are network scanning tools?
Network scanning tools are software that automatically check the current network of machines for connection-related vulnerabilities. Additionally, network scanner tools will often provide simple ways to fix any issues that may have been found.
In essence, network scanning tools attempt to do the same things a potential attacker would. They then fire up a report of what would be the possible vectors of attack. Network administrators can work hard at solving all of the possible issues so no hacks can happen.
As with any complex process, there are several parts to it. In general, there’s 3 types of network scanning:
- Network scanning. Searches for live computers and network devices, all of the open ports, and IP addresses. Attempts to discover whether there are any live vulnerabilities.
- Port scanning. Searches the UDP and TCP ports for any potentially open ones, especially those that might cause a device to become compromised.
- Vulnerability scanning. Performs a wider range of search for any potential known vulnerabilities from the collected data.
Network scanning tools perform one or all three of the above in an automated manner. Since vulnerabilities and network devices are so complicated, getting the best network scanner tool on the market is essential. Missing out on a single thing related to network security can have dire consequences.
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Nexpose is a piece of network scanner software offered by the company Rapid7. While network scanning tools aren’t their only product, Nexpose is a well-known option for security professionals.
Network scanning is the primary and more or less only type available through Nexpose. For that feature, there are two options – unauthenticated and authenticated scanning. As the tool is intended for on-premise use, the latter is preferred as it gets access to all network devices and files. The former can be used in a pinch, but the reports delivered might be inaccurate.
All of the network vulnerabilities and potential risks are put onto a dashboard with a lot of visualizations. Additionally, there’s a “Real Risk” score tacked on to each vulnerability that’s found, providing an easy way to solve the most pressing issues.
Finally, a policy assessment is included in the report, allowing you to understand how your network topology compares to industry standards. With all of the data provided, the Nexpose network scanning tool makes for a formidable piece of software.
2. Solarwinds IP address manager
Pricing: Free 30-day trial available. Customized pricing available.
Solarwinds IP scanner is a network scanning tool, mainly used to map all devices and find vulnerabilities and performance leaks. As Solarwinds is a well-known industry leader in the network security sphere, their IP scanner is also top-notch.
With the IP scanner, managing all IP addresses in the network will be made easy. It will build a catalog for both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, including ones that have newly popped up and the open ones. All of that makes it easy to map network topology features, nooks, and crannies.
Additionally, it will easily track network devices that have dynamic IP addresses. Usually, keeping up with a large network of them might be difficult as they keep changing IP addresses. Solarwinds’ IP scanner, however, manages to keep track of all of them, including the changes.
Finally, it will provide fault, performance, and availability metrics for all devices. As such, the Solarwinds IP scanner also helps optimize network performance, regardless of the number of connected devices.
In the end, it’s one of the best IP scanner tools out there. Solarwinds, as a respected company, puts a lot of effort into their software and it shows. The only real drawback is the somewhat limited scope of application for the tool as it only works on a small subset of network scanning in general.
Nmap is a basic Internet protocol scanner that’s completely free. In fact, it’s inbuilt in some Linux distributions as a security feature. Its primary focus is port scanning, which makes it easy to check all 65535 of them.
In fact, Nmap is the base of many network scanner tools, so you’ll be getting down to the foundation of security with it. While it’s a fairly basic piece of software, there are few other network scanning tools out there that can perform port scanning as efficiently.
These scans can also be highly customized through the use of attributes instead of going through all 65535. Additionally, it can automatically detect the operating system of the host, making network management a lot easier.
While the features installed in Nmap aren’t anything out there, it does the primary job well. You’ll get a detailed analysis of all the ports, whether open or closed. In the end, you’ll be able to know when to switch ports.
All in all, Nmap is a great network scanning tool that builds the foundation for many other security related activities. Having Nmap or any of its counterparts is essential. It’s definitely one of the best free network scanning tools out there.
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Greenbone OpenVAS is a scanning tool that focuses on vulnerability detection and resolvement. They offer two distinct packages, one is a network device scanner that focuses on detecting vulnerabilities within software and even hardware. Their second solution is a cloud service that scans internal and external IP addresses and reports all vulnerabilities found.
Both of OpenVAS solutions make network management a lot easier. Since it can function both as an IP scanner and as a network device scanner, it’ll make discovering all potential vulnerabilities a lot easier.
Additionally, all vulnerabilities are compiled into a handy report that can be easily shared. Each vulnerability also comes with a risk profile attached, so it’s a lot easier to communicate potential issues to non-technical people.
Unfortunately, Greenbone seems to want to keep a lot of things under wraps. If it weren’t for in-field testing and third party services, you’d be unable to find most of the features they purportedly have as the website is extremely barebones.
In addition, the pricing is only by request, which means it’s hard to evaluate how valuable the tool is. Although, it must be noted that it does fall into the category of best network scanner tools for many security software reviewers.
All in all, OpenVAS might be better for those who want a more hands-off network scanning experience. Seasoned professionals might get some value out of it, but it’s definitely intended for those who want to “fire-and-forget” their network security.
Pricing: Free edition available. Full version is $1200.
NetworkMiner is a network forensic analysis tool that lets professionals both scan for current issues and rebuild past events for detective work. It works on pretty much all operating systems as it can be launched on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux with support for many network protocols.
There are several aspects to NetworkMiner as it has a multitude of features. It can function as a port scanner and hostname detector while also sniffing packets and monitoring network traffic. Additionally, the network traffic monitoring comes without any extra hog on resources, making the process extremely efficient.
That’s not where the NetworkMiner features end, though. It can parse through PCAP files, which can make off-line network analysis much easier. NetworkMiner can even regenerate transmitted files and certificates, turning it into a one-stop powerhouse.
Finally, unlike almost all competitors in the area, there’s no hidden pricing. There’s a free version, which is unfortunately quite restrictive. The paid version, however, has no tier system, subscription model, or customized pricing, only a simple and plain cost. Once you get the paid version, there are no strings attached.
In the end, NetworkMiner is a great addition to the toolkit of any network security professional. While you have to get the paid version to squeeze out most of the value out of the software, it’s definitely worth its weight in gold.
Best proxies for network scanning tools
Network scanning tools rely on sending tons of requests to various endpoints. While internal checks might not be as stringent, any external IP address or network checks will require proxies. Otherwise, the tool will simply get blocked by any security software.
Various types of proxies can work, however, datacenter ones likely will net you the most performance and stability. Datacenter proxies are created in servers, which are housed in business-owned facilities, so they get company-grade internet speeds, incredible hardware, and optimal maintenance.
While other options, such as residential proxies, are viable contenders, they usually have advantages that are not as useful for network scanning. For example, residential proxies are significantly less reliable than their datacenter counterparts, but provide better location coverage. Since, however, such a feature has little relevance, you’re better off maximizing performance.
As such, in almost all cases, datacenter proxies will outrank all competition. They will allow you to maximize performance and stability and perform scanning activities with peace of mind.
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