The nmap book: valuable book about an invaluable security tool

My full book review of nmap Network Scanning: The Official nmap Project Guide to Network Discovery and Security Scanning is on Slashdot

Nmap Network Scanning: The Official Nmap Project Guide to Network Discovery and Security Scanningis a most useful guide to anyone interested in fully utilizing Nmap.  But one may ask, why spend $50 on this book, when the Nmap Reference Guide provides a significant amount of the basic information needed to use the tool, especially since the reference guide is both free, and well written. The reference guide is included in the book in chapter 15, and takes up 41 pages. And for those that are cash strapped, the free reference guide is the way to go. 

In addition, the web site for the book notes that about half of the content is available in the free online edition. The most useful information is in the book in chapters exclusive to the print edition, which includes Detecting and Subverting Firewalls and Intrusion Detection System, Optimizing Nmap PerformancePort Scanning Techniques and Algorithms, Host Discovery, and troubleshooting. 

The main benefit of the buying the book is that it has the collected wisdom of Fyodor's, in addition to numerous real-world scenarios, and Nmap commands not documented elsewhere. At over 400 pages, the books 15 chapters provide the reader with everything they need to know about using Nmap to the fullest. 

Chapter 1 starts with an overview of the history of Nmap and how it came to be. As to the question of whether port scanning is legal, the author writes that it is best to avoid the debate and its associated analogies. He advises that it's best to avoid ISP abuse reports and criminal charges, by not annoying the target network administrators in the first place. Chapter 1 provides a number of practical suggestions on just how to do that. 

A complaint against Nmap it that is has often been blamed for crashing systems. Chapter 1 shows that the reality is that Nmap will rarely be the primary cause of a system crash. The truth is that many of the systems that crashed as a result of an Nmap scan were likely unstable from the outset, and Nmap either pushed them over the top or they coincidentally crashed at the same time as the Nmap scan. 

An ironic incident detailed in chapter 3 is when someone from the information security department of Target Corp. complained to the author that he felt the Nmap documentation was particularly directed at his organization; given the use of the term target. He requested that the Nmap documentation be changed from targetto example. The section on target enumeration in the book shows the author did not take that request to heart. 

For the serious Nmap user, the book is worth purchasing just for the indispensable information in chapter 16, which is about optimizing Nmap performance. The author writes that one of his highest priorities in the creation of Nmap has been performance. Nmap uses parallelism and numerous advanced algorithms to execute its blazingly fast scans. This chapter shows how to create Nmap commands to obtain only the information you care about and significantly sped up the scan. The chapter details numerous scan time reduction techniques, and strategies on how to deal with long scans. The chapter concludes with the output of a user who, with a customized Nmap command, was able to reduce his scan of a 676,352 IP address network from nearly a week to 46 hours. 

Chapter 10 is also a fascinating chapter on the topic of detection and subverting of firewalls and IDS. The function of such tests on an internal network is to help an organization understand the dangers and risks of a real attack. Since it is not uncommon for firewalls to be accidentally misconfigured, or have rule bases that leak from far too many rules; such a test can be quite useful to any network. 

Nmap Network Scanning: The Official Nmap Project Guide to Network Discovery and Security Scanning is the guide for anyone who wants to get more out of Nmap. It is useful whether one is a novice and only getting into basic security testing, or an advanced user looking for ways to optimize Nmap. 

The book takes a real-world approach on how to use the tool and clearly documents every Nmap feature and option. It also shows how the tool should be correctly used in various settings. 

What is unique about is that this is a rare book in which the creator of the program wrote it. Linus Torvalds never got around to writing a Linux reference, nor did the creators of the Check Point firewall. In Nmap Network Scanning, the reader gets the story from the creator of the code itself. This then is the ultimate Nmap reference guide. 

Aside from the history and use of the program in the first chapter, the rest of the book is an extreme guide to maximizing the use of Nmap. It is written by a programmer and written for the technically astute. Anyone who wants to maximize their use of Nmap will find no better reference.

Ben Rothke

by Ben Rothke

on December 18, 2009

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