Ethical Hacking: How to use Nmap

Ethical Hacking-Nmap

A Basic Guide to Using Nmap!

Nmap, short for “Network Mapper,” is a widely used open-source network scanning tool and security scanner. It’s primarily used for network discovery and security auditing but has many other features and use cases. In this Ethical Hacking guide, we will show you how to be a network mapping pro.

Here is an in-depth explanation of what Nmap is and how it works:

Network Discovery:
  • Nmap is primarily used to discover devices and hosts on a network. It does this by sending packets to target hosts and analyzing their responses. This helps network administrators and security professionals map out the network and identify all active devices.
Port Scanning:
  • One of Nmap’s most popular use cases is port scanning. It allows users to determine which ports are open and which services are running on a target system. This information is crucial for identifying potential vulnerabilities or misconfigurations.
Operating System Detection:
  • Nmap can attempt to detect the operating system of a target host based on subtle differences in how various systems respond to network requests. This feature is helpful for understanding the network environment.
Service Version Detection:
  • Nmap can identify the specific version of services running on open ports, which can be important for assessing potential security risks.
Scripting Engine:
  • Nmap features a powerful scripting engine that allows users to write custom scripts for various tasks. These scripts can be used to perform more advanced network reconnaissance or to automate repetitive tasks.
NSE (Nmap Scripting Engine) Scripts:
  • Nmap comes with a wide range of built-in scripts for tasks such as vulnerability scanning, service discovery, and more. Users can extend Nmap’s functionality by creating or using additional NSE scripts.
Timing and Performance Options:
  • Nmap provides various timing and performance options, allowing users to customize the scan speed and resource utilization to meet their specific needs.
Stealth Scanning:
  • Nmap can perform scans in a stealthy manner, such as using techniques like SYN scanning or ACK scanning, to minimize the footprint of the scan and reduce the likelihood of detection.
Output Formats:
  • Nmap supports multiple output formats, making it versatile for different use cases. It can produce text-based reports, XML output, and even interactive graphical maps of scanned networks.
Security Auditing:
  • Nmap is often used for security auditing and vulnerability assessment. By identifying open ports and services, administrators can address potential security weaknesses before malicious actors can exploit them.
  • Nmap is cross-platform, available for Windows, Linux, macOS, and various other operating systems, making it a versatile tool for a wide range of users.
Open Source:
  • Nmap is open-source and maintained by a community of volunteers. This means it’s continuously updated, and its source code is available for inspection and modification.
Legal and Ethical Considerations:
  • It’s essential to use Nmap responsibly and ethically. Unauthorized scanning of networks or systems can be illegal and unethical. Always obtain proper permissions before scanning any network that you do not own or have explicit authorization to scan.

Who uses Nmap?

It’s important to acknowledge that Nmap, like many other tools, can be used for malicious purposes by individuals or groups with malicious intent. While Nmap is a legitimate and valuable tool for network administrators and security professionals, it can also be misused by malicious actors for illegal or unethical activities. Here’s a revised list that includes both legitimate users and malicious actors:

Legitimate Users of Nmap:
  • Network Administrators: Use Nmap for network discovery, troubleshooting, and security assessments.
  • System Administrators: Employ Nmap for system and server configuration checks.
  • Security Professionals: Ethical hackers and penetration testers use Nmap to find vulnerabilities.
  • Incident Responders: Use Nmap to assess security during incidents or breaches.
  • Security Researchers: Analyze vulnerabilities and contribute to security practices.
  • Red Teamers: Evaluate security measures by simulating attacks.
  • Law Enforcement and Government Agencies: Use Nmap for investigations and critical infrastructure security.
  • Educational Institutions: Incorporate Nmap into cybersecurity courses.
  • Network Engineers: Verify network configurations and troubleshoot connectivity issues.
  • System Owners and IT Managers: Periodically assess network security and policy compliance.
  • Open Source Community: Collaborate on Nmap’s development and functionality.
  • Cybersecurity Enthusiasts: Experiment with network scanning and security.
Malicious Actors Who May Misuse Nmap:
  • Hackers: May use Nmap to identify vulnerable systems for unauthorized access or exploitation.
  • Criminals: Employ Nmap to discover and target systems for cybercrime, such as data theft.
  • Malware Creators: Use Nmap to identify potential targets for distributing malware.
  • Scammers: May use Nmap to gather information for social engineering or phishing attacks.
  • State-Sponsored Threat Actors: May leverage Nmap for espionage and cyberattacks.
  • Hacktivists: Use Nmap for political or social causes, sometimes illegally.
  • Insider Threats: Employees or insiders may misuse Nmap to access unauthorized systems.

How to use Nmap

Nmap is a versatile tool with a wide range of options and capabilities. Here, I’ll provide you with a basic guide on how to use Nmap to perform a simple network scan. Remember that Nmap can be a powerful tool, so always use it responsibly and with proper authorization.

Installing Nmap:

If Nmap is not already installed on your system, you can download and install it from the official Nmap website. It’s available for Windows, Linux, macOS, and other platforms.

Open a Terminal or Command Prompt:

You’ll need to use a terminal or command prompt to run Nmap. The following instructions will assume you’re using a Linux terminal, but the commands are similar for Windows and macOS.

Basic Nmap Scan:

To perform a basic Nmap scan, use the following syntax:

nmap [target]

Replace [target] with the IP address or hostname of the target you want to scan. For example:


This command will perform a simple scan of the target, listing open ports and services.

Common Nmap Options:

Nmap offers many options to customize your scans. Here are some common ones:

  • -p: Specify a range of ports to scan. For example, to scan ports 80, 443, and 8080, use -p 80,443,8080.

  • -F: Scan only the most common 100 ports, making the scan faster.

  • -A: Enable OS detection, version detection, script scanning, and traceroute.

  • -T: Set the timing template. Options include T0 (paranoid), T1 (sneaky), T2 (polite), T3 (normal), and T4 (aggressive).

  • -oN: Output the results to a file in normal format. For example, -oN scan_results.txt.

  • -v: Increase verbosity to see more details about the scan.


Here are some examples of different Nmap scans:

  • Basic Scan: nmap

  • Scan Multiple Hosts: nmap

  • Scan a Range of IP Addresses: nmap

  • Scan a Specific Port: nmap -p 80

  • Scan Multiple Ports: nmap -p 80,443,8080

  • Fast Scan: nmap -F

  • Aggressive Scan: nmap -A

  • Output Results to a File: nmap -oN scan_results.txt

Advanced Scans:

Nmap offers a variety of scan options and techniques to help you gather information about target hosts and networks. Below is a list of some common Nmap scan types and options:

TCP Connect Scan (-sT):
  • This is the most basic scan type, and it sends a TCP connection request to the target ports. It’s simple but easy to detect. Example: nmap -sT target
SYN Scan (-sS):
  • Also known as a half-open or stealth scan, this scan sends SYN packets to the target ports. It’s faster and less detectable than a TCP connect scan. Example: nmap -sS target
UDP Scan (-sU):
  • This scan is used to identify open UDP ports on a target. UDP is connectionless, so the scan sends UDP packets to various ports and analyzes the responses. Example: nmap -sU target
ACK Scan (-sA):
  • This scan type sends ACK packets to determine if a host is filtering or unfiltered. It’s often used for firewall detection. Example: nmap -sA target
Window Scan (-sW):
  • The window scan sends a TCP ACK with a window size of zero to a target. It can be used to fingerprint the operating system. Example: nmap -sW target
XMAS Scan (-sX):
  • An XMAS scan sends a series of unusual TCP packets to determine whether a port is open, closed, or filtered. Example: nmap -sX target
NULL Scan (-sN):
  • A NULL scan sends TCP packets with no flag set, which can be used to determine whether a port is open, closed, or filtered. Example: nmap -sN target
FIN Scan (-sF):
  • The FIN scan sends TCP packets with only the FIN flag set, used to determine whether a port is open, closed, or filtered. Example: nmap -sF target
Idle Scan (-sI):
  • Also known as zombie scan, it leverages an open system to indirectly scan the target. It’s a complex but stealthy method. Example: nmap -sI zombie_host target
Custom Scripts (-sC or --script):
  • Nmap’s scripting engine allows you to run custom scripts to perform various tasks. Example: nmap --script script_name target
Version Detection (-sV):
  • This option attempts to determine the version and service information of open ports by analyzing responses from target systems. Example: nmap -sV target
OS Detection (-O):
  • OS detection attempts to identify the operating system of the target host based on various characteristics. Example: nmap -O target
Fast Scan (-F):
  • The fast scan option is a quick scan that only scans the 100 most common ports. Example: nmap -F target
Intense Scan (-T4 or -T5):
  • These timing templates (T4 and T5) increase the aggressiveness of the scan, making it faster but potentially more detectable. Example: nmap -T4 target
Output Options (-oN, -oX, etc.):
  • Nmap offers various output formats, such as normal (-oN), XML (-oX), and grepable (-oG). Example: nmap -oN output.txt target
Network Scanning (-sn):
  • Use the -sn option to perform a “ping scan” or a host discovery scan without port scanning. Example: nmap -sn target

Custom Scripts:

Nmap has a wide range of custom scripts, known as NSE (Nmap Scripting Engine) scripts, that extend its functionality and allow you to perform various tasks during network scanning and reconnaissance. These scripts are written in the Lua programming language and are executed by Nmap to automate tasks like service enumeration, vulnerability scanning, and more. Here are some categories of custom scripts that Nmap provides:

Service Enumeration Scripts:
  • These scripts help identify services running on open ports, detect specific software versions, and extract valuable information.
Vulnerability Detection Scripts:
  • Nmap offers scripts to detect known vulnerabilities in services and software running on target hosts. These scripts can be used for security assessments.
Security Scanning Scripts:
  • These scripts perform various security checks to identify potential misconfigurations, weak passwords, or common security issues on target systems.
Brute-Force and Credential Testing Scripts:
  • NSE includes scripts for performing brute-force attacks or credential testing against various services, such as SSH, FTP, and web applications.
Host Discovery Scripts:
  • These scripts help with host discovery, including finding live hosts, identifying open ports, and extracting host information.
Web Application Scripts:
  • Nmap has scripts for web application testing, including scanning for common web vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and more.
Data Gathering Scripts:
  • These scripts are used to gather information about a target, such as DNS information, SNMP data, and more.
Exploitation and Post-Exploitation Scripts:
  • Some NSE scripts simulate exploitation of known vulnerabilities or automate post-exploitation tasks.
Database Scripts:
  • Nmap includes scripts to discover and enumerate databases, such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Microsoft SQL Server.
Cisco and Network Device Scripts:
  • There are scripts specifically designed for scanning and assessing Cisco devices and other network infrastructure.
IPv6 Scripts:
  • NSE includes scripts for IPv6-specific tasks, such as neighbor discovery and router solicitation.
Miscellaneous Scripts:
  • Various other scripts cover tasks like banner grabbing, information extraction, and more.

You can list the available NSE scripts using the --script-help all option, which will provide detailed descriptions of each script and its usage. Here’s the command to list available NSE scripts:

nmap --script-help all

You can run NSE scripts using the --script option followed by the script name or category. For example:

nmap --script vuln target

Additional Tips:

  • Always ensure that you have proper authorization to scan a network or system. Unauthorized scanning is illegal and unethical.

  • Be mindful of the potential impact of your scan on the target network. Scanning can generate network traffic and affect network performance.

  • Nmap offers a wide range of advanced features and scripting. You can explore these by reading the Nmap documentation and tutorials available online.

  • Always keep your Nmap installation up to date with the latest version.


Nmap is a powerful and versatile network scanning and security tool that is widely used by network administrators, security professionals, and hackers (for ethical and security testing purposes). It provides valuable information about the network environment, including open ports, running services, and potential vulnerabilities, which is essential for network management and security.

Happy Hacking Folks!

You can read all of our Ethical Hacking guides here: Ethical Hacking


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Luke Barber

Hello, fellow tech enthusiasts! I'm Luke, a passionate learner and explorer in the vast realms of technology. Welcome to my digital space where I share the insights and adventures gained from my journey into the fascinating worlds of Arduino, Python, Linux, Ethical Hacking, and beyond. Armed with qualifications including CompTIA A+, Sec+, Cisco CCNA, Unix/Linux and Bash Shell Scripting, JavaScript Application Programming, Python Programming and Ethical Hacking, I thrive in the ever-evolving landscape of coding, computers, and networks. As a tech enthusiast, I'm on a mission to simplify the complexities of technology through my blogs, offering a glimpse into the marvels of Arduino, Python, Linux, and Ethical Hacking techniques. Whether you're a fellow coder or a curious mind, I invite you to join me on this journey of continuous learning and discovery.

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