What Is the Nmap Scripting Engine NSE )?


Scott Campbell

The Nmap Scripting Engine (NSE) is a powerful feature of the Nmap security scanner that allows users to write and share scripts to automate various network tasks. Whether you’re a network administrator or a penetration tester, the NSE can save you time and effort by automating repetitive tasks and providing valuable information about your Target systems.

What is the NSE?
The NSE is a scripting engine built into Nmap, which is a free and open-source tool used for network exploration and security auditing. It was first introduced in 2008 with version 4.50 of Nmap and has since become an indispensable tool for many security professionals.

Why use the NSE?
The NSE offers several benefits that make it a must-have tool for anyone involved in network security:

Automation: With the NSE, you can automate tasks that would otherwise be time-consuming and tedious. For example, you can use scripts to scan for common vulnerabilities or misconfigurations across multiple hosts simultaneously.

Extensibility: The NSE is designed to be extensible, allowing users to create their own custom scripts or leverage existing ones from the large and active community. This means that you’re not limited to the default set of scripts bundled with Nmap; you can create scripts tailored to your specific needs.

Flexibility: The scripting engine provides access to low-level network functions, allowing you to interact directly with network protocols and services. This flexibility enables advanced scanning techniques and deep packet inspection, giving you more control over your network exploration.

Using Scripts with Nmap

To use the NSE, simply specify the desired script(s) using the “–script” option when running an Nmap scan. For example:

nmap –script

You can also specify multiple scripts by separating them with commas:

nmap –script ,,..

The NSE offers a wide range of scripts that can be categorized into different types, such as “vuln” for vulnerability scanning, “exploit” for exploiting vulnerabilities, “auth” for authentication-related tasks, and many more.

Examples of NSE Scripts

  • vuln: The “vuln” category includes scripts that scan for known vulnerabilities on Target systems. For example, the script “vuln-webdav-scan” can be used to check if a web server is vulnerable to WebDAV attacks.
  • exploit: The “exploit” category includes scripts that attempt to exploit vulnerabilities found during scanning.

    These scripts should be used responsibly and only on systems you have permission to test. An example is the script “exploit-mssql-empty-password” which attempts to connect to Microsoft SQL Server instances with empty passwords.

  • auth: The “auth” category includes scripts that perform authentication-related tasks. For example, the script “auth-owners” can be used to identify the owners of an SMTP server by enumerating email addresses associated with it.

Creating Custom Scripts

One of the strengths of the NSE is its extensibility. If you can’t find a script that suits your needs, you can create your own custom script using Lua, a lightweight and powerful scripting language.

To create a custom script, start by familiarizing yourself with Lua and NSE’s API documentation. Once you have a good understanding of how to interact with network protocols using Lua, you can start writing your own scripts.

It’s important to note that creating custom scripts requires some programming knowledge, but the effort is well worth it if you have specific requirements that are not covered by existing scripts.


The Nmap Scripting Engine (NSE) is a powerful tool that extends the capabilities of the Nmap scanner. With its automation, extensibility, and flexibility, the NSE can enhance your network scanning and security auditing efforts.

By leveraging existing scripts or creating your own custom ones, you can save time, automate repetitive tasks, and gain valuable insights into your Target systems. Remember to use the NSE responsibly and always obtain proper authorization before scanning or testing any network.

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