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Nmap is a powerful command line network discovery utility that allows you to view network inventory, host response, uptime, and perform security audits through port scans, OS and firewall discovery, and more. While it is free (and open source) and comes with many Linux versions, it does not come standard with Mac OS X installations and thus must be installed separately. Nmap is fairly advanced overall, but it has many useful uses even for those of us who aren’t network administrators and security professionals, and it can also be useful for basic network configuration tasks and troubleshooting.
While installing nmap you also have the option to install the full suite of network discovery tools including ncat, zenmap (requires X11), ndiff and nping. These are all useful tools too, so it’s a good idea to install them on the go.
How to Install Nmap for Mac OS X
Using the DMG installer is the easiest way, but you can also build your own nmap from source or get it through something like Homebrew or MacPorts.
To download the dmg installer for nmap from nmap.org:
- Download nmap for Mac OS X (free)
- Install from the dmg, right click and choose “Open” to bypass the Gatekeeper warning if it is still enabled
- Install the full nmap suite or selectively choose whether to install ncat, ndiff, nping, etc.
For installing Nmap on Mac with Homebrew, just run the following command:
brew install nmap
No need to reboot, but you will want to refresh or open a new Terminal to find nmap in your path.
Example usage of Nmap
Nmap works with both LAN and WAN IPs and has almost infinite uses, but we’ll cover some commonly used simple tricks. Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for very little information to be reported from Mac OS X machines, especially if the software firewall is enabled and no sharing services are enabled. On the other hand, scanning a Windows PC or a network of Windows machines often gives you a huge amount of information and many services, even with the Windows firewall turned on.
Search Open Ports on Localhost
Nmap makes it really easy to find out which ports are open on localhost (i.e. your computer):
You may see something like the following reported back:
PORT STATE SERVICE22 / tcp open ssh80 / tcp open http445 / tcp open microsoft-ds548 / tcp open afp6817 / tcp open unknown
This will let you know that SSH / SFTP, HTTP, Samba and the Apple File Sharing protocol are all open on the localhost Mac, and show you what ports they are running under.
For a Mac, switching between different options right in the Sharing pane of System Preferences will directly affect what you see as active, be it activating the SSH and SFTP server and enabling remote login, the enable and disable file sharing for Macs or Windows or both, screen sharing or whatever. Separately, if you’ve ever started a local web server (even the superfast python http server) you’ll see that running too.
Scan & List a range of local network IPs
You can also find information about other machines on your local network. We assume your LAN has an IP range from 192.168.0.1 to 192.168.0.25, change these numbers if necessary:
nmap -sP 192.168.0.1-25
If you don’t know the range, you can also use wildcards:
nmap 192.168.0. *
Scan and detect operating systems
Using the same IP range concept as above, you can try to find out which operating systems and their corresponding versions are running on the network machines. This doesn’t always work, but it doesn’t hurt to try:
nmap -O 192.168.0.1-5
If nothing is returned (not uncommon), you can instead try using the –osscan-guess flag to guess which operating system is running based on the detected services:
nmap –osscan-guess 192.168.0.2
Using nmap with alternate DNS servers and trace route
Nmap is also very useful for troubleshooting Internet connection, WAN issues and publicly available resources, and it can be useful for finding out if a network problem is your network, an ISP, or somewhere else. By using the flags –traceroute and –dns servers you can help determine what is going on and where, and the latter is particularly useful if you are having trouble accessing certain external IPs, but not sure know if the host is really down or if your DNS servers are the problem.
The –dns servers flag will override the system DNS settings for that scan. Here we use nmap to scan through alternate DNS (the Google DNS servers used in the example) from yahoo.com:
nmap –dns servers 126.96.36.199 yahoo.com
In this example, if yahoo.com is live over the alternate DNS but is not available to you without specifying –dns servers, you may have a problem with the DNS servers you are using instead of the host itself.
The -traceroute flag contains the known trace route capability in the scan, note that this must be run as root via sudo:
sudo nmap –traceroute yahoo.com
Nmap has a lot more to offer than what we mentioned above, you can see the full list of possible commands and flags by typing:
nmap – help
Or by calling up the man page:
If you want to learn more, the nmap website is also full of great resources and offers extensive documentation.
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