OpenVAS: Installation, Configuration, Importance, and Limitations

Introduction

OpenVAS (Open Vulnerability Assessment System) is a powerful and widely used open-source vulnerability scanner designed to identify security weaknesses in networks and systems. It is a critical tool for organizations and security professionals to assess and address vulnerabilities that malicious actors could exploit proactively. In this article, we will delve into the process of installing and configuring OpenVAS, explore its importance in cybersecurity, and discuss its limitations.

OpenVAS stands out among other vulnerability assessment tools due to its open-source nature, which makes it accessible to a wide range of users without the burden of licensing costs. Its active community support ensures regular updates and improvements, keeping it effective against emerging threats. Additionally, OpenVAS offers comprehensive vulnerability scanning and reporting capabilities, helping organizations comply with industry regulations and reduce their exposure to potential cyber risks. However, while OpenVAS is a powerful tool, it has certain limitations, such as false positives and negatives, configuration complexity, and limited web application scanning capabilities.

Installation of OpenVAS

OpenVAS can be easily installed on both Parrot OS and Kali Linux. It cannot be installed on Microsoft Windows unless you do so on a Linux Virtual Machine. It can also be installed on Ubuntu and other Linux Distributions; however, there is a large degree of complexity in doing so. Here, we will focus on the installation process for Parrot OS.

  • Kali Linux:
    • Link: https://www.kali.org/
    • Description: Kali Linux is a Debian-derived distribution designed for digital forensics and penetration testing. Originally developed by Mati Aharoni and Devon Kearns of Offensive Security, it has many security tools preinstalled, making it a favourite among ethical hackers, pen-testers, and security researchers.
  • Parrot OS (Parrot Security):
    • Link: https://www.parrotsec.org/
    • Description: Parrot OS, also known as Parrot Security, is a Linux distribution based on Debian and designed with cybersecurity, penetration testing, digital forensics, and ethical hacking in mind. It’s developed by Parrot LLC and the community, offering a lightweight environment with various hacking tools and utilities besides general-purpose applications.

Both operating systems cater primarily to cybersecurity professionals, offering various tools suitable for various tasks, from vulnerability assessment to ethical hacking exercises. Choosing between them often depends on personal preference, the tools needed, and the desired environment and interface.

Step 1: Perform System Update and Upgrade

Before installing OpenVAS, it is essential to ensure that your system is up-to-date. Open a terminal and execute the following commands:

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

Step 2: Install GVM

Next, we need to install GVM. GVM (Greenbone Vulnerability Management), is the software framework of several services and tools offering vulnerability scanning and management.

Use the following command to install GVM:

sudo apt install gvm

Step 3: Set Up and Start OpenVAS

After installing gvm, run the following command to set up and start the OpenVAS Scanner:

  • If you run into problems with Postgresql being version 15 when it needs to be version 16, the solution to solving that problem is here. Follow the instructions and then start the gvm-setup process again, and it will work.
sudo gvm-setup

This command will configure the database, create necessary users, and download the latest vulnerability data. Depending on your internet connection and system resources, the setup process may take some time.

Step 4: Start OpenVAS Services

To start the OpenVAS services, use the following command:

sudo gvm-start

The services will start, and you will receive information on accessing the OpenVAS web interface.

Step 5: Access OpenVAS Web Interface

Open your web browser and navigate to the address displayed after starting the services (usually, http://localhost:9392). You will be prompted to log in. The default username is admin and the password will be the one you set during the gvm-setup process.

OpenVAS Dashboard

It’s important to note, at this point, that while OpenVAS has been installed and you can open the application in the browser, you may not be able to use it to perform immediate scans. The reason for this is: it takes time for the background processes to complete the system update. The solution is to leave gvm running, and depending on your computer specs and internet speed, this process can take a reasonable amount of time to complete. Be patient while this is happening.

Configurations and Customizations

Once you have successfully installed OpenVAS and accessed the web interface, and provided the software has completed updating, you can perform various configurations and customizations to tailor the vulnerability scanning process according to your needs.

1: Create Targets

A target in OpenVAS represents the system or network you want to scan for vulnerabilities. To create a target, click “Configuration” in the web interface and select “Targets.” Click on “New Target,” provide the required information, such as the target’s IP address or hostname, and select the scan preferences.

2: Configure Scan Tasks

Scan tasks define how OpenVAS will assess the targets for vulnerabilities. To create a new scan task, navigate to “Scans” in the web interface and click “New Scan.” Select the target, choose the desired configuration, and set the schedule if needed.

3: Fine-Tune Scan Configurations

OpenVAS offers multiple scan configurations to cater to different scenarios. You can customize these configurations by accessing “Configuration” and selecting “Scan Configs.” Here, you can modify existing configurations or create new ones.

4: Schedule Scans

To automate vulnerability scanning, you can set up scheduled scans. This can be done by editing the scan task and configuring the desired frequency.

5: Analyze Scan Results

Once the scans are completed, you can analyze the results in the web interface. OpenVAS provides detailed reports about the vulnerabilities found, their severity, and recommendations for remediation.

Cybersecurity Blue Team Toolkit provides comprehensive coverage to such crucial topics as security assessment and configuration, strategies for protection and defence, offensive measures, and remediation while aligning the concept with the right tool using the CIS Controls as a guide. You will learn why and how to use fundamental open-source and free tools such as ping, tracert, PuTTY, pathping, sysinternals, NMAP, OpenVAS, Nexpose Community, OSSEC, Hamachi, InSSIDer, Nexpose Community, Wireshark, Solarwinds Kiwi Syslog Server, Metasploit, Burp, Clonezilla and many more.

Importance of OpenVAS in Cybersecurity

OpenVAS plays a crucial role in enhancing the cybersecurity posture of organizations and individuals. Here are some key reasons why OpenVAS is important:

  • Identifying Vulnerabilities: OpenVAS actively scans networks and systems for vulnerabilities, helping to identify weaknesses before malicious actors can exploit them. This proactive approach enables organizations to take timely action to secure their infrastructure.
  • Compliance Requirements: Many industries and regulations require regular vulnerability assessments and compliance audits. OpenVAS meets these requirements by providing comprehensive vulnerability scanning and reporting capabilities.
  • Risk Reduction: By continuously monitoring for vulnerabilities, OpenVAS enables organizations to reduce their exposure to potential threats. Addressing vulnerabilities promptly significantly lowers the risk of successful cyberattacks.
  • Cost-Effective Solution: As an open-source tool, OpenVAS provides a cost-effective option for vulnerability scanning, making it accessible to organizations with limited budgets.
  • Community Support and Updates: OpenVAS benefits from a strong and active community of users and developers. This ensures regular updates and improvements to keep pace with emerging threats and security challenges.

Limitations of OpenVAS

While OpenVAS offers significant advantages, it also has certain limitations that users should be aware of:

  • False Positives and Negatives: Like any vulnerability scanner, OpenVAS may generate false positives (indicating vulnerabilities that don’t exist) and false negatives (missing real vulnerabilities). This requires users to analyze the scan results and verify findings carefully.
  • Network Impact: Vulnerability scanning can strain the network, especially during large-scale scans. Organizations need to schedule scans carefully to avoid disruptions to critical services.
  • Complex Configurations: Configuring OpenVAS for specific environments can be complex, especially for users with limited cybersecurity expertise. Proper configuration is essential to ensure accurate and useful scan results.
  • Limited Web Application Scanning: OpenVAS focuses primarily on network and host-level vulnerabilities and has limited support for web application scanning. Organizations with web applications may need to consider additional tools for comprehensive security assessment.
  • No Active Exploitation Testing: OpenVAS is a passive vulnerability scanner and does not actively exploit vulnerabilities it discovers. While this is a safety measure, certain vulnerabilities that require active exploitation may remain undetected.

Conclusion

OpenVAS is a powerful and valuable tool for organizations and security professionals seeking to improve their cybersecurity defences. By diligently identifying vulnerabilities and providing actionable insights, OpenVAS assists in maintaining a secure infrastructure. However, users must acknowledge its limitations and employ it as part of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. By regularly using OpenVAS and complementing it with other security measures, organizations can significantly enhance their resilience against cyber threats.

Video: How to Install OpenVAS on Kali Linux

How to Install OpenVAS on Kali Linux.

For more videos on installing, configuring, and using OpenVAS to scan for vulnerabilities, check out our dedicated OpenVAS playlist on Youtube.

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