Last updated at Thu, 01 Sep 2022 14:30:46 GMT

I didn't know it then, but on September 1, 1997, my life changed. That was the day that Fyodor's Nmap was first released to the world, courtesy of the venerable Phrack magazine. (By the way, check out our recent podcast with Fyodor himself if you haven’t yet.) At the time, I had just started my legitimate IT career, but boy oh boy, I was in the thick of it when it came to hackery hijinks. I won't admit to any crimes or anything in this, my now-very-legitimate company's blog post, but let me tell you: 1997 was a truly magical time for the nascent field of what would eventually become known as information security.

At the risk of making this sound like a "kids-these-days/back-in-my-day" kind of blog post, let me just say that if you wanted to probe and profile computers — yes, even computers you owned, legitimately — your choices were simultaneously limited and practically unbounded. In order to conduct network scanning, you had a bunch of tools available to you, all of which worked a little differently, ranging from "completely broken" to "kind of okay for some users." People who were into this sort of thing generally got frustrated with the tooling floating around and wrote their own, which meant that their tools tended to only work for them, since these projects were heavily dependent on that one person's local operating system configuration.

Nmap changed all that.

Early infosec’s magic moment

From the outset, Nmap was a simple tool that literally fit in a magazine article about network scanning tactics and tricks. It was two files of about 2,100 lines of code, and unlike many hacker tools of the day, it actually compiled for me on the first try.

Most importantly, Fyodor's code style was weirdly easy to read, even for a non-programmer hacker hobbyist like myself (I didn't get my first "real" IT job until 1998, but I did spend quite a bit of time in university computer labs for… reasons).

A snippet of the original code published in Phrack 51

Smack in the middle, you can see elements like `send_tcp_raw()` (pictured above) that directly reflected the language in the TCP/IP standard, RFC 793, so the code was generally accessible to both hobbyists and professionals who had motivation to figure out how this TCP/IP stuff worked, really.

Incidentally, other projects were also popping off at the time, as well — l0phtcrack (a proprietary utility for recovering passwords) was released a few months before, and Nessus (a little open-source vulnerability scanner) was released a few months after, so there was definitely something in the ether during this 12-month period. Hacker tooling was transforming into infosec tooling, which meant more "luser n00bs," like myself, could get themselves enmeshed and enamored of the occult magicks of internet technology. Nmap, at least for me, stood out as a true oracle to the weird ways of packet crafting and network sleight-of-hand you could use in fun, unexpected ways to learn about the world.

Happy Scan-iversary, Nmap. Thanks for the cool career.

Additional reading:


Get the latest stories, expertise, and news about security today.