The defender nodded in Maicon's terrific set-piece delivery to give the Nerazzurri the lead before the visitors then withstood a late onslaught to come away with all three points.
The Nerazzurri toiled for long periods but they claimed their third successive win in the league thanks to a solitary goal from Andrea Ranocchia, who headed in a free kick from Maicon just after the hour.
Undoubtedly buoyed by back-to-back victories over Fiorentina and Genoa, Inter started brightly, with Esteban Cambiasso calling Francesco Antonioli into action five minutes in before Yuto Nagatomo volleyed over from 12 yards out after being picked out by Maicon.
Diego Milito looked lively every time he received possession, but his strike partner Giampaolo Pazzini was nowhere near as sharp and the former Sampdoria striker squandered a fine opening on the half-hour mark when he failed to control Thiago Motta’s wonderful through-ball.
By that point, Cesena was growing in confidence and the team bossed the final 15 minutes of the half, with Antonio Candreva testing Julio Cesar from distance before Adrian Mutu fired over.
The home side continued to threaten after the break and really should have taken the lead eight minutes into the second period but Roberto Guana criminally failed to cut the ball back for an unmarked Mutu after sloppy play in midfield had left Inter horribly outnumbered at the back.
Cesena was punished for its profligacy on 63 minutes, with center-half Ranocchia rising to nod in Maicon’s terrific set piece delivery from the left side.
The home side piled forward in the final quarter and looked poised to claim a point when Maurizio Lauro’s knockdown found its way to Abdelkader Ghezzal but the Algerian’s half-volley was brilliantly saved by Cesar.
As a result, Inter has moved above Napoli and into fifth in the standings ahead of the Partenopei's clash with Roma on Sunday night. Cesena, meanwhile, remains 18th after the loss.