In a red team/blue team exercise, the red team is made up of offensive security experts who try to attack an organization’s cybersecurity defenses. The blue team defends against and responds to the red team attack.
Modeled after military training exercises, this drill is a face-off between two teams of highly trained cybersecurity professionals: a red team that uses real-world adversary tradecraft in an attempt to compromise the environment, and a blue team that consists of incident responders who work within the security unit to identify, assess and respond to the intrusion.
Red team/blue team simulations play an important role in defending the organization against a wide range of cyberattacks from today’s sophisticated adversaries. These exercises help organizations:
In a red team/blue team cybersecurity simulation, the red team acts as an adversary, attempting to identify and exploit potential weaknesses within the organization’s cyber defenses using sophisticated attack techniques. These offensive teams typically consist of highly experienced security professionals or independent ethical hackers who focus on penetration testing by imitating real-world attack techniques and methods.
The red team gains initial access usually through the theft of user credentials or social engineering techniques. Once inside the network, the red team elevates its privileges and moves laterally across systems with the goal of progressing as deeply as possible into the network, exfiltrating data while avoiding detection.
Red teaming is the act of systematically and rigorously (but ethically) identifying an attack path that breaches the organization’s security defense through real-world attack techniques. In adopting this adversarial approach, the organization’s defenses are based not on the theoretical capabilities of security tools and systems, but their actual performance in the presence of real-world threats. Red teaming is a critical component in accurately assessing the company’s prevention, detection and remediation capabilities and maturity.
If the red team is playing offense, then the blue team is on defense. Typically, this group consists of incident response consultants who provide guidance to the IT security team on where to make improvements to stop sophisticated types of cyberattacks and threats. The IT security team is then responsible for maintaining the internal network against various types of risk.
While many organizations consider prevention the gold standard of security, detection and remediation are equally important to overall defense capabilities. One key metric is the organization’s “breakout time” — the critical window between when an intruder compromises the first machine and when they can move laterally to other systems on the network.
CrowdStrike typically recommends a “1-10-60 rule,” which means that organizations should be able to detect an intrusion in under a minute, assess its risk level within 10 minutes and eject the adversary in less than one hour.
Implementing a red team/blue team strategy allows organizations to actively test their existing cyber defenses and capabilities in a low-risk environment. By engaging these two groups, it is possible to continuously evolve the organization’s security strategy based on the company’s unique weaknesses and vulnerabilities, as well as the latest real-world attack techniques.
Through red team/blue team exercises it is possible for the organization to:
In some cases, companies organize a red team/blue team exercise with outside resources that do not fully cooperate with internal security teams. For example, digital adversaries hired to play the part of the red team may not share their attack techniques with the blue team or fully debrief them on points of weaknesses within the existing security infrastructure — leaving open the possibility that some gaps may remain once the exercise concludes.
A so-called “purple team” is the term used to describe a red team and blue team that work in unison. These teams share information and insights in order to improve the organization’s overall security.
At CrowdStrike, we believe that red team/blue team exercises hold relatively little value unless both teams fully debrief all stakeholders after each engagement and offer a detailed report on all aspects of project activity, including test techniques, access points, vulnerabilities and other specific information that will help the organization adequately close gaps and strengthen their defenses. For our purposes, “purple teaming” is synonymous with red team/blue team exercises.