Sometimes, to beat the enemy, you must think like them. In the context of IT security, with cybercriminals growing increasingly crafty and intelligent with their malicious approaches, it helps to know exactly how they might launch cyberattacks against your organization. This is precisely why penetration testing, or ethical hacking, has grown in popularity, creating a gamified cybersecurity practice where two teams — red and blue — face off to strengthen an organization’s security.
Before diving into this intriguing world of red team versus blue team and understanding the many benefits the practice offers, let’s briefly look at what purpose the two serve.
What is red team vs. blue team?
Red team vs. blue team is quickly becoming an integral part of a company’s security practices to defend itself from cyberattacks that can leak crucial data, like sensitive information, trade data or secret business communication.
It’s a pretty straightforward idea: the red team is tasked with — ethically — attacking an organization’s IT infrastructure to find and exploit vulnerabilities in the network. In contrast, the blue team tries to fend off the threat as efficiently as possible. This activity is run in a controlled environment, simulating hundreds of potential threat scenarios to help IT professionals understand how cybercriminals create risks and how they can improve their cybersecurity practices.
Investing in this exercise will help you understand where your cyber defense stands in terms of its strength and resiliency. The returns go beyond cutting down remediation costs as well, where your IT security team can learn from these exercises and develop their own technologies and strategies to curtail a cybercriminal’s advances.
What is the difference between red team and blue team?
The main distinction lies within the nature of each team’s responsibilities:
- Red team: The professionals in this team don the guise of malicious threat actors and attempt to identify and take advantage of weaknesses across an enterprise’s IT environment. This includes its on-prem systems, cloud-based infrastructure and all connected devices.
- Blue team: Playing defensively, the blue team is dedicated to stopping the red team in its tracks. According to NIST, the blue team “identifies security threats and risks in the operating environment, and in cooperation with the customer, analyzes the network environment and its current state of security readiness.”
What is a red team in cybersecurity?
As discussed above, the red team is the offense, targeting every profitable component within an organization from a digital perspective. In this segment, we’re going to delve a bit deeper into this particularly aggressive approach to stave off cyberthreats.
The red team mainly practices ethical hacking and penetration testing, but also launches more intricate attacks, like social engineering via scareware, baiting or phishing emails. Considering that most cyber-risks stem from insider threats, such attacks help test your employees’ cyber awareness, giving you a better idea of how to educate and train them accordingly.
Red team objective
Each team member launches a cyberattack with the sole objective of discovering vulnerabilities. They leave no stone unturned and no technique unused to obtain critical business data or access to the network.
It is important to express that the red team has a set course of action: it has a goal assigned by the client organization. It then strategizes an attack to obtain data or disrupt the business’s operational efficiency. After finding gaps in the security or employee IT training protocols, the red team will provide actionable insights to the organization, empowering its staff to understand what areas require immediate attention.
Needless to say, red teamers are incredibly skilled and qualified professionals, highly sought after for their ability to view an organization’s network from the eyes and mind of a hacker.
Red team skills and exercises
Let’s take a closer look at what kind of training and domain expertise the modern ethical hacker possesses. This knowledge helps companies successfully and consistently protect themselves against cyberthreats.
- Technical knowledge and experience: Members of the red team possess incredible subject matter expertise in the areas of network management, IT research and coding. They can map out the network to understand what kind of services each host is running and track the movement of the company’s data. They can identify networking equipment, such as servers, firewalls, access points and routers, and are thoroughly educated on existing computer systems and security protocols and techniques.
- Software development skills: The red team are extremely capable software engineers who can quickly adapt to volatile, risky situations and build tools that deliver results. They know how security and malware applications are designed, allowing them to even develop automated tools to counter security threats.
- Card cloning: Some criminals go as far as to clone an administrator’s security card to access an organization’s premises and, in particular, unrestricted areas like server rooms. Red teamers are aware of how such fraudulent practices work and help companies establish more effective on-prem security protocols.
- Social engineering: Ethical hackers recognize that employees can unintentionally become pawns in a cybercriminal’s effort to access an organization’s network. Consequently, the red team is also experienced in creating and executing social engineering scams, allowing companies to better train their employees to avoid such threats. They can get extremely creative in manipulating employees and obtaining their credentials.
- Penetration testing: A critical function of the red team, penetration testing reveals vulnerabilities that, if left unattended, can cause serious operational disruption. Red teamers are well-versed in pen testing, maintaining significant experience in scanning and determining gaps in network infrastructure. They employ encryption detection tools to bypass password-protected firewalls and exploit vulnerabilities.
- Intercepting communication: The red team is constantly updating itself with the latest tools and techniques that hackers employ, including software designed to intercept private business communication. Such tools, such as packet sniffers and protocol analyzers, are used to gather information about the environment to learn what security techniques are used before planning and launching an attack. Red teamers can help their clients identify such intrusive entities within their networks and help protect themselves effectively.
Red team certifications
Becoming a red team member requires a few certifications to showcase their competence in the field of cybersecurity because their value is immeasurable when it comes to developing robust cyber defenses. Some common job titles for red teamers are cybersecurity attack designer, red team penetration tester, red team operator and offensive security consultant. The following list displays the certifications a red teamer typically possesses:
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Certified Red Team Operations Professional (CRTOP)
- CompTIA PenTest+
- eJPT (eLearnSecurity Junior Penetration Tester)
- GIAC Exploit Researcher and Advanced Penetration Tester (GXPN)
- GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN)
- Licensed Penetration Tester (LPT) Master
- Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)
What is a blue team in cybersecurity?
The blue team houses the good guys who try to stay a step ahead of the red team. They are authorized to access an organization’s complete IT network to improve its cybersecurity competencies.
During blue team exercises, members assess the health of IT networks and systems, discern security issues within on-prem and cloud-based environments, and improve existing privacy protocols to secure employees and intellectual property. The blue team is expected to prevent attacks over a significant period of time, in a representative operational context, and according to the rules established by a neutral group refereeing the simulation or exercise.
Blue team objective
The blue team’s key responsibility involves fending off the red team’s efforts to discover and exploit any weaknesses in an organization’s infrastructure. It is also required to produce results and actionable insights that help determine the best security strategies, employ the best tools and implement new practices that promise the privacy of the company and its people.
By the end of a successful blue team exercise, an organization’s IT team is ideally well-guarded against threats, like data breaches, and enjoys improved cyber-risk management capabilities.
Blue team skills and exercises
Blue teamers possess high levels of information security insight and first-hand application knowledge of security solutions. Each member recognizes what parts of an organization would attract cybercriminals and can distinguish the assets they might target. Listed below are the skills developed by cybersecurity specialists to successfully carry out blue team operations.
- Domain name server (DNS) auditing: An increasingly important aspect of cybersecurity, members of the blue team are skilled in performing DNS research and audits. In doing so, they help overcome business operation hurdles set up by DNS record deletions, avoid phishing attacks and increase web-based security. They also execute well-planned DNS assessments that ensure no activity within the organization jeopardizes customer and employee privacy.
- Hardening techniques: Every team professional can act upon the vulnerabilities they discover in an organization’s infrastructure and maintain the techniques to resolve each issue. By implementing various hardening techniques depending on the severity of the gaps in security, the blue team reinforces cyber defense practices that cushion the impact of an attack or eliminate threats altogether.
- Risk assessment: Blue team professionals know the tools of the trade and utilize industry-leading IT assessment tools — like Network Detective Pro, VulScan and Cyber Hawk — to identify cyber-risks and develop effective countermeasures. They also discern the most at-risk assets and help organizations prioritize resources to address those issues.
- Threat intelligence analysis: Blue teamers are exceptionally skilled at consolidating actionable data on various risks and potential threats an organization may face. This particular skill helps define a robust, efficient cyber defense strategy. The team carries out threat profiling, which empowers the client organization to tackle each cyber-risk more economically — both in terms of time and money.
- Digital footprint analysis: As the name implies, this skill concerns itself with a little bit of deduction. The team is tasked with tracing and analyzing digital clues to discover potential breaches and better map out network activity. Conducting a digital footprint analysis makes observing suspicious or unusual activity across the enterprise a relatively simpler process; discerning whether a user’s actions may lead to a security breach becomes more accurate and streamlined.
- Identity and access management (IAM): An organization grants the blue team — the personnel and their devices — very restricted access privileges to understand how vulnerabilities may arise from these low access levels.
- Endpoint security management: An extremely important facet of a blue teamer’s responsibilities involves endpoint security; they are required to securely configure firewall access controls and update antivirus and antimalware software at all times. They manage firewall controls and endpoint software to safeguard devices in the workplace. If necessary, they may even install or build firewalls and antivirus software for improved security themselves.
- Intrusion detection and prevention: Utilizing tools like packet sniffers, intrusion detection systems (IDS), security information and event management (SIEM) software and intrusion prevention systems (IPS), blue teamers are equipped to identify potential threats and set up effective countermeasures to defend the organization.
- SIEM: Cybersecurity professionals have honed the ability to analyze data, such as memory logs, that indicate suspicious activities on systems connected to an organization’s network and locate where a threat may arise. They can deploy SIEM solutions to observe network activity and carry out logging tasks, like consolidating, parsing and normalization of data from every corner of the enterprise.
- Continuous security monitoring (CSM): A blue teamer’s task is never truly complete. They frequently carry out network segmentation to help administrators better control network traffic and manage security software across the environment. They specialize in network and system management (NSM) and CSM event collection.
- Incident management: Blue team members possess the skills to find, analyze and take proactive measures against critical incidents that spell imminent trouble for an organization’s productivity. Each blue teamer is experienced in handling incident containment tasks and incident management systems to remediate vulnerabilities quickly and effectively.
Blue team certifications
Now that we’ve covered the objectives and skills of the blue team, here are a few job titles its members may hold: IT security and risk officer, cyber security analyst, incident responder and vulnerability analyst. Listed below are the certifications required to become a verified blue teamer.
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+)
- CompTIA Security+
- Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)
- eLearnSecurity Certified Malware Analysis Professional (eCMAP)
- GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH)
- GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC)
- Offensive Security Defence Analyst (OSDA)
- Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)
What is a red team vs. blue team exercise?
Hailing from military roots, the red team versus blue team exercise is designed to help organizations test the strength and limits of their existing security infrastructure. Various real-world cyberthreat scenarios are played out, with both teams attempting to meet their objectives. During the course of the exercise, members from each team leverage the latest in cybersecurity and criminal practices to discover any gaps in a company’s IT environment.
What is the goal of a red team vs. blue team exercise?
While the red and blue teams fight against each other, they are in reality fighting for the same side — the organization. After completing the exercise, companies obtain a significant amount of data that translates to quicker threat detection and improved incident containment practices that help develop effective new response strategies and security policies.
How does a red team vs. blue team exercise help an organization?
This now widespread cybersecurity practice helps businesses achieve high levels of IT security efficiently while also increasing cybersecurity awareness. The red team versus blue team exercise enables organizations to build a more effective incident response plan after running many attack scenarios in a controlled environment. The blue team, in particular, encourages collaboration between related departments in an organization, including IT, security and administration units. Doing so enhances employees’ ability to work together during an attack.
Should red and blue teams work together or separately?
When you mix red with blue, you get purple. Bringing together the best features of the red and blue teams, purple teaming offers companies valuable insights from members of the two opposing forces.
A purple team’s function is designed to enhance information-sharing processes — and the ultimate effectiveness — of an organization’s red and blue teams.
In short, the answer is yes. This helps to critically analyze what kind of technologies and practices the other team intends to utilize to meet their objectives.
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To carry out high-quality red team versus blue team exercises, leveraging the most up-to-date and robust cybersecurity tools can significantly strengthen an organization’s defenses. That’s why RapidFire Tools has dedicated its efforts toward bringing an incredibly powerful suite of cybersecurity and compliance solutions to businesses everywhere.
RapidFire Tools’ Network Detective Pro, VulScan and Cyber Hawk products offer cybersecurity professionals the ability to identify hidden vulnerabilities, detect suspicious network activity in real-time and carry out comprehensive IT assessments — with resourceful report generation capabilities.
Red and blue teamers alike can increase the effectiveness of their IT security exercises and operations by utilizing RapidFire Tools’ intelligent, powerful and affordable tools. Don’t let cybercriminals gain the upper hand. Schedule a demo today.