Best Practices for Red Teams, Blue Teams, Purple Teams

Want to determine the safety of a car? Perform a crash test. One of the most common ways to test the strength of something, particularly when it comes to technology, is by putting it through a stress test. Naturally, this same principle is a critical component of cybersecurity. One of the most effective ways to try and find your security infrastructure’s weaknesses, and your security team’s ability to detect and respond to attacks, is through red team/blue team tests. Read on to find out the differences between these teams, the emergence of purple teams, and the most effective ways to utilize them.

Red team and blue team tests are named and modeled after military exercises. In order to ensure soldiers are battle ready, simulations are run to test out the effectiveness of their defense strategies. In these simulations, red teams take on the offensive role of the enemy, while the blue team is on the defensive, shielding their position. In the cybersecurity realm, the roles are the same, but the battlefield is in the digital sphere.


What is a Red Team?

Red teams are designed to think like attackers, and are brought on specifically to put the organization’s cybersecurity posture to the test, utilizing multiple strategies in order to breach defenses. Some of these approaches include vulnerability assessments, penetration tests, or even social engineering attacks like phishing. Red teams use a variety of tools, such as pen testing solutions like Cobalt Strike, to create the most effective simulation they can.

Though key parties may be informed that a red team campaign is taking place, most employees, including the organization’s IT team, won’t be notified until after the fact, making it as authentic as possible.

Red teams can be internal, which helps set up long term goals and ensures frequent testing. Oftentimes, however, they are hired from an external firm. Having an outside team, like Security Consulting Services, come in can also be ideal since they provide a fresh pair of expert eyes, often seeing vulnerabilities that internal security personnel may miss, simply because internal teams have such frequent exposure to the environment they’re testing. Read more on Red Teaming >

What is a Blue Team?

Blue teams are in charge of building up an organization’s protective measures, and taking action when needed. This is done in a variety of ways. Regular system hardening procedures include updates, patching, eliminating unused software or features, or changing passwords. Additionally, new security tools can be deployed, like SIEM solutions that help blue teams monitor data logs from different assets for security alerts.

What is a Purple Team?

More recently, the idea of a purple team has become the latest buzzword in the cybersecurity world. While there is some confusion surrounding the usage and definition of the term, it’s best to focus on the ideal it is promoting. Ultimately, the concept of a purple team is the mindset of seeing and treating red and blue teams as symbiotic.  It’s not red teams vs. blue teams, but rather one large team focusing on the one overarching goal: improving security. The key to becoming a purple team comes down to communication.

One of the purposes of a red team is to act as a training function for the blue team. Infiltrating and testing the environment is only part of the job. Measuring and improving the ability to detect and respond to attacks is a key part of living up to the ideal of being a purple team. Red teams must prioritize documentation and education efforts so that blue teams can take appropriate action towards remediation and build up resiliency.

Blue teams, in turn, should view the findings of a red team as a guide for where to focus their efforts, and as a roadmap to find vulnerabilities before the next exercise. In a perfect scenario, red teams wouldn’t find the same vulnerability twice.

Best Practices, No Matter the Color

Operating like a purple team is simply adhering to best practices in order to create an environment that is a stronghold against cyber-attacks. As mentioned above, communication between teams is the most critical element in this, but here are a few other ways to get the most out your red team and blue team exercises:

Have a plan of action.

The planning stages of simulation exercises are just as important as the exercises themselves. There are endless scenarios and methodologies to use when attempting to exploit a system, so it’s vital to limit your scope. Red teams should have set objectives and measurable goals that will provide helpful data for blue teams to analyze. Blue teams should use this data to create their own objectives and goals for remediation.

Always follow up.

While it’s tempting to simply move on to the next task, it’s critical to follow up after every exercise. Retrospectives are a great way for teams to learn from one another and can shed further light on patching and preventing weaknesses. Additionally, fixes themselves must also be verified, so following up with retesting efforts is crucial.

Think outside the box.

Threat actors aren’t following a set of rules when they break into a system. Red teamers can stay within the scope of the exercise while still having the freedom to be equally creative. However, remember to show your work – blue teams can only prevent an attack if they can understand how it was done.

Never stop learning.

Promote a culture of learning and encourage both red and blue teams to stay up to date on the latest tools and tricks to prevent being caught off guard. Hackers are always evolving, and true purple teams evolve right along with them.


Get the Most Out of Your Red Team

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