Irrespective of the industry an organisation is in or its size, a very effective way to prevent possible cyber threats and discover infrastructure vulnerabilities is to utilise the expertise of both blue and red teams. Executing red team vs blue team exercises regularly can be a fantastic experience. Whether they are assessing the talent of security team members or assessing the cybersecurity defences of an organisation against cyber attacks and other threats, red team vs blue team exercises can be incredibly beneficial.
The red team will conduct vulnerability assessments and penetration tests, while the blue team responds and reacts to incidents and uphold the organisation’s defences. However, despite their different roles, it is crucial to remember that blue and red teams constantly aim to improve the organisation’s systems and infrastructure security. The red team is seen as the “offence” while the blue team provides the “defence.”
The concept of a “purple team” has recently been added to the equation. Before looking at the function and purpose of the purple team, let’s look at the priorities and tasks of the red and the blue teams.
Blue and red teams share the common goal of improving an organisation’s security, but they differ in their positioning and approach.
Red teams position themselves in an attacker role, which allows them to test the organisation’s defences. Their position will enable them to use complex techniques in their attempts to identify vulnerabilities in the infrastructure’s security, break into systems, launch exploits, and share their findings. Red teams often consist of a third-party collaboration of offensive security professionals. The organisation uses penetration testers to evaluate the company’s security across technologies, processes, and people.
Red team members typically deploy real-world cyber-attack methods to identify weaknesses. Their goal is to evade defence mechanisms, penetrate a corporate’s networks and feign a data breach, all without the organisations’ blue team detecting them.
Techniques typical used by red team members include:
● Vulnerability Assessments
● Port Scanning
● Social Engineering, including Phishing.
● Penetration Testing
● Physical Security Assessments, including card cloning and tailgating.
During a red team engagement, penetration testers have the authority to simulate attack scenarios that may identify potential hardware, physical, human, and software vulnerabilities. Red team engagements also probe for openings internal and external threat actors may use to compromise an organisation’s networks and systems or permit data breaches. As a red teams’ aim is to evade and break defences deployed by blue teams, they have no incentive to help the blue team during testing. This is done by design and is crucial to the testing process despite the shared goal of improving security for the organisation.
After testing, the red team will submit a report, including details like exploit methodology used, vulnerabilities discovered, and proposed remediation. The ultimate aim of the report is to help the blue team understand where there are security gaps, how defences failed, and what remedial action should be taken.
Blue teams are responsible for regularly analysing the organisations’ systems to identify vulnerabilities and assess the efficacy of all policies procedures and security tools implemented. The blue team assesses, develops, and remediates defensive measures to counter red team activities, and ultimately, actual threat actors. They also need to remain well-informed and current on attack methods and potential threats to improve incident responses and defence mechanisms.
A blue team is also responsible for addressing and assessing the people component. Staying current with the latest social engineering and phishing scams is also crucial for blue teams as it will impact their ability to design effective security awareness training and put end-user policies in place, including password policies.
Typical Responsibilities Include:
● Risk assessment
● Security monitoring (devices, systems, and networks)
● Conducting external and internal vulnerability scans
● Incident response
● Network segmentation
● Creating, configuring, and enforcing firewall rules
● Reverse engineering cyber-attack scenarios
● Keeping enterprise software patched and current
● Developing remediation policies to return systems to normal operating after a breach
● Deploying endpoint detection and response systems
Blue teams gather evidence and report their findings to senior management as part of their duty to identify risks. This helps determine if a risk should be accepted or if changes should be made to controls and/or policies to mitigate it. When a security exercise has been completed, the blue team gathers evidence and writes reports on their findings, including a list of remediation tasks that should be implemented.
Purple Team – A Combination of Red and Blue Teams
Before explaining the concept of a purple team, it should be noted that the term “purple team” can be deceiving. The purple team is not a distinct new team but a combination of red and blue team members. The purple team has been designed to act as a feedback mechanism between the two teams. It benefits from the subtle nuances in their different approaches to becoming more effective. This should be seen as a cybersecurity approach that permits the teams to share security data during real-time feedback to lead to a superior security posture.
This approach helps in developing and improving both teams. The red team gains insight into mechanisms and technologies used in cyber security defence. In contrast, the blue team learns more about prioritising, measuring, and improving their security program and ability in detecting and defending against attacks and threats.
Purple Teaming Benefits
Security Personnel Communication
As mentioned before, both red and blue teams’ objective is to improve an organisation’s security, just like its aim is to enhance cybersecurity awareness. The purple team’s first objective is to establish clear and regular communication between the red and blue teams, resulting in a constant flow of information and symbiotic effort. It is recommended that this exercise be performed yearly or whenever significant changes have been made by either team, as it facilitates constant collaboration and communication among and between individual teams. This will promote continuous improvement in the cybersecurity culture of the organisation.
Security Teams Perspective
A breach can often occur as an attacker evades all defences without the blue team knowing or detecting the breach. As cybersecurity constantly changes, this does not necessarily mean a lack of technology or skill from blue teams but is an indication of the increasing complexity used by threat actors’ attack vectors and/or methods. The ‘purple team’ concept eliminates this possibility effectively.
When red and blue teams work together to provide consistent and regular knowledge transfer, it dramatically improves an organisation’s ability to prevent real-life attack scenarios. At the end of the day, the red team enhances the organisation’s vulnerability management processes, while the blue team learns to adopt an attackers’ mindset. Purple teaming therefore enables the development of improved vulnerability detection processes and incident response programs.
The last benefit of purple teams we’ll mention is also significant: the security posture for your organisation will be much healthier. By utilising the purple teams’ regular communications, yearly penetration testing, managing vulnerabilities, and developing improved security policies and infrastructure, the security team at organisations is put in the best possible position to fight against data breach threats.