Red team vs. blue team in cybersecurity: The winner is the business

Volkswagen Hit by Data Breach

JBS USA cyberattack affecting North American and Australian systems

Unfortunately, such headlines have become so common that we no longer even look into the details unless we’re a victim of identity theft. Cyberattacks are real, and they affect businesses profoundly both in terms of financial and reputation loss. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a cyberattack can create anywhere from a $57- to $109-billion impact on businesses and 36 percent of businesses around the world lose all their money in a cyberattack.

Since the repercussions are enormous, every business takes measures to curb it, and there is also a continuous stream of research in this field to make the existing security better.

One such cybersecurity strategy is red teams and blue teams.

Sounds intriguing? Let’s learn all about this strategy and how it helps businesses to improve their security.

Cybersecurity spending

What are the red team and the blue team in cybersecurity?

A red team/blue team is a cybersecurity assessment strategy that simulates attacks to understand how prepared an organization is, and what are its vulnerabilities that could lead to a possible cyberattack in the future.

A red team follows an offensive hacking strategy while a blue team takes a defensive approach. As you have guessed, the red team perpetrates attacks while the blue team defends them with existing organizational capabilities.

While there’s no concept of a winner here, this exercise exposes the organization’s preparedness and points to the areas that must be improved to thwart attacks from cybercriminals.

Now that you have a basic idea of the role of each team and the overall purpose, let’s delve a bit deeper into the working of each of these teams.

Red team: Who they are and what they do?

The red team is often the aggressive and attacking team and consists of independent ethical hackers who perpetrate attacks to understand the organization’s state of security. It is often a team of two or more ethical hackers who analyze the existing system for flaws and vulnerabilities and try to use them to steal records.

After carrying out the attack, the red team submits a report on how they gathered information, what resources they used and recommends how the organization must beef up its security. Using this information, organizations improve their security to reduce the possibility of a real attack.

Let’s now talk a bit about how red teams work.

How do red teams work?

cybersecurity red team

Red teams spend a ton of time planning an attack and a lot less time executing it. The members are often independent ethical hackers who have no idea about the organization’s security, and they start gathering data about the organization’s security to identify its weakest link.

Some of the information they gather include:

  • Details and versions of the operating system, network equipment like firewalls, switches, routers, and more.
  • The type of physical controls in place.
  • Port numbers and how they are used.
  • The flow of traffic including the hosts that are responsible for different services.

Using all this information, they look for clues and make an educated guess on the possible vulnerabilities of the system. Next, the red team exploits these weaknesses to enter the system. Often, the red team uses one or more techniques such as penetration testing, phishing, social engineering, cloning, and more to enter the network.

On entering the network, they think like cybercriminals and try to gain the highest privilege to access the most critical information. Of course, the red team gives back the collected information to the organization and explains the exact perpetration techniques they used. The red team also prepares a detailed report containing the existing vulnerabilities and suggestions to improve the security.

Blue team: Who they are and what they do?

A blue team, on the other hand, is a bunch of security professionals who work for the organization and know its systems thoroughly. Their main goal is to defend the existing systems and prevent the red team from getting into the network and accessing the company’s critical information.

This team constantly evaluates the system for vulnerabilities, builds defenses, establishes a comprehensive notification system, and creates any other strategy to prevent a possible breach.

How do blue teams work?

The blue team collects data and analyzes it to identify risks. Accordingly, it makes a list of the vulnerabilities and creates a plan to fix each of them. They continuously assess the system to strengthen it and educate the employees to follow the established security policies.

They often put together a bunch of monitoring tools that help them constantly get the information they want about the network. Besides, they conduct audits at regular intervals and capture samples of network traffic for detailed analyses.

The blue team constantly evaluates risks and prioritizes their execution. They make recommendations to the senior management for enforcing policy changes and provide cost-benefit analyses of each of the recommendations to help the management make informed decisions.

All these different actions come together to provide a strong defense that can prevent the red team and the real cybercriminals from accessing the organization’s network.

Why use this strategy?

Many people find this red team/blue team strategy unconventional, and some managements don’t even encourage ethical hackers from learning about their systems.

While there is some merit in this apprehension, the benefits far outweigh the risks involved.

While the red team is concerned with identifying vulnerabilities, the blue team is responsible for providing continued lifelong protection, so the coming together of both teams can boost the overall security.

The biggest advantage is that two teams of different skill sets and approaches are asked to evaluate the organization’s systems and security practices. The outcome is sure to augur well for the organization’s future as it can plug all the possible entry points for cyberattacks.

Some problems to consider

Like every other strategy, the red team and blue team cybersecurity strategy also comes with its share of problems.

Typically, the blue team consists of the organization’s employees, while the red team can include a mix of employees and ethical hackers contracted for an attack. The red team must be aware of the latest techniques used by cybercriminals and must use all of them to break into a system. More importantly, all the findings must be shared with the blue team, so the latter can take steps to fix the security loopholes.

This interaction between teams with differing and often opposing goals can lead to potential conflicts. For example, the red team gets incentives for identifying security problems, so when it shares all this information with the blue team, there’s a fear that it may never find more problems. In turn, this could prevent the red team from sharing all the details with the blue team, thereby compromising the organization’s security and making this entire strategy futile.

Personal ego clashes, opinion differences, goal conflicts, fear of underperformance, and more can create friction between the two teams, so the management must have policies to reduce these conflicts.

Some organizations have a purple team to handle the conflicts between the red and blue teams and to make this a fruitful strategy.

Have you implemented this red team/blue team strategy in your organization? Please share its benefits and the measures you have to address the conflicts in the comments section.

Featured image: Shutterstock

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Scroll to Top