What is a red team in cybersecurity? What about a blue team? Do they really differ? And if they do, which is better?

What Is a Red Team in Cybersecurity?

A red team refers to a group that acts as an enemy or a competitor to provide security feedback from their perspective. Many organizations use red teams, particularly companies for cybersecurity, airports for physical security, and the military and intelligence agencies for investigations.

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How Does Red Teaming Work?

Red teaming involves simulating a full-scale multilayered attack to measure how well a company’s staff and network, applications, and physical security controls can withstand it. It also goes by the name “ethical hacking.”

A red team exercise reveals weaknesses in an organization’s technology (network, applications, routers, etc.), people (staff, contractors, business partners, etc.), and premises (offices, warehouses, data centers, etc.). It helps companies remain competitive while securing their business interests using creative social engineering tactics and physical, application, and network penetration tests to find ways to strengthen their defenses.

In a red team exercise, highly trained security consultants mimic attack scenarios to reveal potential physical, hardware, software, and human vulnerabilities. It also identifies opportunities that threat actors and malicious insiders can take to compromise corporate systems or enable data breaches.

Is Red Teaming the Same as Penetration Testing?

While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they do differ.

While penetration testing also reveals an organization’s security weaknesses, it does so on a higher level or more general terms than red teaming. In penetration testing, the experts focus on identifying as many loopholes as possible. In most cases, pen-testers do not go through all the steps attackers usually would in, say, a targeted attack. Red teaming, on the other hand, entails doing reconnaissance and being as stealthy as possible to launch controlled but multifaceted attacks.

That said, the main difference between the two has to do with depth or how far the “attackers” would go to breach their target.

What Is a Blue Team?

As the opposite of a red team, a blue team is a group of security professionals with a 360-degree view of the organization. Their primary task is to protect the company’s critical assets against any kind of threat.

How Does Blue Teaming Work?

A blue team’s first task is to gather data, such as documents that tell them what needs protection. After that, they assess risks. They then shore up system access requirements by introducing more robust password policies or educating staff to ensure they understand and conform to security procedures.

Blue teams can also put monitoring tools in place to log system users and continuously check for unusual activity. They perform regular checks, such as Domain Name System (DNS) audits, internal or external network vulnerability scans, and traffic captures for analysis.

Part of a blue team’s role is to identify threats to each asset and what vulnerabilities these can exploit. After identifying risks, they evaluate and prioritize before developing an action plan to implement controls that can lessen the impact of threats should an attack occur.

Blue teaming involves senior management because only they can decide to accept the risks or implement controls against them. Selecting protocols is also often based on a cost-benefit analysis.

So How Does a Red Team Differ from a Blue Team?

While a red team takes the attackers’ perspective to look for weaknesses in an organization’s network, the blue team looks at attacks from the potential victim’s point of view. While the red team imitates attackers aided by their usual tools and tactics, the blue team is there to modify defense mechanisms to strengthen incident response.

Red teaming, however, does not typically consider the impact of an attack on the company’s business, which blue teaming carefully looks at. Red team members also do not have access to as much internal data as those of the blue team does. Red teams are usually company outsiders and so do not have insider knowledge of organizations’ assets and inner workings.

Watch this video to know more about the difference between red and blue teams:

Which Is Better, Red Teaming or Blue Teaming?

One is not better than the other, really. Given that any company can become the next cyber attack target, all organizations can benefit from conducting both exercises.

Whatever vulnerabilities the red team finds, the blue team can help address with the support of senior management. Communication between the two teams is the most crucial factor. They should share their findings for the utmost security.

An organization’s goal will determine the need for red or blue teaming. If the company wishes to do both, the teams should work together to plan, develop, and implement more robust security controls.