Threat Intelligence 101

Red Team vs Blue Team in CyberSecurity

Posted: 6th February 2024
By: Esteban Borges
Red Team vs Blue Team in CyberSecurity

When discussing cybersecurity, the terms "Red team" and "Blue team" are often mentioned. Long associated with the military, these terms are used to describe teams that use their skills to imitate the attack techniques that "enemies" might use, and other teams that use their skills to defend. In cybersecurity, there isn't much difference.

Today we'll cover the Red team vs. Blue team topic, their importance, and why every company should utilize the abilities of these highly skilled professionals.

What is a Red Team?

What is a Red Team in Cyber Security?

Red teams are focused on penetration testing of different systems and their levels of security programs. They are there to detect, prevent and eliminate vulnerabilities.

A red team imitates real-world attacks that can hit a company or an organization, and they perform all the necessary steps that attackers would use. By assuming the role of an attacker, they show organizations what could be backdoors or exploitable vulnerabilities that pose a threat to their cybersecurity.

A common practice is to hire someone outside the organization for red teaming — someone equipped with the knowledge to exploit security vulnerabilities, but unaware of the defenses built into the organization's infrastructure.

The techniques a red team uses vary from standard phishing attempts aimed at employees and social engineering to impersonating employees with the goal of obtaining admin access. To be truly effective, red teams need to know all the tactics, techniques and procedures (a key part of the tactical threat intelligence) an attacker would use.

Red teams offer critical benefits, including a better understanding of possible data exploitation and the prevention of future breaches. By simulating cyber attacks and network security threats, companies make sure their security is up to par with the proper defenses in place.

A 2020 study by Exabeam revealed that 35% of security professionals say their blue teams rarely catch the red teams during cybersecurity exercises. Additionally, 68% of respondents believe red team testing is more effective than blue team testing. The study also found that 74% of organizations have increased their investment in security infrastructure as a result of these exercises, with 18% considering these changes significant. This underscores the importance and effectiveness of red team exercises in identifying vulnerabilities and improving cybersecurity practices​.

Red Team Members

Vulnerability Analysts are tasked with uncovering flaws in the security system to enhance its protective measures and ward off potential threats. They scrutinize networks, applications, and hardware to pinpoint potential vulnerabilities.

Security Auditors play a crucial role in ensuring that security policies and procedures align with industry standards and best practices. They conduct thorough reviews of the security controls, policies, and procedures to suggest improvements and assist the organization in preventing potential security breaches.

Ethical Hackers are seasoned cybersecurity professionals who perform real-world attacks on security systems. Using techniques and tools akin to those employed by actual hackers, they identify weaknesses in security defenses. This insight is invaluable for companies seeking to strengthen their security stance and avert attacks.

Penetration Testers mirror the role of ethical hackers. They execute simulated attacks on systems to discover and exploit vulnerabilities that real-world attackers could potentially use. Their methods include network scanning and vulnerability scanning.

What is a Blue Team?

What is a Blue Team in Cyber Security? A blue team is similar to a red team in that it also assesses network security and identifies any possible vulnerabilities.

But what makes a blue team different is that once a red team imitates an attacker and attacks with characteristic tactics and techniques, a blue team is there to find ways to defend, change and re-group defense mechanisms to make incident response much stronger.

Like a red team, a blue team needs to be aware of the same malicious tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) in order to build response strategies around them. And blue team activity isn't exclusive to attacks. They're continuously involved to strengthen the entire digital security infrastructure, using software like an IDS (intrusion detection system) that provides them with an ongoing analysis of unusual and suspicious activity.

Some of the steps a blue team incorporates are:

  • Security audits, such as a DNS audit
  • Log and memory analysis
  • pcap
  • Risk intelligence data analysis
  • Digital footprint analysis
  • Reverse engineering
  • DDoS testing
  • Developing risk scenarios

Blue Team Members

Key positions within the blue team include:

Cybersecurity Evaluators scrutinize systems to spot possible weak points. They assess the current security strategies and propose enhancements, aiding the team in executing the necessary security protocols.

Incident Management Specialists tackle security breaches and mitigate potential dangers. They probe into security incidents and strive to fix any harm inflicted. Their proactive role in the team also involves restoring the organization's systems to their pre-incident state.

Threat Analysis Experts focus on external threats and pinpoint security hazards. Gathering and examining data from diverse sources, they detect threats and advise on suitable security actions to thwart attacks.

Information Security Practitioners are responsible for keeping information security policies and procedures current and effective. Their job is to implement security measures to safeguard against cyber threats.

Security System Developers design, establish, and maintain the system’s infrastructure. As part of the blue team, they are instrumental in applying necessary security measures and ensuring the organization's systems are fortified against potential dangers.

Security Strategy Creators are tasked with formulating and executing a comprehensive security plan. They also make sure the systems are resilient against cyber threats and establish relevant security policies and procedures.

Do I need a red or blue team for my company?

We ran a poll on Twitter asking our followers which one they thought was more important, the Red team or the Blue team, and which one companies needed more. The answers rolled up quickly. At the start people were indecisive, and despite its being a tight race, we eventually saw the red team take the win.

It's understandable why people would choose the Red team, with statistics based on who our followers are and the nature of their careers. There is always a lighthearted "animosity" between red and blue teams, so asking different groups of people would probably give us different answers. One thing we're glad about — nobody was on to our little trick!

The truth is, there is no red team without the blue team, or vice versa.

It was not in our intention to trick anyone, but it was a trick question! The real answer to the question is: Both.

The red team uses its tactics of attack and offense to test the blue team's expectations and preparation of defense. Sometimes, the red team may find holes that the blue team has completely overlooked, and it's the responsibility of the red team to show how those things can be improved. It's vital for the red and blue teams to work together against cybercriminals, so cyber security can be improved.

There is no "red team is better than blue," no benefit to picking sides or investing in only one. The important thing is remembering that the goal of both sides is to prevent different types of cyber crime.

One idea born out of trying to reconcile red and blue teams is the creation of purple teams. Purple teaming is a concept that does not truly describe the existence of a brand new team, it's rather a combination of both the red team and blue team. It engages both teams to work together.

Companies need the mutual cooperation of both teams to provide a complete audit from both sides, with logs on every test they have performed and records of the relevant specifics. The red team delivers information on operations that they have performed while "attacking," and the blue team delivers documentation on the actions they took to fill the gaps and address the vulnerabilities and issues they have found.

Both the red team and the blue team are essential. Without their constant security audits, implementation of penetration testing, and development of security infrastructure, companies and organizations wouldn't be aware of their own security. In addition, cyber crime investigation plays a pivotal role in understanding threats and preventing future attacks. Well, they wouldn't be aware before some data breach happens and it becomes painfully clear that their security measures weren't enough.

Top 5 red team and blue team skills

The characteristics of red teams and blue teams are as different as the techniques they use. This will provide you more insight into the purpose and roles these two teams play. You'll also better understand if your own skills fit into these cybersecurity job descriptions, helping you choose the right road.

Red team skills and tools

Get into the mind of an attacker and be as creative as they can be.

1. Think outside the box

The main characteristic of a red team is thinking outside the box; constantly finding new tools and techniques to better protect company security. Being a red team bears a level of rebellion as it is a taboo—you're going against rules and legality while following white hat techniques and showing people the flaws in their systems. These aren't things everyone likes.

2. Deep knowledge of systems

Having deep knowledge of computer systems, protocols and libraries and known methodologies will give you a clearer road to success.

It's crucial for a red team to possess an understanding of all systems and follow trends in technology. Having knowledge of servers and databases will allow you more options in finding ways to discover their vulnerabilities.

3. Software development

The benefits of knowing how to develop your own tools are substantial. Writing software comes with a lot of practice and continuous learning, so the skill set obtained with it will help any red team perform the best offense tactics possible.

4. Penetration testing

Penetration testing is the simulation of an attack on computer and network systems that helps assess security. It identifies vulnerabilities and any potential emerging threats to provide a full risk assessment. Penetration testing is an essential part of red teams and is part of their "standard" procedures. It's also used regularly by white hats; in fact, a red team adopts many tools that ethical hackers use.

5. Social engineering

While performing security audits of any organization, the manipulation of people into performing actions that may lead to the exposure of sensitive data is important, since human error is one of the most frequent reasons for data breaches and leaks.

Red teams must continuously think outside the box and discover new tools and techniques to keep up with attackers. There are many tools that red teams utilize during their operations, such as those used for reconnaissance, privilege escalation, lateral movement, exfiltration and so on. We have a collection of over 20 red team and phishing tools for you to explore, but let’s look at the 5 most commonly used red team tools:

  • Nmap - open source network scanner
  • Haktrails - Golang language-based tool for querying SecurityTrails API data
  • Shodan - search engine for IoT devices
  • Mimikatz - open source tool for post-exploitation activities
  • SecurityTrails - most current DNS and domain intel

Blue team skills and tools

You'll have to cover backdoors and vulnerabilities most people don't even know about.

1. Organized and detail-oriented

Someone who plays more ‘by the book' and with tried and trusted methods is more fitting as a blue team member. An extraordinarily detail-oriented mindset is needed to prevent leaving gaps in a company's security infrastructure.

2. Cybersecurity analysis and threat profile

When assessing the security of a company or an organization, you will need to create a risk or threat profile. A good threat profile contains all data that can include potential threat attackers and real-life threat scenarios, thorough preparation for any future attacks by working on fronts that may be weak. Make use of OSINT and all publicly available data, and check out OSINT tools that can help you gather data about your target.

3. Hardening techniques

To be truly prepared for any attack or breach, technical hardening techniques of all systems need to occur, reducing the attack surface hackers may exploit. Absolutely necessary is hardening of the DNS, as it is one of the most overlooked hardening policies. You can follow our tips to prevent DNS attacks to reduce the attack surface exposure even more.

4. Knowledge of detection systems

Be familiar with software applications that allow tracking of the network for any unusual and possibly malicious activity. Following all network traffic, packet filtering, existing firewalls and such will provide a better grip on all activity in the company's systems.

5. SIEM

SIEM, or Security Information and Event Management, is a software that offers real-time analysis of security events. It collects data from external sources with its ability to perform analysis of data based on a specific criteria. Just like red teams, blue teams use a wide array of tools such as honeypots, sandboxes, endpoint detection and response (EDR), threat detection, and SIEM, to name a few. We also have a blue team tools collection that is well worth bookmarking, but for now let’s look at the 5 most popular:

Benefits of Red Team and Blue Team Exercises

Adopting a red team/blue team approach enables companies to put their cyber defenses to the test in a controlled setting. This interaction between the teams aids in refining the company's security measures, tailoring them to specific weaknesses and adapting to contemporary cyber-attack methods.

Benefits of these drills include:

  • Discovering flaws and security gaps in current systems.
  • Enhancing network defenses to spot and respond faster to sophisticated threats.
  • Encouraging a competitive yet collaborative spirit between IT and security teams.

It also helps in:

  • Increasing staff awareness about human-related security risks.
  • Developing the organization's security expertise in a risk-free training scenario.

What about the purple team?

Sometimes, businesses conduct red team/blue team exercises using external entities that don't completely collaborate with the internal security staff. For instance, virtual attackers enlisted as the red team might not divulge their attack strategies to the blue team or thoroughly inform them about vulnerabilities in the current security setup. This approach can lead to unresolved security issues after the exercise is over.

The "purple team" refers to a collaborative effort between the red and blue teams. By exchanging knowledge and findings, they collectively enhance the company's total security effectiveness.

How Can Red Teams and Blue Teams Work Together?

In the context of cybersecurity, the dynamic between the red team vs blue team is crucial for strengthening an enterprise's security posture.

According to OffSec, a key aspect for successful cybersecurity collaboration is understanding and bridging the gap between the offensive mindset of red teams and the defensive focus of blue teams.

The red team, consisting of offensive security professionals, aims to mimic a potential adversary's attack. They use real-world attack techniques such as penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities in the organization's defenses. Each red team member focuses on finding ways to gain access and exploit security gaps, providing valuable insights for preventive security control.

On the other side, the blue team defends against these simulated attacks. Composed of defensive security professionals, the blue team members work diligently to reinforce the organization's security defense. Their role involves utilizing security tools, including malware and ransomware prevention solutions, to protect against and respond to the red team's efforts. Through this blue team work, they learn to anticipate and thwart real-life cybersecurity threats.

Both teams play a pivotal role in an organization's strategy to safeguard its digital assets. The red team vs blue team exercises offer a comprehensive approach to testing and improving security measures. While the red team uncovers potential weaknesses, the blue team is the group responsible for implementing strategies to defend against these identified threats. This collaboration ultimately leads to a robust and resilient security framework, ensuring the organization is prepared for any cyber challenges.

Examples of red team responsibilities include:

  • Cyber Security Assessment: The red team attempts to evaluate the organization's security posture through ethical hacking and exploitation capabilities. They simulate attacks on the organization's critical assets, testing the robustness of the security infrastructure.
  • Risk Assessments: By performing risk assessments, the red team tests the resilience of security systems against potential threats. This helps in identifying vulnerabilities that could be exploited by mock attackers, a key component of traditional digital risk protection solutions.
  • Use of Advanced Attack Tools: Red team members, often independent ethical hackers, employ a variety of offensive security tools to challenge cybersecurity defenses in the network environment.
  • Collaboration and Competition: The red team activities foster a healthy competition with the blue team, pushing both teams to enhance the overall security posture of the company.

Examples of blue team responsibilities include:

  • Securing Systems: Blue team members, including security personnel and security architects, focus on securing systems, especially the company's network and internal network. They ensure all endpoint security measures are up to date.
  • Managing Intrusion Detection Systems: They are responsible for overseeing intrusion detection systems, constantly monitoring the network environment for signs of unauthorized access or breaches.
  • Continuous Improvement: The blue team activities involve regularly updating and refining the organization's security strategies. This includes collaborating with the red team to understand the efficacy of their intrusion techniques.
  • Risk Management: Part of the blue team role is to perform risk assessments and implement preventive measures based on these findings, continually strengthening the organization's security.

Red and Blue Teams: Two Sides of The Same Coin

You would think that when it comes to a red team or a blue team that you'd favor one over the other, but the truth is a complete and effective security infrastructure prepared for any cyber attack is possible only with the two teams working together. The entire cybersecurity industry needs to know more about engaging both teams to work together and learn from each other. Some might call it the purple team, but whatever you call it, the unity of the red and blue teams is the only road to true and thorough cybersecurity.

Recorded Future empowers your cybersecurity with expert Red and Blue team skills and advanced tools, enhancing defense against cyber threats. By integrating real-time intelligence from diverse sources, we offer swift detection and response, ensuring a robust security strategy. Discover how our approach can protect your organization; book a demo today.

Red Team vs Blue Team in CyberSecurity
Esteban Borges

Esteban is a seasoned security researcher and IT professional with over 20 years of experience, specializing in hardening systems and networks, leading blue team operations, and conducting thorough attack surface analysis to bolster cybersecurity defenses. He's also a skilled marketing expert, specializing in content strategy, technical SEO, and conversion rate optimization. His career includes roles as Security Researcher and Head of Marketing at SecurityTrails, before joining the team at Recorded Future.