As security teams face off against attackers, they need to know that their technical security controls and detection rules work as intended. To validate their processes and technologies, cybersecurity teams engage in penetration testing, a type of authorized simulated attack against the company’s systems that evaluate a security program’s effectiveness.
To meet mission-critical compliance requirements and enhance cyber resilience, modern cybersecurity teams should engage in cyber range exercises and penetration testing against a neutral third party. However, because formal penetration tests are time-consuming and expensive, organizations should also perform in-house red team vs. blue team training exercises. While these can be performed as part of a cyber range exercise, they are also well-suited for smaller-scale simulations for ongoing assurance over the organization’s tools and processes. Done well, these exercises can prepare cybersecurity teams for their ultimate test against a live fire cyber range.
While red team vs. blue team exercises may take the form of a cyber wargame to exploit the organization’s security architecture, it’s not limited to attempting to enter the system through “backdoors” and security exploits. Rather, these exercises could start with company-wide phishing emails or attempting to gain access to restricted physical locations.
But that still leaves a lot of questions: what exactly is a red team vs. blue team exercise, how does it work, and how can your organization benefit from these activities? Let’s start with the basics.
The security professionals on the red team think and act like adversaries, looking for weaknesses in the organization’s cyber defenses to achieve their chosen objective (like accessing restricted communications) without being detected. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines a red team as:
“A group of people authorized and organized to emulate a potential adversary’s attack or exploitation capabilities…The Red Team’s objective is to improve enterprise cybersecurity by demonstrating the impacts of successful attacks and by demonstrating what works for the defenders.”
Red teams identify opportunities for improvement across people, processes, and technology. The red team is not simply playing a game to win, they are looking for ways to exploit the current security architecture and identify points of improvement.
The red team’s responsibilities include:
Since red teams use real-world attack tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), their strategies mimic the steps of an actual adversary, including:
Red teamers may use the following tools to do their jobs:
Since red teamers are always thinking like adversaries, their skill set needs to support stealth, social engineering, and technological prowess. Red teaming can be a very different skillset than most cybersecurity professionals are used to, so be on the looking for team members who display:
Some common red team exercises include:
The blue team’s security professionals focus on defending the organization from both real adversaries and the red teamers. The blue team works with the organization’s cybersecurity technology stack to create detection rules and monitor systems. NIST defines the blue team as:
“The group responsible for defending an enterprise’s use of information system by maintaining its security posture…Typically the Blue Team and its supporters must defend against real or simulated attacks 1) over a significant period of time, 2) in a representative operational context…and 3) according to rules established and monitored with the help of a neutral group refereeing the simulation or exercise.”
Blue teams focus on identifying and responding to incidents by monitoring systems for suspicious activity.
The blue team’s responsibilities include:
Blue teamers use the following tools to do their jobs:
Blue teams need to prevent and investigate attacks, so they need to:
Because blue teamers must be ready for anything, they need a skillset that supports being risk-averse and technically astute. When selecting members of your team for blue team roles, look for people who are:
With blue teams, the exercise environment should mimic the organization’s security profile as closely as possible so that they can engage in typical exercises like:
Red team vs. blue team exercises enable organizations to improve their security posture, compliance program, and cyber resilience. Since these exercises emulate a real-world attack, red teamers try out new TTPs while blue teams gain incident response experience.
Exercise scenarios are based on real-world attack methodologies viewed “in the wild.” By running tests against people, processes, and technologies, organizations can respond to new risks and threats facing their organizations for a comprehensive, real-time view of their security posture.
Red versus blue team exercises also help the teams collaborate more effectively. Each team takes a different view of the organization’s security, complementing each other’s skills. By engaging in these exercises, red teams can detect new vulnerabilities in systems and then work with the blue teamers who know how to remediate them. When the exercise is done, everyone is still on the same team, and both sides should come together with valuable insights that help the organization as a whole.
In an ideal world, an organization never experiences an attack. Unfortunately, in the real world, most will experience one. Since these exercises use scenarios that emulate real-world attacks, security teams gain the necessary experience to respond to attacks faster.
Further, they can identify areas for improvement, enabling them to fine-tune tools or streamline processes. Through these exercises, organizations can improve their cyber readiness by testing and validating their incident response programs
Red team vs. blue team exercises are a cost-effective way to put your organization and your cybersecurity team to the test, but they are only one part of the bigger picture. While the insights gained from in-house teaming exercises are valuable, it is also important to formally engage in teaming exercises and penetration testing with third parties who bring the latest attack strategies and are unfamiliar with your organization’s interworkings.
SimSpace’s Cyber Force Platform offers customized live fire exercises that will put your team to the ultimate test in a safe environment. Our cyber range is proven to improve your security stack, reduce response times, and identify breach points. Plus, our military-grade cybersecurity professionals are available to guide you through the reporting process and determine next steps and actionable solutions.
If you’re ready to take your teaming exercises to the next level, contact SimSpace today for a free demo.
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