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Red Team vs. Blue Team: Cybersecurity Color Wars


When you hear red team vs. blue team you might think of those old games of capture the flag. When you find out it’s related to cybersecurity you may think it’s a reference to The Matrix. Do you take the red pill or the blue pill? But in cybersecurity, these are the two approaches to security measures: the red team and blue team. 

Data breaches are a growing problem. Large-scale hacks can impact hundreds of thousands of people. This means companies can take a huge financial hit if their security gets compromised. There are countless class action lawsuits that creep up after big breaches — not to mention the steps companies must take to protect their clients post-breach. The solution is heavily vetted security and the key is to take a page from military exercises. 

What are the red and blue teams in cybersecurity?

Named for the military game, the red team represents the enemy. They take the offensive and use whatever methods they can to undercut standard security. They think like the enemy, finding and attacking security vulnerabilities. The blue represents the home team. They focus on shoring up any defense issues by doubling down and examining the “walls.” Their approach is to triple-check security and keep looking for ways to improve it. 

In cybersecurity, the same basic concepts apply. But these represent different approaches to testing security. It’s less of two teams against each other and more of an approach to testing systems. The teams can work together, individually, or collaboratively as a purple team. Let’s dive a little deeper into these two teams. 

The Red Team

The red team gets to play the bad guy. They are encouraged to think outside the box to really test the limits of security. The red team will often include people with skills in penetration testing, ethical hacking, or social engineering. This can include white-hat hackers hired to try and outsmart employees and gain access to the network. They can often be enlisted to work in secret to reveal major security oversights. 

Red Teaming vs. Penetration Testing 

A lot of white hat hackers can become members of the red team. The red team is often considered synonymous with penetration testing but there are quite a few differences. Red teaming involves any means to gain access. It’s often unscheduled and can go on for a longer period than penetration testing. Penetration testing can often be done with standard pen-test tools and will include one system at a time. The red team is encouraged to use whatever means necessary, test multiple systems at once, and cross multiple targets. 

The Blue Team

The blue team in cybersecurity exercises is committed to defense. They’re more likely to be security experts. The blue team process is more about analyzing the breakout time, the time in which an intruder has to make it through the system. They’re also likely to perform more regular audits and analyses. While the red team are like attackers, the blue team is more like a group of researchers. 

They’ll regularly run security audits including DNS audits. They’ll also run various security analyses to cover different risk scenarios. They’ll also review pcap to look at traffic, run digital footprint analysis, and DDos testing. While it can seem like a bunch of number crunchers vs. hackers, the blue team approach is more like having additional members of your team committed to your security. 

Which to choose? 

Both teams have their benefits. Red teaming can help you catch security oversights and major issues before they happen. Blue teaming can help you expand your security efforts while accommodating your status quo. There’s no right way, but it’s worth looking at what you need. 

Purple teaming is also an option. With purple teaming, both groups work together. It’s getting the most from the exercise because you have a team committed to destroying your security while another team is ready to fix what gets compromised. 

No matter what you do it’s clear that security is important. You can consider this approach for your team when building systems. Or it can help you when hiring contractors. But it’s enough to say that this has absolutely nothing to do with summer camp and flag football! 

For more on ethical hacking, penetration testing, and cybersecurity check out these related episodes of the Easy Prey podcast. 

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