Red Team vs Blue Team

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When discussing cybersecurity, the terms “Red team” and “Blue team” are often mentioned. This has been long associated with the military; these terms are commonly 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 and have clearly adopted the same wordings since cybersecurity is no better than a war strategy on its own.

War gaming the security infrastructure is a strategical approach of defense and is now making its way to sectors, such as government agencies, corporate world, and so on. The strategy of red team and blue team has emerged from military antecedents. The idea behind this is that one group attacks another team and the second team tries to defend themselves. The exercises of attacking and defending were used by the military to test readiness of their personnel. This is also done to test physical security of nuclear facilities, laboratories, technology centers, and so on. In a similar pattern, experts of information security started practicing red team and blue team exercises to test the effectiveness of security systems.

What Is Red Team and Blue Team All About?

Blue team members are, by definition, the internal cybersecurity staff, whereas the red team is the external entity with the intent to break into the system The red team is hired to test the effectiveness of blue team by emulating the behaviors of a real black-hat hack group, to make the attack as realistic as chaotic as possible to challenge both teams equally. The red team may try to intrude the network, systems, and other digital assets in various ways, such as phishing, vishing, vulnerability identification, firewall intrusion, and so on. (It is to be noted that despite this realistic test, we omit the human social engineering factor, which is a weak link.) On the other hand, the blue team tries to stop these stimulated attacks. By doing so, the defensive team learns to react and defend varied situations.

The objective of this test is to test the preparedness of the organization’ security and its ability to detect and respond to an attack. The exercise would be carried for 2–3 weeks depending on the situation.

Red Team and Blue Team Key Objectives and Job Roles

Objective—Exploit, compromise, and circumvent

Attacks stimulated by the Red team

  • Conduct remote attacks via the Internet
  • DNS tunneling
  • ICMP tunneling
  • Intrusion attempts
  • Insider threat
  • VPN-based attacks
  • Access card copy and strength test
  • Identity spoof
  • HID attack
  • Fake WAP
  • Spoofing
  • Lazy/broken processes
  • Zombies/bots
  • Attack on physical security
  • Stolen authentication tokens
Objective—Detect and prevent security controls

Control measures by the Blue team

  • Identify type of attacks
  • Identify intrusions on the systems
  • Identify and block the attacks before they succeed
  • Activate run books for incident response
  • Stay alert for reactive or preventive action
  • Train the physical security teams for identity spoof
  • Enhance security standards
  • Activate the containment of attacked systems
  • Logs and SIEM Config/Alerts
  • Security awareness training
  • Check on domain expirations
  • Email filters, threshold, and spam rules
  • Two-factor authentication
  • Deny long relay request
  • Application whitelisting
  • Segmentation
  • Manage keys securely
  • Config and patch management
  • Secure group policy settings
  • Sensitive data stores

When the blue team manages to defend its perimeters and hold the fort to a win situation, it symbolizes that the organization has some well-trained, alert, and skilled security staff. Its failure indicates the lack of training and understanding to analyze and prepare for defenses and the negligence of management, senior management, and the technical as well as the audit team in creating the right awareness and understanding in building proper and reacting to key security standards.

In order to be part of the blue team or the red team, one should be proficient in ethical hacking and penetration testing but with great understanding of the tools and techniques in use. “We should remind ourselves that the war games are not just a game, but the real challenge is about putting the real skills at play to be able to stand out of the crowd and learn and be better with each lesson learned”.

EC-Council, a globally recognized cybersecurity credentialing body, offers certifications. The Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH) and EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA) are two leading certifications that can help you to acquire the required skills to be a part of the red and blue teams. C|EH is the most desired cybersecurity training program that masters you on ethical hacking skills along with its five phases, while ECSA is a seamless learning that takes off from where C|EH left off, giving you a real-world hands-on penetration testing experience, which is globally acceptable.

Editor's Note:
Reviewed by Prof. Dr. Krishna Seeburn, CHIEF INSTRUCTOR – Cybersecurity at DOJ-FBI and Georg Grabner, Managing Partner at IonIT B.V.
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