What is red, blue and purple teaming?

One of the most effective ways to test if your organisation is cyber resilient is to conduct simulated cyber attacks. 

The attacks and incident responses are carried out by three different teams – the red team, the blue team and the purple team. 

The red team simulates the attack, usually via penetration testing and threat hunting. 

The blue team is responsible for defending the organisation from the attack and simulating incident response by following the company’s cyber policies. 

The purple team sits in the middle. It can either facilitate both roles as a mixed team or facilitate collaboration and communication between the red team and the blue team. 

It’s important to understand the role that each team plays and how it carries out that role if you are to effectively test your resilience and incident response. 

By doing this, you can highlight what is and is not working, and even identify new threats your organisation faces to then put the necessary protections in place. 

Let’s take a closer look at each team: 

The red team: 

The red team takes on the role of cyber criminals, launching simulated attacks against the organisation. 

They will use tactics like reconnaissance, phishing, malware and vulnerability exploitation to breach the organisation’s defences. They will do this without warning to ensure the simulation is as realistic as possible. 

The red team tends to be recruited from outside of the organisation and is made up of ethical hackers, programmers and even social engineers. 

Once the attack has been completed, the red team will report back on its findings including any areas of weakness that it was able to successfully exploit. 

The blue team: 

The blue team is responsible for undertaking the day-to-day processes and actions that protect the organisation’s systems and networks. 

This includes monitoring for suspicious activity, looking into alerts and responding to confirmed incidents. These responses should be clearly set out under the company’s cyber security policy with the necessary tools required to respond to attacks made available to the blue team. 

Members of the blue team will often be led by the Chief Information Security Officer or Director of Security and will include security analysts, network engineers and system administrators.

The purple team:  

The roles of the red and blue teams are often deployed collaboratively via the purple team. This is certainly the case in smaller organisations. 

For larger organisations, the purple team acts as the go-between for the red and blue teams, providing an open channel of communication while the simulated attack and incident response plays out. 

The primary purpose of the purple team is to facilitate information sharing and learning and to integrate findings and recommendations from the red and blue teams to highlight areas of improvement and implement the changes needed to ensure resilience. 

Members of the purple team usually include incident response specialists, intelligence analysts and security architects, led by CISO or Security Director. 

Why deploy red, blue and purple teaming:

There are many benefits to deploying red, blue and purple teaming within an organisation. 

This approach takes cyber resilience beyond being a paper exercise and puts an organisation’s policies and defences to the test in a real-world environment. 

This helps to identify what is working as well as the areas of cyber security and incident prevention, detection and response that require improvement. 

The attacks deployed by the red team help businesses discover vulnerabilities that have been overlooked and open up gaps in the company’s wider cyber security policies that can then be closed. 

It also allows organisations to test their incident response and, under the watchful eye of the purple team, improve its ability to deal with a real-world attack if and when it happens. The practical experience gained is also valuable. 

Ultimately, red, blue and purple teaming allows the organisation to better understand the cyber risks it faces and then use this to take a risk-based approach to cyber resilience. 

At CRMG, we believe in taking a risk-based approach as it is the best way for any company to effectively mitigate its exposure to cyber-attacks with the resources available. 

Businesses don’t want to overspend on security they don’t need, but at the same time, they can’t afford to leave themselves exposed.

This is where a risk-based approach comes in. It allows businesses to understand the relative value of the information assets they hold and the threats those information assets face. 

Armed with this insight and the findings from red, blue and purple teaming, they can focus resources – money and people – on the most valuable assets and at-risk areas.

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