What is Red Teaming? + Why You May Need It

Alev Viggio, Director of Compliance
May 13, 2022

Illustration of password protected computer with blue and red marks on opposing ends.

Every good team knows how the opponent works—security teams are no exception. 

Red teaming helps companies identify vulnerabilities and how cyberattackers might operate to improve their defensive strategy. 

Nowadays, threats against your security are more present, shrewd, and malicious than you might imagine—making red teaming assessments an important part of your security program development. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at what red teaming is, to whom it applies, and how it can help you avoid expensive security risks. For an inside look into our own red teaming exercise, check out our CISO’s post

Red Teaming Definition

Red teaming is the act of simulating a multilayered attack against your company’s security defenses. 

This can include anything from how you store and protect your data to how your employees communicate and exchange information. 

Red teaming is a process that involves:

  • Identification of networks, users, applications, and portals. 
  • Phishing oftentimes with forged emails and text messages. 
  • Exploitation of access which can be done by retrieving user credentials.
  • Escalation of privileges to gain more permissions or obtain access to additional, more sensitive systems.

Ultimately, a red team process can demonstrate how a cyberattacker might gain access to your company’s most valuable assets. The goal is to expose and repair vulnerabilities and to test your current cybersecurity strategy. 

Do You Need a Red Teaming Assessment?

Even small companies can find a red teaming assessment useful to ensure that their security programs are working properly. 

In fact, small businesses may actually be more susceptible to cyberattacks. Phishers know that SMBs don’t have the same defenses as larger companies, and may pose as a third-party vendor or other trusted contact. Getting an employee to click on a link, download malware, or expose private information is the goal. 

It’s common for companies to operate in “ignorant bliss” after purchasing security software only to discover that their defenses don’t work after a cyberattack. So even if you have a security strategy in place we still recommend a red teaming assessment. 

Plus, frameworks and regulations like SOC 2, ISO 27001, and GDPR require continuous testing of your security controls

The bottom line is that every company should perform a red teaming assessment to defend against cyberattacks, avoid legal fees, achieve compliance, and prevent reputation damage. But red teaming is best done when a company has already implemented a security and privacy program. That way, they can test their current security measures. 

Basic Components

The basic components of red teaming involve three processes: 

Penetration Testing

Penetration, or pen testing, is key because it helps identify potential vulnerabilities in your defenses. Once a pen tester infiltrates your system, they will look for additional points of access throughout your systems. 

Social Engineering

Social engineering involves interacting with your employees and staff to assess security risks in communication. That can involve posing as a third-party vendor and sending a malicious link via chat or email. Or, posing as a friendly visitor to an onsite location, and asking for sensitive information from the front-of-office staff.

Physical Intrusion

Physical intrusion can involve physically breaking into an office space or onsite location. Depending on the space, that can be picking locks or bypassing security alarms. 

Ultimately, the key to effective red teaming is that attackers know what they are looking for. The above components are a simplification of a series of complex steps and processes that a red team attacker will use to determine threats and vulnerabilities. 

Benefits

The core benefit of red teaming is that it allows companies to identify and repair their vulnerabilities before they become points of entry for actual attackers. You’ll be able to assess your company’s ability to detect, respond, and prevent targeted threats. 

For instance, you may have software or a tool in place to detect certain threats, but without a red teaming assessment, you might not know whether that tool is working as it should. 

Red teaming can help prevent:

  • Malware attacks via malicious links. Malware can allow cyber criminals to hijack accounts, steal sensitive data, and spy on activity. 
  • Data leaks via employee activity. Data leaks can occur when employees unknowingly expose sensitive company and/or customer information, which can ultimately result in expensive fines and lawsuits. 
  • Physical attacks or intrusions by an attacker seeking to steal sensitive information via an onsite attack. 

Repairing a vulnerability can include planning a line of defense for that vulnerability, adopting software tools to help monitor data and mitigate security risks, and training employees on better security measures. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about red teaming. 

What’s the Difference Between Red Teaming and Blue Teaming? 

Red teaming is the act of simulating an offensive attack against a company’s systems and staff. Blue teaming is the defensive response. Both teams will help determine how your company is prepared to respond to cyberattacks, and how they can do better moving forward. 

Is Red Teaming Different From Penetration Testing?

Penetration testing is just one component of red teaming. While pen testing involves identifying vulnerabilities and making intrusions, red teaming involves the more comprehensive act of infiltrating a system and escalating an attack.

Is Red Teaming Just for Tech?

No. Cyberattackers don’t limit their attacks to technology companies. They may attack retailers, education institutions, nonprofit organizations, and more. 

Red teaming is just one part of an effective security strategy for your organization. Once you’ve simulated an attack and developed a response plan, you’ll want to sustain best security practices with automated, continuous monitoring of your security controls.

Drata can help you ensure ongoing security and compliance with key regulations such as SOC2, GDPR, and CCPA. To learn more about automating continuous control monitoring, book a demo with our team.

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