Red, Blue, and Purple Teams in Cybersecurity: Understanding the Roles and Tools

Aaron Goldstein
April 27, 2023

Protecting your business from today’s advanced cyber threats requires more than just reacting to attacks as they happen. Businesses need proactive strategies that test their security systems and identify potential vulnerabilities before they’re exploited.

This is where red, blue, and purple team exercises become crucial to an effective cybersecurity strategy. Exercises with these teams can simulate real-life cyberattacks to locate weaknesses in security posture and maximize effectiveness. In this blog post, we will explore what red, blue, and purple teams are and the different tools and techniques they use to carry out their jobs effectively. What are the team’s roles and responsibilities? Red, blue, and purple teams all share one common goal: assess and enhance an organization's security posture. However, each team uses various techniques and tools to achieve this goal.

What are the team’s roles and responsibilities?

Red, blue, and purple teams all share one common goal: assess and enhance an organization's security posture. However, each team uses various techniques and tools to achieve this goal.

Red team

Red teams think like threat actors and simulate cyberattacks against an organization's network or systems. Their goal is to find vulnerabilities in the organization's defenses that could be exploited by real-world attackers. Skill sets for red teams include:

  • Penetration testing
  • White, black, and gray box testing
  • Ethical hacking

Red team exercises can help organizations identify weaknesses and gaps in their security and improve their overall cybersecurity posture. Red teams also test the blue team’s responsiveness throughout the exercise.

Blue team

Blue team exercises are designed to test an organization's ability to detect, prevent, and respond to a cyberattack. Blue teams are the defensive side, so they monitor the network, detect the red team's activities, and respond to the simulated attack. Blue team skillsets also include:

  • SOC (security operations center)
  • Incident response
  • Operational security
  • Threat hunting
  • Digital forensics

Blue teams also build new detection rules for their security tools based on new threats the red team identifies. This could include new signatures for intrusion detection systems or custom queries for log analysis tools.

Purple team

Purple teams are a collaborative effort, bringing members of the red and blue teams together. These exercises involve offensive and defensive teams working together to identify vulnerabilities, improve defenses, and validate security controls. The purple team approach provides a more collaborative and constructive environment for identifying and addressing security weaknesses. Purple teams can leverage a tabletop exercise or a simulation attack with a pre-planned attack scenario. This collaboration will help identify strengths and weaknesses in security controls and detection capabilities.

What techniques and tools does each team use?

Red team

  • Social engineering: Red teams often employ social engineering techniques, such as phishing emails and phone calls, to trick employees into divulging sensitive information or clicking malicious links. Examples include a social engineering toolkit used to create phishing campaigns and other social engineering attempts.
  • Scanning and exploitation tools: These tools are used to simulate cyberattacks on an organization's IT infrastructure to identify potential weaknesses. Examples include Metasploit, Nmap, and Burp Suite.
  • Network analysis: Red teams analyze an organization's network traffic to identify potential attack vectors and misconfigurations or just to read captured data. Example tools include Nmap and Wireshark.
  • Password cracking: Red teams attempt to crack passwords to gain access to an organization's systems and applications. Example tools include Mimikatz and Hashcat.
  • Wireless network testing: Red teams test an organization's wireless network for vulnerabilities that can be exploited or just to read corporate data as it flies through the sir. An example tool is Aircrack-ng.
  • Vulnerability scanning: These tools are used to identify vulnerabilities in an organization's IT infrastructure. This can show applications that might be outdated, unpatched, and vulnerable to exploits, including RDP, SSH, Telnet, SMB, etc. Examples include Nessus, Nikto, and Invicitti.

Blue team

  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM): These solutions aggregate and analyze event data and other security-related information from various sources such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and Endpoint Security software. The blue team uses this information to identify and investigate potential security incidents.
  • Network monitoring: These tools help blue teams to monitor network traffic and identify any abnormal behavior or suspicious activity. Examples include Wireshark, tcpdump, and NetworkMiner.
  • Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR): These tools are used to detect and respond to security incidents on individual endpoints such as laptops, desktops, and servers.
  • Vulnerability scanning: Blue teams also leverage vulnerability scanning but with different intent. For blue teams, vulnerability scanning tools help them review services that are running to see if they are vulnerable and need to be patched. They’re also helpful to see what network services are open to the public and could potentially be exploited.
  • Threat intelligence: Blue teams use threat intelligence to track new TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) from attackers and to stay informed about the latest overall threats. Threat intelligence is obtained from commercial feeds or open-source intelligence sources as well as security vendors and security focused newsletters.
  • Threat hunting: Blue teams will leverage new threat intel to perform threat hunting as a proactive approach within an organization's IT environment. This involves actively searching for and identifying potential threats or IOCs (indicators of compromise).

Working together in a purple team exercise

In a purple team exercise, the red and blue teams work together to simulate attacks on an organization's systems and infrastructure. Collaboration between teams helps organizations identify and address security weaknesses and vulnerabilities in a proactive and coordinated manner.

Purple team exercises usually follow four steps:

  1. Planning: The red and blue teams work together to develop a plan for the exercise, including defining the scope of the exercise, identifying the systems and infrastructure to be tested, and determining the types of attacks to be simulated.
  2. Simulation: The red team conducts simulated attacks on the organization's systems and infrastructure, using tactics and techniques like those used by real-world attackers. The blue team will monitor and defend against these attacks, using their knowledge of the organization's security defenses and incident response procedures.
  3. Debrief: After the simulation, the red and blue teams meet to discuss the exercise results. They review the effectiveness of the organization's security defenses, identify areas of weakness, and develop strategies for improving the organization's overall security posture.
  4. Implementation: Based on the exercise results, the purple team develops and implements strategies to address the weaknesses and vulnerabilities identified during the simulation. This may involve improving security policies and procedures, upgrading security technologies, or providing additional employee training.

In a purple team exercise, various tools and techniques are used to simulate attacks and test an organization's security defenses. Some of the critical tools and techniques used in purple team exercises include:

  • Threat emulation software: This type of software is designed to simulate real-world threats and attacks, allowing organizations to test their security defenses in a controlled environment. Threat emulation software may include tools for penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and other security testing activities.
  • Collaboration platforms: Purple team exercises rely heavily on collaboration between the red and blue teams, and collaboration platforms can be used to facilitate communication and information sharing between the teams. Platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Jira can be used to coordinate tasks, share information, and discuss findings.
  • Incident response platforms: These platforms are used to manage and coordinate an organization's response to a simulated attack. These platforms help the purple team to develop and test incident response procedures, as well as to track and manage the progress of the response.
  • SIEM: The purple team uses the SIEM to monitor and analyze the effectiveness of an organization's security defenses during a simulated attack.
  • EDR: Purple teams use EDR tools to identify and respond to potential threats and attacks in real time.
  • Threat intelligence platforms: Threat intelligence platforms are used to gather and analyze information about potential threats and attacks. The purple team can use this information to better understand the TTPs used by real-world attackers and to develop more effective security strategies.

Mature your security posture

By simulating attacks and testing the effectiveness of an organization's security measures, red, blue, and purple team exercises help to better prepare for real-world threats and minimize the risk of data breaches and other security incidents.

Maintaining a strong security posture in today’s threat landscape requires businesses to constantly adapt and look for ways to improve their security offerings. Our eBook, Security Maturity Model for IT Service Providers, outlines a Security Maturity Model for ITSPs that presents the optimal journey for ITSP security transformation.

Regular purple team exercises enable security teams to strengthen their security controls continuously and will help businesses advance up the maturity model.

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Additional reading

Todyl Success Story: IT Haven improves client satisfaction and security through consolidation
Calculating Cyber Risk Appetite
Breaking down the cyberattack lifecycle: Monetization

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