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Red Team vs. Blue Team Training: What is the Difference?

September 22, 2021
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Cybersecurity has evolved tremendously over the past two decades. Many organizations went from a single-person IT role to an entire team; or, in many cases, a set of teams. With cybercrime more prevalent than ever (and growing daily), companies need increasingly advanced security to protect against online threats. As a result, an extensive list of cybersecurity roles and training options has emerged to ensure that all defensive bases are covered and no stone is left unturned.1

Keep reading to learn more about the different personnel on cybersecurity teams and where they fall in the popular Red Team vs. Blue Team Training.

Determining Roles in Cybersecurity Teams

First, let’s discuss the typical breakdown of cybersecurity teams. Today's broad selection of cybersecurity roles usually includes several initial responders who immediately attend to incidents as they arise. They’re considered the first line of defense and need to be available as frequently as possible. This is paired with a solid backend of supporting roles, provided by analysts and engineers who aim to pre-empt threats and avoid attacks.2

Frontline roles include help desk analysts, incident responders, and network security technicians, among others. These employees work together to receive, log, and attend to cybersecurity incidents as they happen. The backend includes roles such as threat intelligence, forensics, and information security analysts. These members analyze past incidents, assess network vulnerabilities, and protect against future threats. Some positions involve working with both front and backend infrastructures, such as security engineers and cryptographers.3

The Basics of Read Team vs. Blue Team Cybersecurity Training

Unfortunately, cyberattacks happen in the blink of an eye and are usually extremely difficult to notice until it’s too late. Security professionals must learn to maintain a constant state of alertness, remaining acutely aware of the imminent nature of a cyber threat.

To guarantee this heightened degree of safety awareness, cybersecurity professionals have devised a training exercise based on military drills that pit two teams against each other. Depending on your job within the cybersecurity department, you are placed on either the red team (attackers) or the blue team (defenders).4

In a Blue Team vs. Red Team cybersecurity training exercise, one team will try to break through a network's defenses while the other team must defend it. Often, both blue and red team members are chosen “in house” from the organization’s cybersecurity department. In some cases, a third party is employed to act as the red team.5

The Blue Team (Defenders)

In the most simple terms, the Blue Team must defend the organization against cybersecurity attacks while the Red Team tries to outsmart them and infiltrate the network. To mount a proper defense, members of the Blue Team must incorporate all of their cybersecurity skills and training to ensure they account for and protect against every possible scenario.

Beyond the standard technicians and analysts, the following specialized roles could be particularly helpful for the Blue Team:6

  • Intrusion Detection Specialist: requires in-depth knowledge of network security and potential vulnerabilities. Intrusion detection specialists should be able to monitor and identify the signs of intrusion in real-time and mitigate threats as they happen.
  • Vulnerability Assessor: conducts an incredibly thorough assessment of the network’s security, identifying any potential vulnerabilities—no matter how small or inconsequential.
  • Source Code Auditor: security professionals with a background in application development who are good at scanning software code for any potential issues that a hacker might exploit. The recent high-profile SolarWinds software exploit is an example of an incident that could have been avoided with better source code auditing.

The Red Team (Attackers)

The Red Team will largely consist of ethical (white hat) hackers, penetration testers, and any other experts who are skilled at breaking through a network's security defenses. This team will recreate a real-life attack scenario, using the very same tools that hackers use daily to infiltrate some of the toughest security systems worldwide.7

The specialized roles commonly used on the Blue Team are:

  • Penetration Tester (pen tester): as the name suggests, the pen tester is supposed to 'penetrate' the network by exploiting vulnerabilities in the security. This can involve anything from simply breaking through a firewall to extracting sensitive data from employees through social manipulation. Many pen testers come from an ethical hacker background.
  • Reverse Engineer: an IT security expert trained in figuring out and decompiling an organization’s security systems. They will be able to deconstruct a defensive system into its separate parts, working out the best way to break through the security.

Red Team members are generally more specialized than Blue Team members, requiring highly-skilled ethical hackers that can recreate a genuine attack situation. However, a Red Team may also incorporate IT engineers or system analysts to help assess a network’s security.8

Training Differences and Why They Matter

Red Team and Blue Team Training prepares cybersecurity professionals for real-life attack scenarios, testing their skills in a military-style environment. Let’s walk through some of the specific skills required by the two different teams.9

Red Team Training Exercises

Red Team members typically come from a more offensive background, either as reformed black hat (criminal) hackers or IT experts that have specifically studied hacking methodology. They are usually more successful if they have an aggressive, competitive personality that matches that of a cybercriminal.

Members on the attacking team often need to be more creative than methodical, using a wide range of different methods to exploit, compromise, and circumvent network security. This may include:7

  • Network tunneling attacks
  • Attacks via VPN networks
  • Remote access via the Internet
  • Spoofing (faking a trusted network source)
  • Phishing (gathering info via false pretenses)
  • Stealing authentication tokens
  • Using bots/zombies
  • Stolen/copied access cards
  • DNS/ICMP intrusion methods
  • HID attack
  • Fake WAP (wireless access protocol)

Blue Team Training Exercises

The Blue Team consists of a more varied range of IT professionals, from first-line responders to top-level security experts. It also typically includes the actual cybersecurity team that will be defending an organization.

Monitoring and security methods for the Blue Team may include:

  • Attack and intrusion identification tools
  • Network blocks
  • Sensitive data encryption
  • Upgrades and patch management
  • Secure group policy settings
  • Two-factor authentication
  • Application whitelisting
  • Network segmentation
  • Training staff against phishing/spoofing
  • Training security staff against access threats
  • Isolation and containment of breached networks
  • Deny long relay requests

Are You the Right Fit for a Career in Cybersecurity?

To stay one step ahead of hackers, cybersecurity professionals need to ensure they are always up-to-date when it comes to the latest cyber threats. However, knowing what’s out there is just the first step; a truly effective cybersecurity professional must be able to think quickly and act fast under pressure.9

Working in cybersecurity can be a fast-paced and exciting career choice for the right type of person. If you think you have what it takes to stay calm in a high-pressure attack situation, consider an online cybersecurity master's degree from the Yeshiva Katz School of Science and Health.

  1. Retrieved on September 9, 2021, from cybersecurityventures.com/hackerpocalypse-cybercrime-report-2016/
  2. Retrieved on September 9, 2021, from digitalguardian.com/blog/incident-response-plan
  3. Retrieved on September 9, 2021, from cybersecurityeducationguides.org/the-cybersecurity-team-process/
  4. Retrieved on September 9, 2021, from itlab.com/blog/understanding-the-roles-of-red-blue-and-purple-security-teams
  5. Retrieved on September 9, 2021, from emagined.com/red-team-and-blue-team
  6. Retrieved on September 9, 2021, from crowdstrike.com/cybersecurity-101/red-team-vs-blue-team/
  7. Retrieved on September 9, 2021, from medium.com/@redteamwrangler/how-do-i-prepare-to-join-a-red-team-d74ffb5fdbe6
  8. Retrieved on September 9, 2021, from purplesec.us/red-team-vs-blue-team-cyber-security/
  9. Retrieved on September 9, 2021, from briskinfosec.com/blogs/blogsdetail/This-Awesome-Stuff-Will-Make-You-Understand-What-Red-Team-And-Blue-Team-Is