Red, Blue and Purple: Purple Teaming Explained


Ever heard the terms ‘blue teaming’, ‘red teaming’, and ‘purple teaming’ but never really understood what they all meant?

Or more importantly, what was the difference between them all?

Well then this is the blog for you!

In order to protect your important data from cyber criminals, you need to put your security system to the test. You can’t just assume that it’s robust enough (even if you have strong security measures in place), as cyber criminals are becoming more advanced every day.

To remain one step ahead, you need to simulate cyber attacks within your organisation as this gives you the opportunity to truly test out your defense strategy to see how effective it will be in a real-life scenario.

You need to be proactive rather than reactive, as you need to know how your organisation will respond to threats before they happen.

Preparation is key.

This is where red teaming, blue teaming, and purple teaming comes into play, and each of these teams have a different role. We’ll be covering the roles and responsibilities of each below, as well as the methods and tactics they employ.
people gathered around a computer screen

What Is a Red Team in Cyber security?

A red team in cyber security purposely attacks the organisations defense strategy.

It is their job to overcome cyber security controls to find weaknesses in people, processes, and technology in order to gain unauthorised access. They utilise a whole range of techniques (which we’ll cover in more detail below) to penetrate a security system for their own gain.

A red team usually consists of highly experienced security professionals or independent ethical hackers who are tasked with evaluating a security system in an objective manner.

Based on their findings in the exercise, they will make suggestions and recommendations about how to strengthen the organisations security posture.

Why Is Red Teaming Important for Your Organisation?

Red teaming is important for your organisation as it allows you to see how your defense strategy will work in real circumstances.

Instead of basing the effectiveness of your current system on theoretical evidence, red teaming allows you to put your system to the test to see how it actually performs in the presence of real-world threats.

Essentially, red teaming is the process of purposefully and rigorously (but ethically) identifying a path to breach your security system. You can then assess how you plan to move forward so that you can make improvements to your current tools and protocols.

What Are the Red Team’s Objectives?

The main objective of the red team is to penetrate a security system to gain important data such as client information, records, or assets.

There are no limits to what the red team will do, as they need to be just as malicious as real-life cyber hackers. This will then give a true reflection of the effectiveness of an existing security system as it is based on real findings.

Alongside this, the red team also set out to:

  • Compromise the organisations security system by extracting valuable information, infiltrating its systems, or breaching its physical boundaries.
  • Avoid being detected by the blue team who are trying to protect the organisation. Cyber attacks can happen over a period of time which makes it more challenging for the blue team to neutralise the threat before any ‘damage’ is done.
  • Exploit holes and weaknesses in the organisation’s existing security infrastructure. This highlights any gaps in the organisation’s defense strategy which need to be fixed in case a real-life attack occurs.
  • Initiate hostile activity such as penetration testing which provides a reliable assessment of the blue team’s defensive capabilities.

What Tactics Does Red Teaming Involve?

Red teaming involves a whole host of tactics, all of which are designed to infiltrate a security network.

By mimicking real-world threats, the exercise is highly realistic to give a true indication of a security system.

Below are some of the tactics red teaming involves:

  • Penetration testing (also known as pen testing). This involves the ‘tester’ attempting to gain access to a security system, often using software tools. For example, there are different types of password-crackiWhat Is Cyber Threat Hunting? Your Cybersecurity Guideng programs that can detect what type of encryption is used so that they can bypass it.
  • Social engineering tactics. This is where the Red Team tries to manipulate members of staff into disclosing valuable information.
  • Phishing. This involves sending emails which look authentic and trustworthy to entice members of staff to do certain things, such as logging into the hacker’s website and entering log in details.
  • Intercepting communication software tools. This includes things such as packet sniffers and protocol analysers which can be used to map a network, or read messages sent in clear text. The aim here is to gain information on the system. For instance, if a cyber attacker knows a server is running on a Microsoft operating system, they would concentrate their efforts on exploiting Microsoft vulnerabilities.
  • Card cloning. This could involve cloning an employee’s security card to gain access into different areas, such as a server room.

man holding laptop

What Is a Blue Team in Cyber security?

In total contrast, a blue team is tasked with defending the organisation’s data and assets from cyber attacks.

This team of professionals have an inside-out view of the organisation’s security system, and they need to know how to respond to any kind of security threat.

They are well aware of the organisation’s current security practices and it is their responsibility to strengthen the castle walls as it were, to make sure no intruder can get in.

To do this, they must gather important information, data, and documents to identify exactly what assets need protecting. They will then tighten up access to the system in a number of ways, including introducing stronger password policies and educating staff so they understand security procedures.

By understanding potential threats and risks, the blue team can develop an action plan to implement controls that can lower the impact or likelihood of threats materialising.

Why Is Blue Teaming Important for Your Organisation?

Blue teaming is important for your organisation as it allows you to truly test how strong your defense strategy is.

Lots of businesses fall into the trap of thinking their current cybersecurity tools and systems are robust and almost impenetrable.

Perhaps you’ve just installed state of the art software or the very latest security system, and as such, you think you’re covered in the event of any type of cyber attack. Unfortunately the truth is, this is rarely the case.

Cyber criminals are organised and sophisticated and they’re always thinking of new ways to hack your system. However, by engaging in blue teaming exercises you can put your system to the test and see how it actually performs.

You have the power to outsmart cybercriminals and stay one step ahead, as you can identify your weakness and quickly resolve them.

What Are the Blue Team’s Objectives?

The main goal of the blue team is to detect and neutralise cyber attacks so that they are better prepared for dangerous real-world attacks.

To do this, they must detect, oppose, and weaken the red team by understanding their tactics and techniques.

Essentially, it is the responsibility of the blue team to work out how to improve their organisation’s security practices based on this mock-scenario.

Alongside this, the blue team also set out to:

  • Understand every single phase of an incident and respond appropriately and in a timely manner. The more time that is wasted, the bigger the opportunity for cyber attackers.
  • Recognise suspicious traffic patterns and identify any indicators of compromise.
  • Quickly respond and shut down any form of compromise before it can escalate and penetrate the security system.
  • Identify the red team/ threat actors’ command and control (C&C or C2) servers and effectively block their connectivity to the target.
  • Conduct thorough analysis and forensic testing on the different operating systems within their organisation, including use of third-party systems.

What Tactics Does Blue Teaming Involve?

The blue team employs a range of tactics that act as countermeasures to protect a network from cyber attacks.

It all depends on the situation in terms of what tactics the blue team deem most fitting. For example, they might determine that additional firewalls need to be installed in order to block access to an internal network.

Or they might identify social engineering attacks as the top priority, so might therefore recommend implementing security awareness training across the company.

Below are some of the tactics blue teaming involves:

  • DNS audits (domain name server). The aim is to prevent phishing attacks, avoid stale DNS issues, avoid downtime from DNS record deletions, and prevent DNS and web attacks.
  • Conducting digital footprint analysis. This allows the team to track users’ activity and movements, to identify any known signatures that might indicate a breach of security.
  • Installing endpoint security software across a range of devices including desktops, laptops, and mobile phones.
  • Ensuring firewall access controls are properly configured and that any antivirus software is effective and up to date.
  • Deploying IDS and IPS software as a detective and preventive security measure.
  • Implementing SIEM solutions to log network activity.
  • Analysing logs and memory in order to detect any unusual activity on the system, and pinpoint a cyber attack.
  • Separating networks and ensuring they are all configured correctly.
  • Frequently using vulnerability scanning software to monitor networks, systems, and applications for any weaknesses.
  • Using antivirus or anti-malware software to secure tools and systems.

girl looking at iPad and computer screem

What Is a Purple Team in Cyber security?

Unlike a red team and blue team, not every organisation chooses to have a purple team when conducting these types of exercises.

However, as cyber attacks become more advanced, it’s more important than ever for red teams and blue teams to work together to achieve the most effective outcome. Whilst these teams do share a common goal (to create the most robust defense strategy), they’re often not politically aligned.

For example, red teams who report on weakness and vulnerabilities will get praise for doing so. As such, they’re not incentivised to help the blue team strengthen their security practices by sharing information on how they penetrated their cyber controls.

The whole point of red and blue team exercises is to strengthen the overall security posture of the organisation, so there needs to be a middle ground.

This is where the purple team comes into play; they bring both red and blue teams together and encourage them to work as a team to share insights and feedback.
Through enhanced cooperation, proper resource sharing, and a collaborative mentality, these exercises will improve the overall security system for the better.

What Are the Purple Teams Objectives?

Aside from the objectives we have discussed above, the purple team also set out to:

  • Work alongside the red and blue teams to bring them together whilst recommending any necessary changes to the current exercise to make it more effective.
  • Look at the bigger picture and take on board the goals and objectives of both teams. For example, a purple team member will work with the blue team to review how events are being detected. They will then switch their alliance to the red team to work out how the blue team’s detection capabilities can be subverted.
  • Analyse the findings and suggest necessary improvements or remedial actions such as patching vulnerabilities or implementing employee awareness training.
  • Derive the most value from the exercise by applying the lessons they have learned and ultimately ensuring stronger defenses moving forward.

team gathered around a laptop

Benefits of Red Team vs Blue Team Exercises

Whilst red team and blue team exercises each bring their individual benefits to your organisation, they are much stronger combined.

By employing one team to purposefully attack your existing cyber security infrastructure whilst the other team strategically defends it, you can test how robust your current practices are before a real cyber criminal has a chance.

Aside from working together to ensure your security system is effective, red team-blue team exercises also bring a whole host of other benefits such as:

  • Enhanced collaboration with your team members
  • A level of healthy competition
  • The chance to identify where improvements and training exercises are needed
  • Encouraging employees to use their analytical skills and think outside the box (as if they were a real cyber criminal)
  • Helping employees learn real-world security skills in real time
  • Improving threat detection and response times across the whole business
  • Continuously improving an organisation’s defense strategy

Red, Blue and Purple: Purple Teaming Explained

Hopefully after reading the above blog post, you have a bit more clarity about what red, blue, and purple teaming means in terms of cybersecurity.

Having the knowledge and understanding of these exercises is key, as knowledge is power. You can’t start protecting your organisation without fully understanding the different strategies behind it.

Red vs blue teaming is a very valuable exercise as it simulates the event of a real-life cyber attack. Whether you believe your current security system is up to the job or not, it never hurts to put it under the microscope and really put it to the test.

At TLR we’re committed to helping businesses be cyber offensive.

Sitting back and waiting for a cyber attack to happen is not the best approach, as once an attacker has penetrated your network, it can be difficult to control. It’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Our team of experts can help you protect your business, making sure your important assets never fall into the hands of the wrong people. To find out more about how we can help, simply get in touch.

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Written by

Dave Roberts