What is red teaming?

In the current threat landscape, organizations could use all the help they can get to mitigate risk and ensure security and compliance. In this scenario, red teaming is a cybersecurity tactic that will help businesses stay a step ahead of threat actors.

Data breaches are common. They are always on the news, and the consequences are dire. With hackers for hire and advanced hacking tools in dark marketplaces, businesses must adopt a proactive approach to cybersecurity to stay a step ahead of threat actors.

As such, engaging a trusted third-party offensive security services provider can be beneficial in identifying potential vulnerabilities in enterprise infrastructure and software products.

This approach helps businesses detect and resolve vulnerabilities missed by in-house teams before threat actors exploit them. As any company using software is at risk of a cyberattack like

ransomware or data exfiltration, red teaming is quickly becoming the norm.

Red teaming defined

Red teaming is a full-scope, multi-layered cyberattack simulation created to test the effectiveness of enterprise security controls. This includes applications, physical safeguards, networks, and even staff.

In this scenario, a trusted group of ethical hackers will launch an attack on your IT infrastructure to test cyber defenses in real-world situations. For software companies, red teaming is key to ensuring product or service security. This approach mitigates risk and protects users from future attacks initiated through the software.

The primary objective of red teaming is to resolve potential technology-related security issues and over-cognitive errors—for example, information bias and groupthink, which can impair judgment and the critical thinking of individuals or the organization as a whole.

Red teaming vs. blue teaming

The term "red team" comes from war games conducted by the military to test their defenses against a worthy adversary. In this scenario, the red team always plays the role of the enemy while the "blue team" represents the home nation.

In cybersecurity, the red team represents a group of ethical hackers hired to launch an attack. The blue team comprising software developers, security analysts, and the operations team is responsible for the systems under attack.

Often, the red team focuses on a specific goal like disrupting services or accessing sensitive data. The red team only works with information that a real hacker can gather, and the blue team isn't informed about the planned attack.

So, the blue team will treat any suspicious activity as a real threat and respond appropriately. The red team will adapt their approach to counter the blue team's defenses and persevere until achieving their objective or until the blue team routes them.

After the completion of the ethical hacking campaign, the red team will submit a report with all identified vulnerabilities and the defenses that worked. This information is then used by internal IT and security teams to fortify their defenses.

The red teaming processes

Red teaming takes a highly tactical and deliberate approach to breaching enterprise systems and extracting sensitive data. Before initiating the simulation, a thorough assessment must be conducted to control the procedure and accurately measure the outcome.

First, the red team will conduct a thorough assessment with a real-world hacker mindset to control the procedure and ensure accurate measures. For example, the red team will identify entry points and vulnerabilities based on the goals of legitimate cybercriminals.

Standard red teaming tools and tactics include:

  • Application penetration testing
  • Intercepting communication
  • Network penetration testing
  • Physical penetration testing
  • Social engineering

The standard process followed by red teaming simulations includes:


Companies will set their primary goals for the red team. This could take the form of breaching a specific server and extracting a particular piece of data.

Target reconnaissance

Once the red team has a clear goal, they will get to work mapping out target systems. This includes employee portals, web applications, networks, and physical spaces.

Exploit vulnerabilities

Once the read team has scoped out the target, the red teaming exercise will really begin. They will know what attack vectors to use and employ social engineering tactics like phishing or initiating cross-site scripting (XSS) exploits to breach enterprise systems.

Probing and escalation

Once they successfully breach the system, the red team will attempt to move laterally to achieve their primary goal. They will continue to escalate and relentlessly search for vulnerabilities to exploit until they are successful.

Reporting and analysis

Upon completion of the cyberattack, the red will submit a report of their findings. Organizations must carefully go through the reporting and analysis process to determine the best approach to ensure privacy, security, and compliance.

Experienced red teams leverage advanced techniques to perform each step in the process. At this juncture, it's important to note that even the most minor vulnerabilities in single systems can evolve into a catastrophic disaster when chained together. As such, real-world hackers will always look to exploit more systems and extract more sensitive data than they actually came to steal.

Red teaming is the closest thing to a real-life cyberattack. So, it makes sense to leverage this approach to test organizational defenses.

Companies responsible for storing and securing user data will be well-served to engage in red teaming regularly. The same is true for software providers, as the product's security is essential to protect users from attackers who will use them.

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