A red team is a simulated cyber-attack that is very close to an actual attack. It is a cyber-security assessment that brings you very close to understanding how prepared your organization is to defend itself against a skilled and persistent hacker. Red teams help to test an organization’s defence system by identifying vulnerable areas and carrying out attacks in a controlled environment. 

The red teams face opposition from defenders called blue teams, and they both work together to provide a complete picture of an organization’s readiness for cyber-attacks. In the context of information security, the red teams pose as the bad guys. This methodology of red teaming helps organizations identify and remedy any weaknesses by using an outside group to test their systems, defence mechanisms, and operational strategies.

What Is Red Team Security?

Red team security testing is ethical hacking in the realm of information security. It is an independent security team that poses as an attacker to carry out vulnerability assessments and risks within a controlled environment. These tests are meant to expose vulnerabilities associated with security infrastructure such as networks, routers, switches, etc., as well as people and physical locations. 

During these red team tests, skilled security apparatus lounge a range of attacks aiming at the vulnerabilities within the organization. The most common techniques used include phishing, penetration tests, social engineering, and tools like packet sniffers and protocol analyzers. 

Before the cybersecurity experts from the red team launch the attacks, it begins by learning all it can about the target organization. They gather information by identifying the operating systems, network infrastructure, and vulnerable ports, among other factors. Once they get enough information, they develop a network map and a deeper idea of the attack paths and techniques likely to succeed. 

Red Team vs. Blue Team Exercises

When the red team is carrying out its attack operations, the blue team defends the security environment of the organization being attacked. The blue team comprises professionals protecting the organization’s infrastructure and assets. The blue team is pretty familiar with the organizational defences and security objectives. Therefore, they work to raise the level of protection and avert impending attacks. 

To begin their operations, the blue team gathers data and creates an in-depth risk assessment to outline the steps to be taken to strengthen overall security. This exercise may include technical solutions and more robust password policies. 

The blue team deploys monitoring tools that allow logging, checking, and scanning of information. If they find anything abnormal, they subject it to greater analysis. The blue team also launch countermeasures and conduct DNS audits, footprint analysis, and configuration checks. Both the red team and blue teams perform these exercises to ensure that all defences are robust. 

Common Red Team Tactics

Unlike traditional penetration tests, red teaming unearths risks posed to your organization by focusing only on one security aspect or narrow scope. Red team assessors use the following tactics:

1. Email and Phone-Based Social Engineering

The team researches individuals or organizations to phish their emails. This is a rich target, and it is the first in a chain of attacks that will help them achieve their goal. 

2. Network Service Exploitation

The red team aims at exploiting unpatched or misconfigured network services to access previously inaccessible networks. In most cases, the attackers leave a persistent back door where they can access the networks or sensitive information in the future. 

3. Physical Exploitation of Security Systems

Most people try as much as they can to avoid confrontation. Thus, it is easy to access a secure physical location by following someone through the door. Someone, usually an employee or someone with legal access to a facility, can open the door for someone who did not scan their badge. 

4. Application Exploitation

Attackers often target web applications when exploiting an organization’s network perimeter. They exploit web application vulnerabilities such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting, etc. These applications can give an attacker a strong foothold from where to carry out further attacks.

Red Teaming Process

In order to understand the process of the red team, it’s critical to look at how the details unfold. Most of its simulations include the following stages:

1. Goal-mapping 

The first step is to plan and prepare carefully by setting goals for the red team. The organizations can create a schedule and rules of engagement. A goal may include extracting a piece of sensitive data from a company’s server.

2. Target Reconnaissance

After the red team has set its objectives clearly, it’s time to map out the target systems. This may include employee portals, networks, web applications, or physical locations. 

3. Exploit Vulnerabilities

This is where the red team’s attack begins. Once the read team has mapped out its attack vectors, it will employ tactics such as phishing, mystery guest, and network attacks to access the target systems. 

4. Probing and Escalation 

Once the red team gains access to your systems, it will now move along with your system to achieve its goals and objectives. They will also determine if they will exploit any more available vulnerabilities. The red team will continue to escalate until they reach the target. 

5. Reporting and Analysis

Once the red team’s attack is over, the clean and closure stage begins. The red team will report and analyze their finding to determine the way forward. They will also examine how the company’s blue team performed and which vulnerabilities should be addressed.

Each of these steps can be performed using different techniques. Real hackers will always look for more systems to attack than they came for.

Red Teaming Tools Used in Organizations

Red teaming attack simulation is designed to measure how well your application, system, employees, networks, and physical security controls can avert an attack from a real-life hacker. A solid red team will use many tools, strategies, and techniques available to malicious attackers. These tools include:

1. Application Pen Testing 

Pen testing identifies the application layer’s flaws, including injection flaws, cross-site request forgery, and weak session management.

2. Network Penetration Testing

Pen testing will identify network and system-level flaws. These flaws include rogue services, misconfigurations, wireless network vulnerabilities, and more.

3. Physical Penetration Test

Using real-life exploitation, you can understand the strength and effectiveness of your organization’s physical security controls. To use physical pen testing, the red teams may try to go past the physical controls of your company into your server rooms or employee work terminals. 

4. Intercepting Communication 

To intercept communication within your company, the red team will try to gain more information about the environment or map out your network. This will help them circumvent standard security measures by hacking communication channels such as email, text, or phone calls. 

5. Social Engineering

Social engineering is using deception to manipulate employees into giving out confidential information which may be used to attack the organization. The red team will do this by exploiting individuals’ weaknesses within the organization. They manipulate the employees to give up access credentials through text messaging, phishing, falsifying an entity, or phone calls. 

Types of Red Teaming Exercises

Red teaming is an effective way of preparing an organization against cybercriminals and has thus gained popularity in all business sectors. However, there is not one red team methodology that can fit every type of organization. The types of red teaming can be classified according to the team’s assessment depth, variety, and duration. The most popular types include:

1. Red Teaming Modular Exercises

This step is performed after the penetration test. The modular approach leverages the strengths and benefits of red team assessments by choosing the most relevant attacks for an organization. The red team uses a stealth approach to obtain its objectives. They combine additional information about an organization up front to target an organization’s employees’ security awareness and digital security.

2. Red Teaming Core Exercises

Red Teaming Core is a full-blown attack simulation aimed at medium to large organizations that have their own Blue Teams. It works by condensing extensive threat landscape analysis and investigation into challenging attack scenarios. They use scenarios based on real-world threats to emulate these groups through similar Techniques, Tactics, and Procedures (TTPs). 

 3. Red Teaming Pro Exercises

Organizations and businesses that have very mature blue teams and a high level of cyber security use the Red Teaming Pro. Attacking these mature organizations requires the Red Team to use more effort and tactics to deploy malware that bypasses your security solutions. The Red Team works independently in this module and only involves Leg Up as a last resort. It is the most realistic simulation of attacks against an organization.

4. TIBER Exercises

Threat Intelligence Based Ethical Red Teaming (TIBER) is part of an effort of the financial sector to improve cyber resilience. However, other cyber security frameworks and regulations use TIBER tests for different sectors. 

Importance of Red Teaming to Organization’s Defenses

The ever-rising number of annual security breaches experienced in governments and businesses has prompted them to maintain solid organizational security. As the trend to shift to the cloud intensifies, companies’ burden on security personnel to establish robust defense systems grows significantly. 

Red teaming is critical in simulating the environment where the attacker and defender face off. It allows the defenders or the targets of the attack to bring out their best defence mechanisms, read the attacker’s mind and take an aggressive approach to deal with security vulnerabilities. 

Although some organizations may feel that they are smaller and, therefore, unlikely to face an attack, the truth is none of them is safe. Most attackers choose smaller organizations because their defence mechanism is lower. They can also pick them to act as a staging ground for an attack of a larger company along the supply chain. 

The best thing about red teaming is that it is flexible enough to focus on size or industry-based threats, which makes it adaptable to almost all organizations. Therefore, Red Teaming should be adopted as a core security tool in every modern organization.

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