Red Team vs Blue Team vs Purple Team: Differences Explained

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Red, blue and purple teams simulate cyberattacks and incident responses to test an organization’s cybersecurity readiness.

  • Blue teams defend an organization from attacks and simulate incident response teams by following company policies and using existing resources
  • Red teams simulate or actually conduct pentesting and threat hunting attacks to test the effectiveness of an organization’s security — sometimes including physical security, social engineering, and other non-IT-related methods
  • Purple teams blend both roles as a mixed team or as a team that simply facilitates collaboration and communication between the blue and red teams

Understanding how these teams operate is important for an organization that wants to test its cybersecurity defenses realistically — before an adversary does. The ultimate goal is to understand the advanced threats an organization may face in order to better protect against those adversaries.

Blue Teams

Blue teams simulate day-to-day operations that protect an organization’s systems and networks from cyberattacks. They monitor systems for signs of suspicious activity, investigate alerts, scan for indicators of compromise (IoCs), and respond to recognized incidents.

Blue team members might be led by a chief information security officer (CISO) or director of security operations, making this team the largest among the three. Blue teams tend to be larger because they must prevent all attacks, while red teams may simply select a few specific attacks to pursue. Blue teams consist of security analysts, network engineers and system administrators. The team may be divided into sub-teams depending on the type of security controls it is responsible for, such as network security, endpoint security, or the security operations center (SOC).

Learn more about Cybersecurity Risk Management

Red Teams

Red teams simulate the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) an adversary might use against the organization. A red team’s activity can extend beyond cybersecurity attacks and vulnerability scanning to include phishing, social engineering, and physical compromise campaigns lasting weeks or more.

The red team literally tests the effectiveness of the organization’s defensive measures — often without warning. The red team will use cyberattack tactics such as reconnaissance, malware deployment, vulnerability exploitation, phishing attacks, and command and control servers to conduct an advanced attack. Red teams use intelligence on new and emerging threats as well as previous research on new attack techniques and offensive security tools.

The red team is a smaller group compared to the blue team and it may include a few members such as ethical hackers, locksmiths, programmers, and social engineers. These members may be led by a director of penetration testing or a senior security consultant and be organized in sub-teams based on the type of testing they are performing.

Red team members tend to be recruited from the outside so that they have the true perspective of external adversaries. The red team will report their attempted attack methods to compare against alerts generated by security tools for gaps in configurations and overlooked issues. Any successful attack findings will be reviewed to identify vulnerabilities and technology gaps to be addressed.

Purple Teams

The purple team will typically be implemented in one of two ways. In a collaborative setting with small teams, the red and blue roles are performed collaboratively by the same team. In larger teams, a purple team can serve as a communication channel between the blue and red teams.

The goal is information sharing and learning, as the purple team should work to integrate the findings and recommendations of both blue and red team roles by identifying areas for improvement in the organization’s defenses and ensuring that defensive measures are effective.

The purple team might consist of incident response specialists, intelligence analysts and security architects. These members are led by the director of security strategy or a chief security officer. Since the team is responsible for coordinating the efforts of the blue and red teams, the purple team is also organized into subteams based on specific areas of responsibility.

Some security vendors have developed tools called breach and attack simulation (BAS) that are intended to automate some purple and red team functions.

See the Top Breach and Attack Simulation (BAS) Vendors

6 Benefits of Using Red, Blue, and Purple Teams

The use of blue, red, and purple teams in cyber security can provide a comprehensive, proactive, and collaborative approach to cyber security, going well beyond regular scanning and testing for vulnerabilities. This can help organizations protect their assets and respond quickly to security incidents more effectively. Here are six benefits of using these teams.

  1. Improved security posture: By combining the efforts of all three teams, a company may test, evaluate and correct existing cybersecurity and incident response plans that address all areas of cybersecurity, including prevention, detection, and response.
  2. Attack paths shut down: The offensive tactics used by the red team can discover overlooked or ignored vulnerabilities or gaps in an organization’s security controls, which can then be mitigated.
  3. Effective incident response: The coordination of blue and red teams’ operations by the purple team can increase an organization’s capacity to respond to attacks in a timely and efficient manner.
  4. Enhanced threat intelligence: The red team methods can provide practical experience to IT and security teams against new and emerging threats, which can be utilized to update and strengthen the organization’s defenses.
  5. Compliance with regulations and standards: The use of these teams helps organizations comply with penetration testing requirements within regulations and standards such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology Framework (NIST).
  6. Improved risk management: Risk assessments help organizations prioritize devices or systems to patch and protect. Successful red team attack can help to identify overlooked risks, mis-prioritized security concerns, and ineffective controls to  enable more effective security risk management.

Also read: MITRE ResilienCyCon: You Will Be Breached So Be Ready

Bottom Line: Blue Team vs Red Team vs Purple Team

The integration of blue, red, and purple teams offers a holistic approach to securing an organization’s systems and networks. Combined, the teams can offer insight and knowledge sharing that increases awareness of cybersecurity roles, defenses and adversaries. By understanding and implementing the responsibilities of each team, organizations can establish a robust cybersecurity strategy that fortifies systems, procedures, and risk management against an extensive array of cyber attackers.

See the Best Incident Response Tools and Software

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