CYE Insights

Fortifying Defense: Red and Purple Teams and Risk Assessments

May 28, 2024

Fortifying Defense: Red and Purple Teams and Risk Assessments

In cybersecurity, and generally while seeking to defend any entity, it’s not enough to believe that “it should work” or “we should be able to see it coming.” In today’s dynamic world of cyber threats and vulnerabilities, we need to reduce our assumptions of our monitoring and detection abilities and rely more on fact-based knowledge. Among the arsenal of tools and techniques at our disposal to achieve this knowledge, two stand out as indispensable: red and purple teams.

When performing an organizational risk assessment, it’s not enough to merely identify weaknesses in our network or defenses. We must also use this activity to evaluate the effectiveness of our monitoring coverage and playbook knowledge. This is where the dynamic duo of red and purple teams come into play.

Purple Teaming: Illuminating Monitoring Coverage

Purple teams act as your friendly attacker, collaborating closely with your Security Operations Center (SOC) team. Their mission is to shed light on the effectiveness of your monitoring coverage. By mimicking real-world attack scenarios, common to your specific industry, they conduct a variety of attacks into your environment to gauge how many of them will be identified by your security systems. Unlike red teams, whose aim is to breach your organization’s defenses undetected, purple teaming focuses on understanding the scope and efficacy of your monitoring capabilities.

One of the primary benefits of purple teaming is its ability to uncover blind spots in your defense strategy. By conducting diverse attack vectors into your environment, purple teams reveal areas where your monitoring coverage may be lacking. Perhaps certain logs are not being collected or analyzed effectively, or maybe there’s a gap in your security product suite that leaves you vulnerable to specific threats. Regardless of the cause, purple teaming provides invaluable insights into the gaps in your monitoring posture, enabling you to address vulnerabilities and structural problems before they can be exploited by real adversaries.

Learning Opportunities: Turning Mistakes into Lessons

Purple teaming isn’t just about identifying weaknesses or blind spots; it is also about learning from our failures. As a former SOC manager, I knew that no matter how good I thought my monitoring was, I was in for surprises after the purple teaming finished. Now, as a CISO, I know that my knowledge and understanding will be lacking without it. When purple teams uncover blind spots in your defense strategy, it’s essential to approach these discoveries not as failures, but as opportunities for growth. Ask yourself why certain attacks went undetected. Was it due to a lack of logging or monitoring capabilities? Did your security products fail to detect and mitigate the threat? By investigating the root cause of these oversights, you can identify areas for improvement and strengthen your defense posture.

Red Teaming: Simulating Real-World Threats

While purple teams focus on evaluating monitoring coverage, red teams take a more adversarial approach. Their objective is to simulate real-world attacks and assess your organization’s resilience to sophisticated and evasive adversaries. Unlike purple teams, whose actions are noisy and coordinated with your SOC team, red teams operate independently, seeking to breach your defenses undetected and achieve their objectives.

The value of red teaming lies not only in its ability to uncover vulnerabilities, but also in its role as a catalyst for organizational monitoring, detection, and incident response improvement. By simulating real-world threats, red teams provide a realistic assessment of your organization’s security posture, highlighting areas where your defenses may fall short against determined adversaries. Additionally, red teaming offers a unique opportunity for your SOC team to test their incident response capabilities in a high-pressure environment: Do they know what to do? What’s the playbook and how do they work with it? Perhaps they will even discover that they don’t have any playbooks that are relevant for a real attacker in your network.

Many CISOs and SOC managers often overlook that an organizational risk assessment goes far beyond simply ticking off the box of “pentesting” or discovering issues regarding exposed interface protocols and even network architecture. The assessment is a huge opportunity to have the whole security band playing together. You can see if the tune is right and if the players know how to work with each other. Simply put, while undergoing a risk assessment and testing how your organization looks from an external and internal attacker’s perspective, red teaming will enable your teams to refine their procedures and enhance their readiness for future attacks.

How CYE Helps

Here at CYE, we believe that combining purple and red teaming makes magic happen. In our risk assessments, we know that our clients get the most out of their investment from both our red and purple teaming activities, which play vital roles in strengthening their organizations’ defense posture through tangible, real attacks that they can handle. While our purple teams focus on evaluating monitoring coverage and uncovering blind spots, our red teams simulate real-world evasiveness and assess an organization’s resilience to sophisticated adversaries.

By leveraging the insights gained from both approaches, our partners can really level up and know they don’t have to trust what’s written in the brochures of their monitoring and detection products. Now they can be assured that they will get that heads up from their monitoring systems on Friday afternoon—because it’s always going to happen on Friday afternoon.

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Tom Levy

By Tom Levy

Tom is a Virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO) for various industries and the Long-Term Mitigations Team Lead at CYE. He was one of the co-founders of the IDF’s top-tier security operation centers and has consulted for various companies and industries on cybersecurity challenges.