Red teams vs blue teams: Breaking down security roles

Written by:
Kyle Suero

October 7, 2022

0 mins read

Red teams, blue teams, and purple teams, oh my! Many of us have heard these terms, but what exactly do they mean? And where does our individual interest and expertise place us? There are many niche roles within security, but this post will cover the basics of red, blue, and purple teams, and explain how they work together to enhance an organization’s security posture.

What is a Blue team?

If your job (or passion) has to do anything with ensuring a system is as secure as possible, you might consider yourself part of the blue team! Blue Teamer is a blanket term for people who are tasked with defending systems in an enterprise, or even gamified, ecosystem. Everyone from your internal IT teams, IR Engineers, Security Champions, and SOC Engineers could all be considered part of a blue team. People who want to protect complex computer networks perform an extremely thorough analysis of how a target’s networks and hosts are configured. They attempt to identify vulnerabilities in these configurations before an adversary can cause any legitimate damage to services, steal data, or perform other undesirable activities like pivoting throughout the network.

Some of the best ways to get started with Blue Teaming is to get hands-on experience! Start playing with tools that are used in the industry like Splunk, Autopsy, Wireshark, and Yara rules – you can gain practical blue team experience right from your home network. TryHackMe even has a fully fleshed-out learning path that will help you become a blue teaming expert. This curriculum covers everything from networks and active directory, to threat detection, system monitoring, system forensics, and malware analysis.

Blue teaming is a large field that emcompasses many different specializations and roles, one of which is learning about secure code. A great way to get started is by scanning projects with something like Snyk to find and remediate vulnerabilities in open source code and proprietary code. Fixing these vulnerabilities will show you what the attack surface looks like for real-world applications in your language or framework of choice.

As many things can go wrong in technical environments — and potentially lead to vulnerabilities that can be exploited for a foothold in a target environment — the blue team has their work cut out for them. Blue Teamers gain real-world experience in detecting and containing these kinds of threats, and learn a wide range of skills to do so. Everything from hardening critical services, profiling the different kinds of risks, and using a SIEM to interpret security events are critical skills for a blue team to possess. While hardening systems may prevent common attacks, it is not a silver bullet. Understanding how to traverse logs, identify suspicious behaviors, and isolate systems are practically necessary in the instance of a suspicious security event. Since nobody can know everything there is to know about security, folks on blue teams often specialize in something like SIEMs, malware reversing, network security, application security, or many other disciplines. Instead of letting threat actors try their latest techniques against the blue team “in the wild”, organizations will often employ a red team to test and enhance the efficacy of the blue team’s efforts as well.

What is a Red team?

As you may have guessed by now, the red team focuses on attacking networks, hosts, and infrastructure to exploit the vulnerabilities lurking in these systems. The best thing about having a red team is that you can emulate scenarios your blue team may experience in the real world! Red teams should work to provide an unbiased, external perspective to identify weaknesses and necessary improvements. This prepares the company for realistic attack scenarios, and provides an invaluable look at an attacker’s perspective. Performing such red teaming exercises is extremely cost-effective When compared to the cost of a potential breach, red teaming exercises are extremely cost-effective. Red teamers, like blue teamers, are incredibly passionate about security. A red teamer should be creative, communicate effectively, and have strong analytical and problem-solving skills. The main difference between red teams and blue teams is, of course, their roles in an ecosystem.

Red teamers do their best to circumvent an environment’s current technical protections, determine which protections they do not have, and produce findings that will help improve security. No matter what industry you’re in, odds are there is someone out there that wants what you are protecting. Having a red team to emulate the behavior of potential malicious actors can prepare an organization for the worst possible scenarios.

Although building red team is not the first thing on every new CISO’s list, most of the largest commerce and service companies in the world now employ red teamers! Taking such a proactive approach to security allows these organizations to respond to the attackers of today, and prepare for the unknown threats of tomorrow.

Red teaming has become much more accessible in recent years. There are online platforms, intentionally vulnerable applications, and bug bounty programs you can participate in to get extremely relevant practice. By utilizing online challenge platforms like Hack The Box, OverTheWire, TryHackMe, and Hacker101, you will be well on your way to understanding common protocols, application defects, and how to exploit them.

The Snyk Labs organization also maintains many intentionally vulnerable applications that you can host, scan, and exploit based on your findings. If you are ready to take the next step, check out some CTFs! Attack/Defense CTFs, as opposed to Jeopardy Style CTFs, are a great way to practice attacking different kinds of environments because you’lll be able to attack infrastructure being defended by real people! These kinds of experiences are invaluable as you will learn a ton of practical skills from your team and your opposition. As the blue team tries to lock you out, you will have to find ways to circumvent their controls, establish persistence on their box, and disrupt their services — and even lock them out of their infrastructure. How is that for emulating malicious behaviors? If you develop these skills, you are well suited to work on any red team or even become a bug bounty hunter.

What is a Purple team?

If you put the colors red and blue together, you get purple. In security terms, the purple team consists of people who both defend and attack systems. Similar to red teams, a purple team hacks a target system to determine how to make it more secure. The major deviation from traditional red team engagements is that during their activity, purple teams work with defenders in real-time, explaining activities and engaging in building better defenses. Due to the unique nature of a purple team, it is common to have folks who are more focused on attacking and other people who are more focused on defending work together to identify and remediate any potential threats. Although calling someone a “purple teamer” may seem to imply knowledge about both attacking and defending, some people working on a purple team may only focus on one of these previously mentioned concentrations.

Finding your place in developer security

Whether you are attacking, defending, or doing a bit of both, it’s important to know what’s happening in the world of cybersecurity. With dedicated security researchers working around the clock, Snyk keeps you informed on the latest attacks, exploits, malware, and more. Making Snyk a useful tool for finding and fixing vulnerabilities — no matter what security team you’re on.

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Snyk is a developer security platform. Integrating directly into development tools, workflows, and automation pipelines, Snyk makes it easy for teams to find, prioritize, and fix security vulnerabilities in code, dependencies, containers, and infrastructure as code. Supported by industry-leading application and security intelligence, Snyk puts security expertise in any developer’s toolkit.

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