What does your business look like to a hacker? Where are your cyber networks’ vulnerabilities? How would a hacker attempt to exploit these vulnerabilities? Wouldn’t it be great if your security team could see exactly how your cyber defenses appear to threat actors, predict their next move, and beat them to the punch by shoring up weaknesses before they can even strike?
Well, you can–welcome to the not-so-secret world of counter-hacking tactics and the practice known as Red Teaming. Red Teaming involves creating a cyber special forces unit within your organization to stealthily attack your system’s defenses in an all-out, no punches-pulled assault without warning and scope restrictions.
Though this practice may sound sinister, the security benefits are real, and Red Teaming continues to grow. 92% of companies performed red team exercises regularly in 2020 compared to only 72% in 2019. This article will explore the practice of Red teaming, explain how your security team benefits from a hackers-eye view of vulnerabilities, and share the best practices for starting your Red teaming program.
What is Red Teaming?
Red Teaming is the practice of forming a trusted team to conduct a multi-layered cyber-attack simulation using the tools, tactics, and techniques of real-world threat actors. Red team exercises target your organization’s technology and overall defense, testing the system’s response effectiveness in the event of an actual cyber attack. Red team assessments seek defense vulnerabilities in an all-out, full-scale system assault. These exercises aren’t scheduled or limited in scope for stealth and authenticity and employ various attack methods and tactics.
How does Red teaming differ from Pen Testing?
Pen Testing focuses more on discovering vulnerabilities in technology rather than the vulnerabilities in a defense system. Pen Testing is carefully planned and controlled, outlining the contracted scope and specific attack methods. With Red teaming, almost anything goes–the more variety, the better; as the goal is to simulate the real-life unpredictability of hacker methods and tactics.
Benefits of Red Teaming
- Red Teaming provides a hackers-eye view of your organization’s cyber infrastructure, vulnerabilities, and possible methods attackers might use to breach your defenses. Red teams help an organization gain an unbiased vision of its security from an external perspective. Traditional security teams may be overconfident with their work and the defense systems they have in place or may be prone to blind spots and misconceptions about the rapidly evolving threat vector landscape. Red teams see the enterprise in the way a potential attacker sees it, including all of their weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and sinkholes.
- Seeing your organization’s defenses from the viewpoint of a potential intruder is powerful. Armed with this perspective, your team can identify what assets are at risk and possible attack methods. Security teams can also determine what controls are working well, what isn’t working well, where the security gaps lie, and most importantly, the actions necessary to mitigate vulnerabilities before attacks occur.
- Besides identifying the obvious vulnerabilities in your cyber defense system, Red teaming can assist your organization in uncovering security gaps in less obvious locations such as third-party vendors or partners, shadow IT applications, and even the dark web. Just like a hacker, experienced red-teamers will look at every possible way to breach your company’s defenses–this will include researching everyone you do business with to see if their security practices allow vulnerabilities for exploitation. They will also search for shadow IT application bugs or dark web data leaks, providing a potential entry pathway.
- Red Teaming helps prepare and train employees in the event of an actual attack, protect address links (often a priority attack target), and improve the overall time of your system’s attack response. Lessons learned during red team exercises can help prepare a future security road map, assure system security, and boost your organization’s overall security posture.
What you do not learn from Red teaming?
Red team assessments alert you of potential weaknesses in your cyber defense system–they don’t confirm if attacks are underway or provide a means to stop an attack. Red Teaming provides the knowledge you will need to engage resources such as cyber forensics to dig deeper for threat identification and response.
Red teams, like real-world attackers, typically stop once they find a successful path of entry. For this reason, red team assessments don’t usually test all possible attack vectors, which can be a drawback, especially when attempting to meet strict compliance regulations. Organizations should conduct Red teaming in conjunction with Pen Testing for a more comprehensive and compliant security posture assessment.
Best practices for successful Red teaming
Here are some essential best practice tips for organizations looking to get the most out of Red Teaming:
- Prepare, prepare, prepare- The importance of adequate preparation before conducting a red team assessment can’t be over-emphasized. Thoroughly plan and diagram your red team assessment from the attack methods, tactics, and tools to the roles and responsibilities of each participant. Be sure to clearly define the goals and objectives of your assessment while collecting as much relevant information on your target as possible. Prep your red team operatives, having them internalize an attacker’s mindset and motives while coaching them to avoid biases, groupthink, and outside influences.
- Choose tools carefully- Red team success often hinges on selecting the most appropriate tools for stealth and safety. Choose system and user-safe tools that won’t damage or negatively impact your network or employees while providing maximum stealth. Even though you want red teamers to simulate the bad guys accurately, they’re still working for your company, so safety is a priority.
- Be unpredictable- The nature of actual attacks is often erratic, so your red team should constantly switch up assessment strategies, locations, tactics, tools, and techniques to remain authentic. Just like attackers, red teams should aim to carry out the same attack in a variety of ways, employing various tools and techniques at each stage of the process, as opposed to going through a checklist with the same tools and approaches every time.”
- The Mitre Att&ck Matrix can be a helpful tool in creating authentic and effective attack simulations. It’s a globally-accessible knowledge base of adversary tactics and techniques based on real-world observations. The ATT&CK knowledge base is used as a foundation for the development of specific threat models and methodologies in the government, the commercial sector, and the cybersecurity community.
- Document all results- Keep meticulous records on all attack results and findings. Remember to document all discovered system vulnerabilities, attached risks, and potential remediations for use in creating your organization’s future security roadmap.
Today’s security professionals face an uphill battle as hackers seem to have the odds tipped in their favor with constantly improving strategies, tactics, and technology. Not to mention the rapidly expanding universe of mobile endpoints, third-party providers, shadow IT, and dark web data leaks–often, it just doesn’t seem fair for cyber defenders.
Red Teaming potentially evens the playing field, providing a glimpse of a defense system’s strengths and weaknesses through an attacker’s eyes. Security teams can use this insight, gaining a leg up by identifying and remediating security gaps before attackers strike. Red Teaming can make all the difference for today’s security teams looking to protect their networks against long odds.
The defending organization does its best to secure all its systems, assets, domains, people, supply chain, and clients, whereas all that an attacker need is just one opening to succeed. It’s unfair and asymmetrical for defending an organization. Red Teaming mimics the attacker’s line of sight, therefore is a great solution to prepare defenses in a cost-effective manner.
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