How To Approach A Purple Teaming Exercise?

How To Approach A Purple Teaming Exercise

As cyberattacks continue to grow in numbers and impact, businesses cannot adopt a static security program with minor updates. Continuous improvements with innovation are the need of the hour so that companies continue to operate in an ever-evolving threat environment. In mature security programs, you will often come across specific security testing exercises such as red team and blue team exercises. Red team and blue team exercises have been around for a considerable amount of time in the cybersecurity industry, and they are well known.

LIFARS is an industry leader that develops proactive strategies and tactics against evolving cybersecurity threats. Our services such as comprehensive gap assessment, red-teaming, penetration testing, threat hunting and vulnerability assessment reveal a company’s vulnerabilities. Our vCISOs will ensure your optimal cybersecurity strategy and adequate posture.


Red, Blue, and Purple Teams: Is There a Difference?

A red teaming exercise goes beyond regular vulnerability assessments and penetration tests for testing the security posture of an organization. A red team consists of offensive security professionals that employ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of real-life adversaries to simulate an actual attack. Their scope of exercises goes beyond IT systems and also covers process loopholes and human behavior. Red teams must think like attackers to break into IT systems, uncover and exploit vulnerabilities, examine the chances of human error, and report their findings. Red teams are generally external security professionals hired by an organization to test their defenses.

A blue team is on the other side of the spectrum, and it is primarily responsible for defending the IT infrastructure of organizations. Often, the blue team will consist of individuals from your security operations center (SOC). A blue team is supposed to respond to security incidents while maintaining and improving an organization’s defenses. The red team is for “offense” and the blue team is for “defense.” Everyday responsibilities of blue teams include risk assessment, incident response, continuous monitoring, and reverse engineering.

Given the contrasting nature of responsibilities, we have come across multiple instances where there exists a gap between the two teams. A red teaming exercise will be successful when it challenges the defensive measures employed by the corresponding blue team. Some organizations may measure their success in terms of the number of vulnerabilities discovered. At the end of the day, the objective of both teams is the same, i.e., to secure the IT infrastructure of their organization. However, the aim of the red team is not always to help their counterparts. It is common to find a lack of cooperation in organizations with a dedicated security team (blue team) and an external vendor (red team). However, it is safe to say that this bridge is also visible in organizations having both teams inhouse.

To bridge this gap between the two teams, purple teaming exercises offer an effective solution. Purple teaming exercises help red and blue teams to work together in a symbiotic relationship to achieve the same goal. Moreover, purple teaming exercises are recently gaining popularity as businesses plan on making a move from the traditional “red team v. blue team” approach.

What is a purple team?

One cannot deny that organizations need red as well as blue teaming exercises for putting up an effective defense against cyberattacks. However, a lack of direct communication channel between these two teams takes a considerable amount of time. As compared to purple teaming, this approach is indirect and passive.

The concept of purple teaming seeks to bridge the gap between the two teams. It slightly modifies their approach to be more proactive and establishes a direct communication channel between the two. The results are beneficial for the overall security posture of organizations. When we talk about purple teaming exercises, we do not need a third team alongside red and blue teams. Purple teaming is a methodology that allows the sharing of security intelligence between the two teams. With this methodology, both the teams can share real-time feedback and insights.

Traditional approach

  • The red team conducts its security testing activities and prepares a report.
  • This report is shared with decision-makers or top management.
  • It is then shared with the internal security team (blue team).
  • The blue team goes through the report and implements the required measures.

Purple teaming

  • The red team conducts its tests and sends its report to the blue team.
  • The blue team immediately starts with remediation, and both the teams collaborate.
  • The red team shares their insights on how to prioritize issues and patches.
  • The blue team monitors the actions of the red team and gives them feedback for uncovering more weaknesses in the system.

Both the teams benefit from cross-sharing of insights and knowledge. While the blue team gets more information about their ability to detect incoming attacks and threats, the red team receives information about technologies and defensive tactics. Both teams together can collaborate on finding advanced and complicated attack vectors that can disrupt business operations and implement relevant defensive measures against these attacks.

Conducting a purple teaming exercise

Major incentives

In specific security incidents, an adversary may bypass all the defensive measures, and the blue team might not have any idea about it. At this point, it does not mean that your blue team is not qualified, or they lack the required skills to protect your IT infrastructure. There is a good possibility that the adversary launched a complex attack that was not detected by your systems. With purple teaming in place, a blue team develops better incident response programs while the corresponding red team improves their vulnerability detection practices.

We have discussed earlier in this article that both teams have the same end goal. As organizations seek to enhance their security culture, regular communication between red and blue teams will ensure a constant flow of information and collaboration between defense and offense. As a result, your security program will undergo continuous improvements in terms of people, process, and technology. Let the team be of any color; your organization will become better prepared to deal with incoming threats.

LIFARS recommended best practices

We took help from our experts with proven experience and track record to find out best practices concerning purple teaming exercises.

In purple teaming exercises, there must be a clear and open communication channel between both teams. Both teams must interact with the utmost transparency and help each other. However, as a word of caution, an organization shall never expect a red team to be wholly involved in a vulnerability management process or a blue team to simulate real-life attacks. Both the teams should know their roles and the organization’s expectations from them.

When you bring together two teams to collaborate for the same goal, it is mandatory to plan various activities for maximum utilization of available time and negligible schedule overlapping issues. The first step in a purple teaming exercise should be your organization’s goals and expectations from the exercise. Further, it would help if you also documented why exactly you wish to conduct this exercise. This will act as a guidance document through the exercise. The plan does not need to be rigid; it can be flexible to allow teams to detect an unexpected finding or coming across an issue that was not considered initially. Before getting both the teams together, clearly convey goals and expectations for both teams so that once the exercise completes, you can assess their effectiveness. An open communication channel will encourage both the teams to discuss every vulnerability they encounter and mitigation measures they plan on implementing.

Concluding remarks

Adversaries have continued to evolve their techniques, tactics, and procedures. As they continue to pose security risks with high impact, organizations must ensure that its people, processes, and technology come together for a healthy security posture. Purple teaming does not need a third team, it is more about effective collaboration and streamlined communication between your red and blue teams. Both teams can help each other and ensure that their organization is better prepared for complicated threats.