Red and blue teaming are well-established concepts in information security, but recent years have given rise to a more collaborative approach – purple teaming.
To defend against rapidly evolving cyber threats, businesses need to continually adapt and innovate. This means that red and blue teams must work together on an ongoing basis to maximise their individual and collective impact. Purple teaming allows them to achieve this more effectively, significantly advancing organisations’ security posture.
What is purple teaming?
Purple teaming is a security methodology in which offensive security professionals (referred to as red teams) and Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC) professionals (referred to as blue teams) work closely together in order to enhance cyber capabilities through continuous feedback and knowledge transfer.
Purple teaming can play a major role in strengthening an organisation’s approach to security. This is because it enables security teams to improve the effectiveness of vulnerability detection, threat hunting and network monitoring. It achieves this by accurately simulating common threat scenarios and facilitating the creation of new techniques designed to prevent and detect new types of threats.
Some organisations perform purple teaming as one-off focused engagements, in which security goals, timelines and key deliverables are clearly defined. This approach will include a formal process for evaluating lessons learned over the course of an operation. It also covers recognising offensive and defensive shortcomings and outlining future training and technical requirements.
Red teams vs blue teams – what’s the difference?
A red team is a group of offensive security professionals responsible for using real-life adversarial techniques to help organisations identify and address vulnerabilities across infrastructure, systems and applications, as well as weaknesses in processes and human behaviour.
In contrast, a blue team, typically based in a Security Operations Centre (SOC), is a group of analysts and engineers focused on defending organisations from cyber-attacks through a combination of threat prevention, deception, detection and response.
In purple teaming, red and blue teams continue to meet their separate responsibilities but collaborate with each other to share intelligence data. It aims to counteract the ‘silo’ effect that can be created when specialists work within discrete, resolute teams. In purple teaming, experts from both teams actively cooperate in order to maximise the impact of their work. This ensures that companies benefit from a more clearly defined and effective detection and response capability.
The purple teaming process achieves this by sharing intelligence data via the purple teaming process to support better insight into threat actors’ TTPs. By imitating these types of TTPs via various red team scenarios, the blue team can then boost its detection and response capability. This is a major progression from the blue team’s lack of visibility of security compromises caused by the threat actor’s choice of technique going undetected.
|Red Team||Blue Team||Purple Team|
|Expertise||Offensive security professionals||Security Operations Centre experts||Red and blue team working in alignment|
|Goal||Simulate real world cyber-attack conditions to test cybersecurity defences||Assess and respond to red team attack tactics, techniques and procedures||Collaborate and provide continuous feedback and knowledge transfer|
|Purpose||Identify security gaps and vulnerabilities||Detect, hunt, respond to and remediate threats||Strengthen security posture through continuous improvement|
Purple teaming: a collaborative approach
Regardless of size, industry or resources, all organisations need both red and blue team expertise to effectively combat cyber threats.
Red team activities, whether they are vulnerability assessments and penetration testing or full-scale cyber-attack simulations, are specifically designed to identify security exposures by challenging blue teams and assessing detection techniques and processes.
Red team assessments can be used to evaluate organisations’ defences against the latest tools, tactics and procedures used by criminal adversaries, and provide vital feedback to accelerate threat hunting and incident response.
Threat intelligence plays a critical role in this process – a blue team can’t be effective without the latest intel on attacker tradecraft and prominent threat types.
The blue team is responsible for managing and monitoring a range of detection technologies, utilising the latest intelligence, to hunt for and eliminate threats in their infancy, around-the-clock.
For many organisations, red and blue teams often operate as completely separate and disconnected entities. In some small organisations, for example, in-house IT staff are often tasked with monitoring, detection and response, while ethical hackers are commissioned by external providers to perform occasional vulnerability scanning and penetration testing services.
This means that there is often a lack of continuous feedback channels between red and blue teams. Rather than collaborating and continuously enhancing security controls through purple teaming, many organisations adopt a short-term view to security and fail to leverage red and blue team insight to inform and evaluate long-term security goals and strategy.
The benefits of purple teaming
Purple team exercises are different to penetration tests because they are not undertaken to identify specific vulnerabilities. Instead, they are intended to provide a range of overarching security benefits, including:
Enhancing security knowledge
Being able to observe and participate in attacks gives the blue team a better understanding of how attackers operate, enabling them to more effectively employ technologies to deceive actual attackers and study their tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). This is how purple teaming enables better identification, sharing and utilisation of valuable security insights.
Accelerating performance without increasing budget
Combining defence and offence through purple team exercises allows organisations to raise the standard of security monitoring function faster and at less cost. This enables companies to achieve the best value from their security budgets at a time when security threats continue to diversify.
Streamline security improvements
An alternative approach within the security industry is to view purple teaming as a conceptual framework that runs throughout an organisation. This can help to nurture a collaborative culture that promotes continuous cyber security improvement.
Gain critical insight
Purple teaming gives your internal security team a critical understanding of the gaps in your security posture and helps to identify potential areas that require further attention.
Putting purple teaming into practice
As with other types of assessments, the cadence of purple teaming should be defined by the specific needs and priorities of each organisation. Some organisations may benefit from annual purple teaming while others may require more frequent assessments. Whatever the specific cadence, it is important to undertake regular purple teaming in order to ensure that your organisation’s security approach remains up to date in light of the constantly evolving threat landscape.
To benefit effectively from purple teaming, ask your current or prospective security vendor about their approach. Check how they put it into practice for clients and ensure that you request detailed information about the processes and methodologies involved. A good security provider will undertake purple teaming as standard practice and should be able to outline specific approaches and use cases.
How Kroll can help
At Kroll, we utilise our deep knowledge of offensive security alongside the latest security tools and intelligence, to help organisations to identify, hunt for and eliminate threats and vulnerabilities across their networks and endpoints.
The purple team methodology is central to Kroll’s approach to cyber security. Our threat research and analytics division provides actionable insights to help our red and blue team hackers, analysts and engineers to continually improve the quality and effectiveness of our services.
Whether you are looking to assess your organisation’s defences, strengthen them with a turnkey MDR service, or comprehensively respond to a cyber incident, you can be confident that Kroll will provide the deep insight and clear advice you need to significantly advance your cyber security posture.