In an information or cyber security context, a Red Team is a group of ethical hackers that design and execute a series of coordinated technical and social engineering attacks on an organisation’s people, processes, and technology to simulate how an intruder could obtain unauthorised access to its systems or information assets. In simple terms, a Red Team can be considered an independent group that challenges an organisation to improve its effectiveness by assuming an adversarial role or point of view. It’s essential to understand how your organisation would do against a real-world attack.
While Red Team Testing is a significant financial investment, most businesses fail to measure its actual return. Has it improved the organisation’s cyber security posture and if so, how? Is there more value in conducting Red Team Testing than conducting Security Penetration Testing, and if so, why? Answers to these fundamental questions are easily obtained by including the requirement to capture essential metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) in your next Red Team test.
Meanwhile, here are tangible benefits for making a business case for conducting Red Team Testing. Here are the magnificent seven.
1. It identifies weaknesses and vulnerabilities within your business
The most obvious benefit of conducting Red Team tests is the ability to identify holes and vulnerabilities in your defence. While security penetration tests are designed to identify vulnerabilities in your technology systems, Red Team testing engagements are designed to identify vulnerabilities across your business in people, processes and technology associated with your information assets – that if exploited could expose these assets to a threat actor. This type of testing also allows the business to identify controls in people and processes that may not be effective, which of course is critical in understanding the potential threats to the business. Red Team testing allows you to know what you don’t know!
2. It confirms your strengths
Most businesses believe that the primary value of security testing is that it identifies “what’s not working”, while this is true, what is often overlooked is that security testing also clearly identifies “what is working”.
Red Team testing will confirm the effectiveness of the controls you have implemented across the business to prevent unauthorised access to your systems and information.
3. It prepares your defenders (Blue Team)
Can your business withstand a real-world attack? You may think so, but the answer largely depends on the capability of the staff you are relying on to identify, respond and contain an attack. The staff entrusted with defending your business are your first line of defence.
Are they ready? Are they capable? Do they have the right tools? The right training? Red Team testing serves as a valuable training exercise in confirming that your defensive team is “fit for purpose”.
Like holding a fire drill – Red Team testing confirms your team’s readiness for the real thing.
4. It improves your response to real-life cyber threats
Sure, the point of all security testing should be to be able to confirm that you can actually identify an attack. But the second objective is to be able to verify if you can quickly and appropriately respond to one. Response times are critical in understanding your organisation’s vulnerability to a real-world attack.
Red Team engagements confirm attack response times based on your defences and the defender’s capability. These KPIs should be captured and tested again in future tests. Practice really makes perfect with periodic Red Team tests.
5. It helps determine your external needs
By evaluating the capability of your defenders and benchmarking their response times, Red Team testing also highlights weaknesses with in-house resources – such as real-time monitoring, incident response, containment or digital forensics. Additionally, by subjecting the controls implemented in the people, process and technology across the business for effectiveness, Red Team testing identifies areas which can most cost-effectively be outsourced to topic-specific professionals.
6. It confirms the effectiveness of your products
Businesses assume that the cyber security products and solutions they have invested so heavily in actually work. The reverse may be the case and certainly should be included in the scope of your Red Team tests. Testing the effectiveness of the cyber security controls provided by your vendors is a major benefit in conducting Red Team testing. Think of it as an independent quality assurance of your security spending. Red Team testing can confirm your cybersecurity product budget was well-spent. Is there a more significant benefit than that?
7. It benchmarks your policies
Finally, if you are like most businesses that may have not updated their policies since the day they were written – the assumption that a business’s security policies do not need updating is a crucial blunder.
Given that the only constant in cyber security is change – technology, people, process, risks, threats, vulnerabilities, tools etc., the good news is that your security policies can easily be assessed to ensure they are current and applicable if you include them in the scope of your Red Team testing. Good Red Team testing can illustrate both non-compliance and where policies are missing or incomplete.
Conclusion: The Whole Doughnut
I remember once hearing a Red Team Testing Leader say, “I don’t look at the hole in the doughnut, I look at the whole doughnut”. The benefits of conducting Red Team testing are abundant and clear if you just stand back and take the bigger view of this effective – holistic – methodology of testing.
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