Penetration testing

How Red Teaming and Blue Teaming Complement Each Other

Howard Poston
October 31, 2018 by
Howard Poston

Red teaming and blue teaming are two different strategies for performing assessments of an organization’s cybersecurity. In this article, we will discuss the major advantages of each methodology and how they can be used in conjunction to dramatically increase the impact of the penetration testing engagement.

What Are Red Teaming and Blue Teaming?

Red teaming and blue teaming are two different approaches to identifying weaknesses in an organization’s cybersecurity strategy. Let’s take a moment to define both terms and discusses some of the primary advantages of each strategy.

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Red Teaming

The term “red team” has its roots in the military. Red teams were military personnel who took an adversarial role in planning exercises or security assessments in order to help develop and test potential tactics or current security practices against the known tactics and resources of the adversary.

Since then, the term red team has expanded beyond the military to other situations where an individual or group performs assessments of a target’s defenses, either physical or technological. In a cybersecurity context, the red team is a group that pretends to be black-hat hackers targeting an organization and tries to find and exploit security holes to achieve a certain, predefined goal.

The main value of a red team to an organization’s security strategy is providing a fresh perspective when trying to identify vulnerabilities and oversights. Taking the role of an external adversary puts the red team in the same position as those who would attack the organization, improving the probability that the red team will identify the vulnerabilities most likely to be exploited by an attacker. A red team member also typically does not have the same detailed knowledge of the target and preconceptions as the network’s traditional defenders, allowing them more easily to think “outside the box” when searching for potential security holes.

Blue Teaming

An organization’s blue team is the group within an organization tasked with defending against

either real or simulated attacks. This group can either be the organization’s original security team or can be bolstered by external specialists designed to help identify flaws and inefficiencies in the traditional security team’s operations. Blue teams can either operate as part of the security response to a real-world attack or as part of a simulated incident designed to identify and correct security shortcomings.

A good blue team brings value to an organization by strengthening its defenses against cyberattacks. By focusing on the defensive side of things, blue team members can help identify oversights in the network’s visibility or defenses and provide suggestions for improvement. This can provide long-term benefits to the organization by ensuring that tools, techniques and procedures are properly aligned with the organization’s security strategy.

Why Both Red and Blue Teaming Are Valuable

Red and blue teams take very different approaches to network security. At the end of a red team assessment, an organization has a list of attack vectors that they are vulnerable to and possibly recommendations for correcting the issue. The value of the red team assessment is readily apparent, since the organizer has a clear list of action items based upon the assessment.

Blue teaming is also incredibly valuable to an organization. The main limitation of red teaming is that it provides a snapshot of an organization’s security posture, and new vulnerabilities can be introduced the next day. The benefit of blue teaming is that its results benefit the organization from some time by ensuring that the organization is using strong defensive and investigative procedures.

How Red and Blue Teaming Work Together

While most respondents in a recent Alienvault poll felt that blue teaming was more important than red teaming, both red teaming and blue teaming are incredibly valuable methods of identifying an organization’s security vulnerabilities.

A red team provides a snapshot of the organization’s vulnerabilities and advice for remediating the most likely attack vectors that an intruder would use to penetrate the network. Blue teaming provides a more long-term perspective by improving the organization’s defensive capabilities.

If used properly, red teams and blue teams should complement each other. The purpose of the red team is to identify holes in the blue team’s current security strategy. The job of the red team is to communicate these shortcomings to the blue team in order to enable them to improve the organizational defenses. This knowledge transfer can either occur as part of a post-exercise retrospective or explicitly throughout the engagement through the use of a purple team, or mitigating element.

A well-designed penetration testing strategy takes advantage of the synergy between red and blue teaming to improve an organization’s cyber-defenses.

Conclusion: Developing a Comprehensive Pentesting Strategy

The goal of penetration testing is to improve an organization’s cybersecurity strategy by all possible means. Using a combination of red teaming and blue teaming can create radical improvements in the organization’s security posture since the red team’s feedback can inform the blue team’s defensive strategy, and real-time learning and process improvement by the blue team can allow the organization to undergo several iterations of defensive improvements within the span of an engagement. While red teams and blue teams can both independently benefit an organization, the potential for synergy between them can dramatically improve the impact of a security assessment.



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Howard Poston
Howard Poston

Howard Poston is a copywriter, author, and course developer with experience in cybersecurity and blockchain security, cryptography, and malware analysis. He has an MS in Cyber Operations, a decade of experience in cybersecurity, and over five years of experience as a freelance consultant providing training and content creation for cyber and blockchain security. He is also the creator of over a dozen cybersecurity courses, has authored two books, and has spoken at numerous cybersecurity conferences. He can be reached by email at or via his website at