Today’s commercial marketplace is inundated with new and innovative competition strategies, some of which are quite novel. One of the newest and popular is the concept of using “red teams” in security and penetration testing. A red team is a separate group that tests a solution or system against a variety of objectives, whereas a penetration tester is an independent individual who performs software testing activities independently. With these two key differences, there are compelling reasons why companies should utilize a hybrid security model. While both security teams perform important functions, they can also be separated by their focus on different objectives.
Security and Penetration Testing: The primary difference between the two techniques is the primary focus of the activity. Red team assessments attempt to gather intelligence on how hackers gain access to a system. For penetration testing, testers try to find vulnerabilities in a specific application and try to exploit the vulnerability using an Exploit Development or Code Theft tool. While this may sound straightforward, there are several key differences between the two. In particular, when performing a red team assessment, testers typically gather intelligence by participating in a penetration test with an attacker.
In addition, unlike a penetration test, a red team assessment requires the attacker’s presence. The objective of this activity is to find methods and techniques that allow an attacker to gain physical access to a system. Therefore, an observer is always present during the assessment process, and he/she does not participate in the actual hacking. Additionally, in contrast to a penetration test where code examination and static code analysis are performed, in a red team assessment, penetration testers to test for knowledge and skill in exploitation. Sometimes, a penetration tester may only conduct “check points,” i.e., he/she will search for weaknesses in the protection mechanism without actually exploiting them. In this case, the test is short and easy.
Red Team Names
An interesting distinction between a penetration test and a red team exercise is that most organizations engage in red-team activities in tandem with white-box security testing groups. While many penetration tests are performed as stand-alone exams, penetration teams typically build a complete security suite, including authentication, detection, and protection tools. In contrast, most red-team activities occur within a security testing environment, where the focus is on learning the fundamentals.
Some companies prefer to use different team names for different teams. For instance, a network security testing team might be named Blackwater, Verizon Wireless, East Coast Internet, Verisign, etc. While these team names give customers and peers a distinct reference to the particular security testing group, they can make it difficult to collaborate with other security testing teams. Also, the naming of the teams may make it difficult to remember which team is responsible for a particular vulnerability. Moreover, if a company chooses a common name for all its teams (e.g., “HSG”), it makes it difficult to determine whether a team is performing its responsibilities as it should.
Red team exercises are a useful way to determine whether your organization has the necessary personnel and training to perform mission-critical vulnerabilities quickly and efficiently. However, selecting the right team can be tricky. If you cannot afford to outsource your red-team activities, you may be able to mitigate your risk by implementing a security testing culture within your own company. A solid team building program will allow you to select the most suitable, experienced individuals based on their skills, training, and experience. This will help ensure your highest level of security at all times.