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Red teaming: everything you need to know

Get the inside scoop on everything you need to know about red teaming. Find out why it's important for organizations and how we can help.

Red teaming

Hackers will stop at nothing until they find a weakness they can exploit, so how can you ensure your network is strong enough to withstand an attack? You enlist the expertise of a cybersecurity red team

Red team. Blue team. It’s not a matter of picking sides. It’s about collaborating with cybersecurity experts to eliminate potential threats and protect what really matters. Create an unparalleled red team strategy and unlock the full potential of your organization’s security stance.

This guide will take you through everything you need to know about red teaming. It will cover:

  • What is red teaming and how does it work?
  • An example of red teaming
  • A brief history of red teaming
  • What’s the difference between a blue and red team?
  • What is a purple team?
  • Why is red teaming important?
  • What happens during a red teaming engagement?
  • What are some common red team tactics?
  • Benefits and challenges of red teaming
  • What are some questions to consider before a red team assessment?
  • Why red team with CovertSwarm?

What is red teaming and how does it work?

A red team is a group of skilled professionals tasked with simulating real-world cyber attacks. The primary goal of a cyber red team is to identify vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and gaps in an organization’s security posture by adopting the perspective of an attacker.

Red teaming involves a systematic and disciplined approach and evaluates the effectiveness of an organization’s security measures, policies, and incident response capabilities.

Their impartiality to the system helps overcome cognitive errors such as groupthink or confirmation bias. Red teaming security testing typically follows a well-defined process:

  1. Planning: the red team collaborates with the organization to establish clear objectives, scope, and rules of engagement. This includes defining the target systems, infrastructure, or applications to be assessed, as well as any specific goals or constraints.
  2. Reconnaissance: next, they gather intelligence and conduct reconnaissance to gain a deeper understanding of the organization’s infrastructure, employees, processes, and potential vulnerabilities.
  3. Attack simulation: they employ red team security tools and tactics to simulate attacks that mimic real-world adversaries. This may include exploiting vulnerabilities, attempting to bypass security controls, or launching phishing campaigns.
  4. Persistence and lateral movement: once inside the network, they maintain a persistent presence and simulate the movements of a real attacker. They may escalate privileges, move laterally across systems, and attempt to access sensitive data or critical assets.
  5. Reporting: following completion, a comprehensive report is generated. The findings include any vulnerabilities discovered and recommendations for improving security.

An example of red teaming

Let’s look at a red team phishing case study. This tests an organization’s resilience against phishing attacks – a common and successful method used by adversaries.

The exercise typically involves the following steps:

  • Planning: they analyze the organization’s unique characteristics, design phishing emails to mimic common communication patterns and spoof legitimate sources.
  • Execution: they launch the campaign and prompt employees to disclose information or click on malicious links.
  • Monitoring and analysis: the red team monitors the responses and actions of the targeted employees.
  • Assessment: the level of susceptibility to the simulated phishing attack is evaluated. The red team consultant analyzes click rates and the effectiveness of the organization’s email filtering systems or, depending on the scope, gains access to the target organization.
  • Reporting and recommendations: a comprehensive report summarizing the findings, including the success rates of the campaign, areas of vulnerability, and recommendations. 

A brief history of red teaming

Red teaming originated in the military during the cold war. Initially, it helped challenge assumptions, identify vulnerabilities, and assess the capabilities of military forces.

The term ‘red team’ derives from military wargaming exercises, where one team, known as the ‘red team’, represents the adversary or enemy forces. 

Red teaming in cybersecurity is a valuable methodology for evaluating an organization’s resilience against real-world adversaries. By employing red team pen testing, organizations can simulate targeted attacks, validate the effectiveness of their security measures, and verify their incident response capabilities.

Red teaming has evolved to encompass a holistic approach to security assessment, going beyond traditional vulnerability scanning or red team penetration testing.

Today, red teaming fosters a culture of continuous improvement, promotes collaboration between red teams and blue teams (defenders), while enabling organizations to stay ahead of emerging threats in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

What’s the difference between a blue and red team and how do they work together?

The main difference between a blue team and a red team lies in their roles and objectives within an organization’s security framework.

Blue team framework:

  • Responsible for defending and securing an organization’s systems, networks, and data. 
  • Consist of external security professionals or the organization’s dedicated security team. 
  • Primary objective is to prevent and detect security incidents, maintain the organization’s security posture, and respond effectively to any potential threats or breaches.
  • Implementing and managing security technologies, such as firewalls or Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) 
  • Actively monitor the organization’s environment for signs of suspicious activity or security breaches.
  • Develop and deliver security awareness programs to educate employees. 

Red team framework: 

  • Cybersecurity red team operates from an adversarial perspective.
  • Consists of skilled professionals who simulate real-world attacks and attempt to exploit vulnerabilities within the organization’s systems, networks, or physical premises.
  • Primary objective is to assess the effectiveness of an organization’s security defenses. 
  • Launch controlled attacks that mimic real-life techniques and strategies. 
  • Actively search for and exploit vulnerabilities. 
  • Provide detailed reports documenting their findings and recommendations. 
  • Collaborates with the blue team to strengthen security measures. 

In summary, the blue team focuses on defending and securing the organization’s infrastructure, while the red team challenges those defenses by simulating real-world attacks. 

What is a purple team and how does it fit into the process?

Purple teams are a relatively new concept in the world of red teaming cybersecurity. They are a mix between the red team (attacker) and blue team (defender).

The purple team aims to collaborate with the blue team to uncover vulnerabilities in the defensive system and provide real-time feedback during a simulated cyber attack.

Why is red teaming important?

Red team services ensure the security posture of an organization is up to par. By conducting a full-scope cyber attack and taking on the role of the adversary, red team assessment services can spot vulnerabilities that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Red team engagements are a worthwhile exercise that helps businesses patch up gaps in their existing security measures. Plus, red team hacking uses the same techniques as malicious actors, so you can better understand how you will be targeted in the future. 

What happens during a red teaming engagement?

During a red teaming engagement, assessors are tasked with emulating an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) and simulating real-world attack scenarios, whether they’re physical, social or digital.

They are given specific targets, known as “flags,” which they must compromise using techniques and methods that real malicious actors might employ. Here’s what it entails:  


Reconnaissance involves gathering information about the target organization, including research on the organization’s employees, infrastructure, technology stack, and so on.

Vulnerability assessment

Identifies weaknesses in the organization’s systems and infrastructure. It typically entails scanning for open ports, identifying outdated software, and more.


The red team will attempt to exploit vulnerabilities to gain access to the organization’s systems and data. They may utilize social engineering techniques like phishing attacks or attempts to brute-force login credentials.

Lateral movement

Once they access your system, they will attempt to expand their reach and move laterally through the network as well as maintain persistence for further attacks later on. This may involve pivoting through different systems, escalating privileges, and evading detection.

Data exfiltration

Finally, the red team expert will attempt to exfiltrate data from the organization’s systems and infrastructure. This may involve stealing sensitive data, such as customer information, financial records, or intellectual property.

What are some common red team tactics?

Here are some red team specialist tactics:

  • Phishing: red teams simulate phishing attacks to test employees’ susceptibility to social engineering techniques and raise awareness. 
  • Password cracking: red teams attempt to crack passwords to assess the strength of an organization’s authentication mechanisms and identify potential weak points. 
  • Physical security testing: red team physical tactics evaluate the effectiveness of security measures by attempting unauthorized entry or bypassing security controls. 
  • Network scanning: red team tools scan an organization’s network for vulnerabilities. 
  • Social engineering: red team social engineering tactics employ psychological manipulation to gauge employees’ vulnerability. 

Benefits of red teaming

Red team security testing offers plenty of benefits. Here are some of the key advantages: 

  • Identifying vulnerabilities: red team hackers expose weaknesses and vulnerabilities in an organization’s security posture, allowing for targeted improvements.
  • Improving security posture: by addressing identified vulnerabilities, organizations can enhance their overall security defenses.
  • Enhancing preparedness: red team as a service prepares organizations for real-world cyber attacks, enabling them to develop effective response plans.
  • Training employees: red teaming helps educate employees on recognizing and responding to cyber attacks, promoting a culture of security awareness.
  • Compliance with regulations: red team consulting helps organizations meet regulatory requirements.

Challenges and limitations of red teaming

Although there are many benefits to red team security consulting, there are also some limitations to be aware of.

  • Cost: red team operations can be expensive, requiring financial investment for external consultants and significant resources for planning, execution, and analysis.
  • Limited scope: red team ethical hacking typically focuses on specific areas of security, potentially leaving other aspects untested. 
  • False sense of security: a successful red team engagement may lead to an overestimation of overall security, as real-world attacks can differ from simulated scenarios.
  • Ethical considerations: malicious actors have no regard for ethical considerations whereas the red teaming company must prioritize ethical practices and ensure that no real harm is caused. 
  • Limited expertise: Finding a skilled red team with enough expertise in both offensive and defensive cybersecurity strategies may be difficult. 

What are some questions to consider before a red team assessment?

To get the most value from your red team security consulting session ask yourself a set of important questions, such as:

  • What are the objectives of the assessment? You may want to test your incident response plan or assess your security controls. 
  • Which assets will be targeted? You can target network infrastructure, endpoints, applications, or physical facilities.
  • What types of attacks will be simulated? Phishing, social engineering, or physical security breaches? 
  • Who will conduct the assessment? You can hire a red team professional or an internal team to conduct the assessment.
  • What are the rules of engagement? This may include guidelines on acceptable testing methods, communication protocols, or how the results will be reported.
  • What is the timeline and scope of the engagement? Think of the duration, number of testers, and level of access granted. 

Why red team with CovertSwarm?

Red teaming is not a one-time event, but rather an ongoing process. With CovertSwarm, our stream of attacks are both relentless and continuous. It’s great as a one-off, but even better as a subscription service.

Our red team services employ extensive cyber research to find out everything we need until we can break into your system.

But we won’t stop there.

After we attack, we educate.

Red collaborates with blue.

You’ll learn all about your vulnerabilities, where they are, and how to patch them up. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to ensure the same attack never happens twice.

We hope you found this guide to red teaming useful, but if you have any further questions or need some cyber security advice, please feel free to contact us.