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Red teaming: what is it and should you use it for optimal security?


What is red teaming, and should you be doing it to test whether your security tools and procedures will stand up to a cyber attack? On average, it takes businesses 191 days to identify a security threat and some more days to remediate it, according to CSO Online. This is more than enough time for an experienced cybercriminal to wreak havoc and cause major losses to your business. The trick is to stay ready for any unforeseen security threats that your organization can be exposed to.

While the standard way to stay prepared for threats is to be reactive through investing in security tools, it might also be wise to take the proactive path. Activities such as red teaming and penetration testing will in most cases suffice to assess how your IT assets will hold to real-world security threats. The question is, do you need such red teaming security measures to stay ready? Here is a brief guide to help you get an answer to this question:

What is red teaming?

Red teaming involves testing how well your security systems will react to security adversaries. It often works without the knowledge of your internal staff members to ensure that none of them will switch to their best behavior during the attempted breach. For instance, your IT team will not suddenly concentrate on your log aggregator for any anomalies just because they know that they expect one.

Think of it as a way to determine whether your team is really using the security tools or paying attention to the threat landscape. For red teaming to be successful, you need to hire a diversity of IT professionals from different fields who have no relationship with your internal staff. The more diverse the skills of the red team members are, the more effective the tests will be.

Red teaming vs. penetration testing

Although almost always used interchangeably, penetration testing and red teaming are quite different. While penetration tests have a specified scope to cover such as certain parts of the IT assets, the red team’s scope of coverage is not confined, and they may try to outsmart any part of your security system.

Unlike penetrations tests, red teaming does not have to follow a set of rules and can attack the system at any time of the day. Additionally, only a limited number of employees know that the red team is aiming for the organization. In a nutshell, the red team is a simulation of hackers trying to make their way into your IT assets.

Red teaming focuses on your greatest fear

What do you fear the most as a business? As an example, medical businesses will fear to have the personally identifiable information (PII) of their clients exposed. Red teaming simply focuses on such fears and outcomes and tries to mimic the steps that cyber criminals would take to get to the same outcomes.

Just like in the case of hackers, the actions of the red team are not confined to a set of rules which makes the situation more real. This will also serve as a great benchmark for how well your incident response plan is.

It should be a combination of both

Penetration tests are often conducted to identify the IT assets that the organization should concentrate on and determine the security solutions to use. On the other hand, red teaming can be useful in determining the effectiveness of the chosen solutions. When used in tandem, you can embrace optimal security for your organization. The good thing about the latter is that it brings unbiased data onto the table that is drawn from ‘subtle hacking.’


You should work overtime when it comes to improving the security of your IT assets and sensitive data. Luckily, combining both types of proactive tests will help give you enough visibility into the effectiveness of your security systems. Furthermore, the more prepared you are, the more tenacious your business will be to cybersecurity threats.

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