the cat and mouse game of security improvement

I don’t often find fairly general articles to have enough interesting nuggets and quotes to bother saving, but sometimes they just flow so well and include plenty of head-nodding things to agree with, all with wording that I appreciate. One such article came across from Dark Reading, Think Like an Attacker, How a Red Team Operates. Dark Reading seems to like limiting the ability to read articles, so I don’t mind being a bit liberable in pulling out quotes I like.

“The whole idea is, the red team is designed to make the blue team better,” explains John Sawyer, associate director of services and red team leader at IOActive. It’s the devil’s advocate within an organization; the group responsible for finding gaps the business may not notice. I just love that sound byte. I want that to be my elevator job description.

“The main function of red teaming is adversary simulation,” says Schwartz. “You are simulating, as realistically as possible, a dedicated adversary that would be trying to accomplish some goal. It’s always going to be unique to the target. If you’re going to get the maximum value out of having a red teaming function, you probably want to go for maximum impact.” The early part of the article goes a great job of succinctly comparing pen testing and red teaming while also illustrating how these have changed as time has moved on. Old school pen testing has shifted to be called red teaming as a way to further differentiate as pen testing has become commoditized.

The team ends up chaining together a small series of attacks – low-level vulnerabilities, misconfigurations – and use those to own the entire domain without the business knowing they were there, he says. Typically, few employees know when a red team is live.

Red and blue teams may work together in some engagements to provide visibility into the red team’s actions. For example, if the red team launches a phishing attack, the blue team could view whether someone opened a malicious attachment, and whether it was blocked. After a test, the two can discuss which actions led to which consequences. Beyond actually enjoying it, this is my whole value proposition for my interest in offense and red teams: It makes my defense better. Which makes me get better on offense. Which makes my defense get even better… Getting a root shell or DA credential is the addiction, the satisfaction is passing on the information to make improvements.

More and more companies are starting to realize if they limit themselves to the core fundamentals of security, they’re waiting for something bad to happen in order to know whether their steps are effective, says Schwartz. Red teaming can help them get ahead of that… Many companies are building red teams in-house to improve security; some hire outside help.

The main reason behind building a red team internally is because as it grows and improves along with defenses. As security improves, so do the skills of red teamers. Offensive experts and defenders can attack one another, playing a cat-and-mouse game that improves enterprise security, he continues. Internal teams are also easier to justify from a privacy perspective.

Overall, the pros argue a full red team can help prepare for modern attackers who will scour your business for vulnerabilities and exploit them – but they’ll help you stop real adversaries.

“The difference between a red team and an adversary is, the red team tells you what they did after they did it,” Schwartz says.

That’s such a strong ending to this article, that I had to pull a bunch out right there. Wonderful!

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