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  • Writer's pictureRACHIT YADAV

What Is a Red Team in Cybersecurity?

Updated: May 7

itWhat Is a Red Team?

A “red team” is a group of cybersecurity professionals who simulate attacks against an organization’s IT defenses. Red teams adopt the role of a malicious actor, using tools and techniques common among cybercriminals to breach the security of the IT environment. Red teams usually have various roles that involve how to exploit security vulnerabilities. These roles include team leader, penetration tester, social engineer, and specialist in security areas such as network security, application security, and physical security.

What Is the Purpose of a Red Team?

The purpose of a red team is to evaluate a company’s IT security posture without exposing it to risk from threat actors. These help organizations safely identify security flaws by conducting authorized, controlled “attacks” on an IT environment. They can then help make recommendations for fixing these vulnerabilities before malicious actors can exploit them.

Different Types of Red Teams

Red teams come in various forms. Below are some ways to distinguish between different types of red teams:

  • Internal/external: Red teams may consist of internal employees, external security consultants, or a mixture.

  • Attack scenario: Red teams may be “adversarial,” meaning they are given very limited information about the target (similar to a real attacker). They may also be more cooperative, working closely with the target during the simulation.

What Is the Difference Between a Red, Blue, and Purple Team?

There are two more diverse color teams in the cybersecurity frame of an organization apart from the red team, which includes the blue and purple teams.

Red Team vs. Blue Team vs. Purple Team

  • Blue team: The red team is in charge of attacking the target, whereas the blue team is tasked with defending it. Blue team members monitor and protect the organization’s IT environment by detecting suspicious events and mitigating vulnerabilities.

  • Purple team: The purple team is a liaison between the red and blue teams. Purple team members help improve communication by sharing information about the red team’s attack methods and the blue team’s defense tactics.

How Do the Red, Blue, and Purple Teams Work Together?

Red and blue team members often work together in what is known as a “purple team exercise”(Deloitte). In this exercise, both teams share their knowledge and expertise and receive real-time feedback about the effectiveness of attack and defense techniques.

During a purple team exercise, the red team works to execute its planned attack strategies while the blue team actively monitors and defends the target system. After the exercise, both teams come together to analyze the results, identify gaps in the organization’s security, and collaboratively develop strategies to bolster defenses.

What Are Red Team Exercises?

Red team exercises (or “red teaming”) are simulations or assessments designed to evaluate an organization’s IT security structure by placing it under stress or attack. The major goal is identifying and resolving potential vulnerabilities malicious actors can exploit.

The Process of Red Teaming

Red teaming usually includes several stages from start to finish:

  1. Defining the scope of the red team engagement, including specific targets.

  2. Collecting intelligence and performing reconnaissance on the target to determine the most effective attack methods.

  3. Generating a plan for the attack, including tools and techniques.

  4. Conducting a series of controlled attacks on the target using methods such as vulnerability scanning and social engineering.

Analyzing the result of the attacks and making recommendations to improve IT security

What Are the Different Red Team Exercises?

Below are some examples of different red team exercises:

  • Network penetration tests attempt to exploit weaknesses in networks and network devices, such as misconfigurations and insecure protocols.

  • Social engineering tests attempt to trick employees into divulging confidential information or granting access to restricted resources.

  • Web application tests that attempt to exploit common application vulnerabilities such as 

  •  and cross-site scripting (XSS).

  • Physical security tests attempt to gain physical access to secure areas (such as a server room or data center).

What Are the Benefits of Red Teaming?

The major advantages include:

  • Identifying vulnerabilities: By simulating the mindset of malicious actors, red teams can help businesses detect security weaknesses without falling victim to a real cyber-attack. Red teaming provides a realistic testing environment that lets companies test their defenses against various sophisticated attacks.

  • Evaluating incident response: The red team also helps strengthen the function of the blue team (and vice versa). During a simulation, blue team members can assess how effective their detection and incident response capabilities are.

  • Awareness and compliance: Red team exercises can help companies raise awareness of IT security throughout the organization, helping avoid many common attacks. Red teaming can also help businesses demonstrate compliance with data security laws and regulations.

Examples of How Red Teaming Has Helped Organizations

One example of how red teaming helps organizations comes from Dionach, an IT security provider. A large multinational company in the financial technology industry recently contracted Dionach to conduct a red team assessment of its IT environment.

The exercise uncovered serious issues with the company’s network and physical security. In addition, Dionach identified various malicious actions that were not detected by the company’s alerting and monitoring software. Dionach worked with the client to fine-tune its monitoring devices so that similar attacks would now be detected (Dionach).

What Are the Tools Used by the Red Team?

The tools used in red teaming exercises may include:

  • Data collection and reconnaissance tools, such as open-source intelligence (OSINT) (European Union)

  • Tools and web and social media scrapers

  • Network scanning toolsthat map out the target’s network infrastructure, such as Nmap and MASSCAN

  • Exploitation frameworks that help detect vulnerabilities in an IT environment, such as Metasploit

  • Password cracking tools that attempt to brute-force entry into an IT system

How do you Begin and Build your Career in the Red Team?

Each IT professional has a different red team career path. Some red team members may opt for computer science, information technology, or cybersecurity education. Others can accumulate expertise by learning on the job through hands-on experience. In contrast, many others may obtain red team certifications that verify their ability to detect and resolve security vulnerabilities.

Which Certification/Training Program Is Best for the Red Team?

Ethical Hacking Essentials (E|HE)

EC-Council’s free Ethical Hacking Essentials (E|HE) course is ideal for beginners to get started on their red team career path. Students learn the basics of ethical hacking across 12 modules, 11 hands-on lab activities, and more than 15 hours of premium self-paced video content.

Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH)

EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker (C|EH) course is the world’s best ethical hacking and red teaming certification program. The program uses a unique Learn-Certify-Engage-Compete framework:

  • Learn: The program consists of 5 days of rigorous training across 20 modules that teach students the fundamentals of ethical hacking. Students participate in more than 220 hands-on practical lab exercises, work on 3,500 hacking tools, and learn how to hack Windows, Linux, and Android devices.

  • Certify: To receive C|EH certification, students complete a 4-hour exam with 125 multiple-choice questions. Students can also receive a C|EH practical certification, which involves a rigorous 6-hour exam that tests real-world scenarios.

  • Engage: During the C|EH program, students participate in a four-part security engagement that includes vulnerability assessment, gaining access, and exploiting IT perimeters, web applications, and mobile and IoT devices.

  • Compete: C|EH students can participate in capture-the-flag-style “Global Monthly Challenges” that evaluate their red teaming skills, racing against the clock to prove their caliber and rise to the top of the ranks.

Certified Penetration Testing Professional (C|PENT)

EC-Council’s Certified Penetration Testing Professional (C|PENT) program is the best penetration testing course for cybersecurity enthusiasts. The C|PENT certification teaches students about the industry’s best practices for penetration testing tools, techniques, and methods. C|PENT includes 14 theoretical and practical modules for detecting security vulnerabilities. Students learn about identifying weaknesses in various IT environments, from networks and web applications to the cloud and internet of things 


Red teaming is a crucial practice for organizations of all sizes and industries to evaluate and improve their IT security. As businesses get increasingly concerned with defending against cyber-attacks, being a red team member will continue to be a dynamic and fascinating career path. Learn more about the C|EH program today and kickstart your cybersecurity career now!

References1. Deloitte. Purple Team Exercise. Dionach. Why a Red Team Exercise Delivers Results: A case study looking at a recent Red Team Engagement. European Union. Open-source intelligence.

About the Author  

David Tidmarsh is a programmer and writer. He’s worked as a software developer at MIT, has a B.A. in history from Yale, and is currently a graduate student in computer science at UT Austin.    

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