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What is purple teaming and why is it useful?

Networks are under attack and in recent years, securing IT networks and data has never presented a greater challenge. With an estimated 6.4 billion fake emails making their way around the world everyday, along with 4,000 ransomware threats, and average data breach costs that soar into the millions, CISOs are constantly preparing security teams to “assume breach” and ensure optimal levels of business cyber readiness.

In preparing for cyber adversaries, and to improve overall security effectiveness, CISOs rely on a variety of prevention and defense strategies and exercises. Continuous cyber security testing provides essential levels of visibility into systems. Red teams and blue teams are commonly used to validate that security systems perform as intended. However, stopping advanced adversaries requires an in-depth approach, which is why some organizations and groups of security analysts have turned to ‘purple teaming’.

What is purple teaming?

In cyber security, both ‘red teams’ and ‘blue teams’ play different roles in testing an organization’s security. When an organization undergoes this type of security testing, a red team typically pretends to be a cyber attacker. A blue team attempts to defend against attacks and responds to mock incidents, allowing an organization to assess weak points in security.

Purple teaming refers to a methodology and testing exercise where members of a red team and members of a blue team closely work together for purposes of organizational feedback maximization and knowledge transfer.

The first goal of purple teaming includes vulnerability detection, threat hunting, and network monitoring via accurate simulation of common threat scenarios, leading to the development of new prevention and detection techniques. The next goal consists of conducting assurance activities that deliver a tailored, realistic cyber security projection to the organization that is undergoing testing.

Another way to think about it is that knowledge acquisition during purple teaming enables organizations to obtain a better understanding of cyber criminals’ Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs). In summary, purple teaming enables organizations to measure detection and response capabilities in ways that reflect real-world potentialities, and that allow for the elevation of cyber security preparedness levels.

The need for purple teaming

While red teams and blue teams can and should work independently, at times, new insights are uncovered when the teams work together. As implied above, purple teaming doesn’t necessarily involve the creation of a new team, with new staff. A purple team may consist of members of an existing red team and members of an existing blue team who are set-up to collaborate. One can conceptualize purple teaming as more of a process and an activity than as an independent team in its own right.

Benefits of purple teaming

1. Blue team learning opportunity. The ability to participate in an attack provides a blue team with a stronger understanding of how attackers think and operate, enabling them to more effectively deploy technologies and tactics that can fend off actual cyber attackers.

2. Increase performance without more budget. Organizations that leverage purple team exercises can improve defense and offense without additional buy-in or security investments.

3. Security improvement streamlining. Within the security industry, some view purple teaming as a conceptual framework that runs throughout an organization. In turn, this can foster a culture of collaboration that encourages continual cyber security improvement.

4. Insight acquisition. As noted above, purple teaming provides an internal security team with a critical understanding of gaps in a security posture and helps teams zero in on areas that need improvement.

In summary

Purple teaming is a means of testing an organization’s cyber security. Ultimately, purple team testing enables organizations to reconsider whether or not the right security controls are in-place, and whether or not they are delivering the desired outcomes. Purple team testing can assist organizations in determining where and how to expand or reconfigure incident prevention, detection and response capabilities.

With effective purple team testing, combined with vulnerability management, and other security activities, the likelihood of a cyber attack recedes. If your organization wishes to undertake this type of exercise, consider leveraging the related MITRE ATT&CK resources.

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