Red Team engagement

A Red Team-engagement is a simulated attack on an organization from a holistic view that can include several different parts, such as phishing, social engineering, attacks against externally exposed infrastructure as well as internal systems. The simulation is intended to be similar to a real-world attack, using the same Tools, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) used by real attackers (and often based on the specific threat actors of the targeted business sector).

What is a Red Team engagement?

Red Team engagement are often confused with the closely related term penetration testing, but differs greatly in a number of areas. While both deal with the identification and exploitation of vulnerabilities they have different methodology, goals, purpose and execution. While a pentest aims at identifying as many vulnerabilities as possible in a network or system, a Red Team engagement aim to assess an entire organizations resilience against a targeted attack with one or more specific goals.

The goal of a Red Team engagement can be, for instance to access specific sensitive information, a certain mail account or the CEO’s user account in the Active Directory domain. This often means that the attacker can act more like a real threat, acting more stealthy as the goal is not to exploit vulnerabilities that may trigger certain alarms.

During a Red Team engagement it is also common to only notify a select group of people that are aware the test is being conducted, so that the actions and reactions from the staff more closely resembles what would happen in a real-world scenario. By doing this, the organizational procedures can be evaluated and improved upon.

Why and when should a Red Team engagement be conducted?

It is recommended to perform a Red Team engagement when the security posture of the internal network is mature and tools and procedures are in place to handle threats within the organization. As the aim is to evaluate how an entire organization handles an attack, there is little need for evaluation if the procedures are not in place.

When the network has undergone an internal assessment, identified vulnerabilities fixed, procedures and monitoring are in place it would be a good time to conduct a Red Team engagement to verify that everything works as intended.

Besides these occasions, some regulatory frameworks such as Threat Intelligence-based Ethical Red Teaming (TIBER) may require you to perform Red Team exercises.

Reporting and results

The reporting of a Red Team engagement differs from that of a normal pentest, as the goals and approach to the test are different between the two test types. In this type of test, the reporting is focused around what’s called an attack narrative where the testers describes attacks performed, why the types of attack were used, what the expected reactions from the defending team was and what actually happened. As the goal is aimed at a specific target, all identified vulnerabilities may not be included, but rather the path chosen by the attackers at reaching the specified target. The report and de-briefing meeting also aims to identify improvements that have an overall impact on both a technical as well as on an organizational level.

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