How purple teaming can strengthen business security

Martin Walsham discusses the benefits of implementing a purple team assessment process and provides a high-level structured approach to cybersecurity

As cyber threats become increasingly sophisticated, organisations are increasingly finding traditional security practices are not able to effectively defend against attacks. Uniting the forces of attack (red teaming) and defence (blue teaming), ‘Purple Teaming’ is more dynamic and collaborative, giving businesses unparalleled insights into security gaps to enable them to fortify their protection measures. The result is they are more prepared for, and resilient to, possible dangers.

To make things clear: red teams assess security by simulating attacks, while blue teams focus on defence and incident response. Meanwhile, purple teams facilitate collaboration between the two to enhance security measures. Collectively, these teams contribute to strengthening organisational cybersecurity defence and reducing vulnerability to potential threats.

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How it works

Purple teaming provides enhanced collaboration, by fostering better communication between the red and blue teams. This approach also enables a more realistic testing environment by combining offensive red team tactics with blue team defensive capabilities. This allows businesses to assess their security controls and response capabilities in a controlled, but authentic, scenario.

It provides a practical assessment of how well the organisation can detect and respond to simulated attacks, uncovering potential gaps and areas for improvement. By engaging in purple team exercises, firms are taking a more proactive approach to identifying and addressing vulnerabilities. As a result, those businesses are better positioned to test their capability to detect, identify areas of weakness, and respond to cyber attacks. This allows for improved adaptation to evolving threats, enhancement of incident response capabilities, and strengthened security posture.

Purple teaming also provides valuable learning opportunities for red and blue teams. Red team members gain insight into defensive techniques and considerations, while blue team members acquire a deeper understanding of attack methodologies.

Key steps to effective purple teaming

It is important to understand the key steps in an effective purple team assessment. These must align with industry best practice assessment frameworks such as CREST STAR, CBEST, TBEST, TIBER-EU and GBEST.

1. Define scope

The first step is to define the scope of the exercise, including assets to be protected, potential threats, and goals. It should also encompass an operational risk assessment for the test, to allow it to be carried out in a realistic way while also managing any potential risk of disruption.

2. Conduct a threat assessment

Secondly, it is essential to conduct a threat assessment to identify the threat actors targeting the critical assets in scope, the organisation and the sector, and to identify the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that these threat actors use to identify potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

3. Conduct reconnaissance

Following this, conducting reconnaissance helps identify potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

Results should be documented in a report or vulnerability assessment. Based on the results of the reconnaissance and the threat assessment, the red team can now plan their attack, documented in a test plan. This includes techniques and tools they will use to exploit the identified vulnerabilities. Then, the red team conducts the attack, attempting to breach the organisation’s defences.

The blue team’s role, meanwhile, is to detect and respond to the attack, following their incident response plan. The results of the attack should be documented in an attack report. Any response from the blue team will be documented in the incident report.

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4. Result analysis

Next, the purple team analyses the results of the attack, including the techniques used by the red team and the effectiveness of the blue team’s response. They will identify areas for improvement and provide recommendations for enhancing the organisation’s security posture. Results should be documented in a post-mortem report.

5. Remediation

After the attack, defence and analysis, any required or recommended remediation can be implemented, based on the purple team’s report.

The blue team should validate the effectiveness of the remediation measures. This is achieved through tests to ensure vulnerabilities are addressed and defences are effective. The results of the validation should be documented in a validation report.

6. Plan for improvements

Finally, it is important that the purple team continuously monitors and evaluates the organisation’s security posture to identify areas for improvement and increase resilience. A roadmap for implementing new security measures and enhancing existing ones should be developed and documented in a security improvement plan. The teams should function through a well-defined operating model or process map that enables effective collaboration and communication between them, as well as continuous improvement and enhanced security posture.

Martin Walsham is principal consultant at AMR CyberSecurity.


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