Red Team vs. Blue Team vs. Purple Team Compared – What’s the Difference?

You’ll find many ways to improve your cybersecurity, especially if you put dedicated teams in place and have them compete against each other. That’s what happens when you have a red vs. blue team dynamic. So, what happens when you put the red team vs. blue team vs. purple team together?

In cybersecurity, the red team attacks IT infrastructure while the blue team defends it. The purple team works between them, learning from what both are doing. This type of exercise helps find vulnerabilities and holes within a company’s defenses. It’s a great way to audit infrastructure.

Having a red team try to infiltrate your company from the outside while the blue team does everything they can to defend it is a great way to find out how your company would do against a real attack. Before you start this fierce competition, you need to compare each team to understand them.

Red, Blue, and Purple Team: A Comparison

  • Red Team. This team is in charge of the offensive. They have to figure out creative ways to attack the company to infiltrate it. The red team must do everything (within certain parameters) possible to succeed.
  • Blue Team. This team is in charge of defending the company. They have to do everything they can to fend off the red team’s attacks, including checking infrastructure, updating software, and preventing social engineering attempts from succeeding.
  • Purple Team. You get this team when you mix red and blue. In other words, the purple team is a mixture of the other two teams: they join forces after the campaign is over, so they can figure out where the vulnerabilities are and what needs to be improved.

Red Team

What’s a Red Team?

The red team is in charge of the offensive during a red vs. blue team campaign. They have to attack a company’s infrastructure to simulate a real cyberattack. That way, ethical hackers can find vulnerabilities and other issues real hackers could exploit otherwise.

Ideally, red teamers have no idea what goes on within a company (so they can better imitate what a real hacker would do). For that reason, companies often outsource their red team. In contrast, blue teamers often come from within the company.

What Does the Red Team Do?

The red team attacks infrastructure. They have to use anything in their power to infect, infiltrate, and breach a company. Of course, they’ll do so within certain parameters that every team will agree on beforehand.

Red teamers employ malware, social engineering, and other tactics to accomplish their goal. For example, they can simulate what a real hacker would do and attempt a phishing attack against employees to get privileged login credentials, which, as any red teamer would know, is a very successful way to cause a breach.

Who Belongs in the Red Team?

Red teamers often are cybersecurity analysts and former hackers. Most of them are ethical hackers or penetration testers who prefer to do black box testing (i.e., penetrating a company’s infrastructure without any insider knowledge).

While joining the red team sounds exciting, this job is not for anyone. It’s a frustrating, high-stress job that requires a lot of technical knowledge. People who love a challenge and solving puzzles with many moving parts are ideal candidates for this team.

How Does the Red Team Work?

The red team has to infiltrate a system. They’ll use malware, social engineering, and other methods. However, they have to go through a recon phase before that takes place.

In other words, the red team will gather information first, assess their opportunities second, and attack the infrastructure third. Doing black box testing doesn’t mean you’ll attack blindly. Instead, you’ll plan your attack to have more chances to succeed.

This type of work requires a specific skill set that ensures the red team will do a good job.

Red Team Skills

  • Creativity. Big and small companies alike patch known vulnerabilities from the get-go. Scanning for them may lead to surprises, though that’s hardly the case. For that reason, red teamers need to be creative to breach defenses laid out by the blue team.
  • Experience. Cybersecurity is not for beginners, especially when you have to imitate a threat actor. That’s right: the red team is full of former hackers and people experienced enough to think like one. You have to experience a real cyberattack to stage a simulated one.
  • Intelligence. Gathering intelligence is key. The recon phase of any attack is the most important – because it tells you what you can and cannot do to succeed. Being able to get information is a must-have for any red teamer.

Blue Team

What’s a Blue Team?

The blue team is in charge of the defensive aspect of a cybersecurity campaign. They have to prepare a company’s defenses to fend off any attacks coming from the red team. More often than not, blue teamers are workers from the company they defend.

What Does the Blue Team Do?

The blue team plays defense. They have to prevent the red team from infiltrating the company they’re defending. At the same time, they have to ensure every moving part (including software, hardware, and employees) isn’t susceptible to an attack.

Blue teamers have a two-part job: first, they fortify the company they’re defending; second, they fend off any attacks from the red team. It’s an exhaustive process that isn’t for everyone.

Who Belongs in the Blue Team?

The blue team is full of former hackers, cybersecurity analysts, and developers. It’s a similar roaster to what the red team has – with one distinction: blue teamers often work within the company, and they know what happens within the fortress.

Those who want to play in the blue team must have the patience to wait for an attack and a cool head to defend when the red team attempts to infiltrate their defenses.

In contrast, red teamers are often outsourced and don’t know much about the company’s infrastructure they will attack (which helps them simulate a real cyberattack).

How Does the Blue Team Work?

The blue team has to work before the campaign begins. They have to look for any issues or holes in infrastructure as they update software and check the hardware. In other words, the blue team must secure the fortress before the red team launches an attack.

Once that’s out of the way, they have to wait. After a while, the red team will attack, and the blue team will have to react in an effort to shut down every attempt. At the same time, they must pay attention to employee activity to prevent red teamers from compromising workers.

Blue Team Skills

  • Awareness. Everyone in the blue team needs to be aware of their (cyber) surroundings, so they can be ready to defend anything the red team throws at them. They also have to pay attention to employees – because red teamers will try to use social engineering against them.
  • Risk assessment. It’s impossible to remain hypervigilant forever. For that reason, blue teamers need to perform risk assessments to see where the trouble is. You can’t defend a fortress unless you know its weakest parts.
  • Reactiveness. The blue team’s job is reactive in nature. They have to set up defenses first – and wait for the red team to attack. Unless they’re ready to react against the creative attacks red teamers come up with, this campaign will turn into a big blue loss.

Purple Team

What’s a Purple Team?

The purple team is the result of combining red and blue teams. This combination could happen before or after the simulated attack takes place. For example, a company could hire a purple team to divide into a red and blue team to see how they attack and defend their infrastructure.

More often than not, the purple team is the result of mixing both teams after the campaign is over, so they can cooperate to see how to improve a company’s infrastructure.

What Does the Purple Team Do?

The purple team can either divide into red and blue teams (to do what their respective part has to do) or work as one to test for vulnerabilities and report them to a company.

While the red team attacks and the blue team defends, the purple team has to take a holistic look at a system to figure out if there’s room for improvement.

In other words, the purple team works as a link or combination between the red and blue teams.

Who Belongs in the Purple Team?

The ideal purple team candidate is someone who can play both sides of the game, attack and defense. That same candidate needs to be a team player. Otherwise, the fundamental collaborative aspect of the purple team won’t be there.

Of course, purple teamers need to be cybersecurity experts. The perfect candidate for this team is someone with ethical hacking experience who has performed a handful of penetration tests and has set up defensive infrastructure in the past.

In other words, a Swiss knife kind of hacker.

How Does the Purple Team Work?

Every member of the purple team has to collaborate to improve a company’s infrastructure. Blue and red teams merge together after the campaign is over. At that point, everyone has to report their work and what needs to improve.

Purple teamers often deal with the boring part of the job. They have to write reports and explain to management what went down, what needs to improve, and what’s working properly.

It’s not the most exciting work (especially if you love cybersecurity), though it’s necessary.

Purple Team Skills

  • Collaboration. The red and blue teams merge into one after the campaign is over. At that point, they have to turn their competition into a collaborative effort to improve the company’s defenses (which is the entire point of this exercise).
  • Humbleness. Being humble is key to participating as a purple teamer. You have to realize the competition is over and see what you did right and wrong – as well as compliment anyone on the other team who, moments ago, was fighting against your efforts.
  • Patience. The work of the purple team could finish rather quickly. However, that’s not the case nine times out of ten. Things will take a while since you have to go over the campaign, see what needs improvement, and what either team could’ve done better.

Are There Other Teams?

New teams were introduced to this dynamic a few years ago. Now we have green, orange, yellow, and white teams who help with the efforts made by the other three teams. They’re not in charge of attacking and defending but reporting what the other teams do, as well as improving infrastructure based on that information.

The other teams in cybersecurity are:

  • Green Team. This team cooperates with the blue team, as they report everything that happened in the defensive effort. They report to the yellow team to see where’s room for infrastructure improvement.
  • Orange Team. This team works with the red team. They learn and report whatever that team has done, learned, and figured out. Of course, they have to communicate everything they know to the yellow team, so they can be aware of possible attacks.
  • Yellow Team. This team is full of analysts and developers. They are in charge of creating and maintaining IT infrastructure. After the other teams do their job, it’s time for them to work and improve everything they can.
  • White Team. The last piece of the puzzle is compliance analysts and managers. They are in charge of oversight and making sure nothing leaves the company (such as vital information). The white team must coordinate the red team vs. blue team campaign.

Conclusion

The red team attacks a company’s infrastructure from the outside, while the blue team defends it from the inside. Both teams join forces in the purple team by helping improve cybersecurity and patch vulnerabilities. Other teams could also join the dynamic to improve a company’s defenses.

Herman McCargo

Herman is a Microsoft Certified Security Engineer and Cybersecurity Specialist. He’s been in the technology field for over 20 years and has expertise working with the most critical technology infrastructures. He has a deep understanding of cyber risks, threat mitigation and prevention, and overseeing infrastructure.