Most IT pros find red team exercises more effective than blue team testing

More than one-third of security professionals’ defensive blue teams fail to catch offensive red teams, a study from Exabeam reveals.


The survey, conducted at Black Hat USA 2019, also showed that 68% find red team exercises more effective than blue team testing, and more companies are practicing red over blue team testing.

As cyberattacks become increasingly sophisticated and hack techniques become more highly targeted, organizations must learn how digital adversaries think to help identify gaps in their security programs.

Red teams consist of internal or hired external security professionals that emulate cybercriminals’ behaviors and tactics and gauge the effectiveness of the company’s current security technologies.

Blue teams consist of the organization’s internal security personnel, tasked with stopping the simulated attacks. In these test scenarios, the blue team must react without preparation, to give the company the most realistic picture of its defensive capabilities.

The study showed that 72% of respondent organizations conduct red team exercises, with 23% performing them monthly, 17% quarterly, 17% annually, and 15% bi-annually. Sixty-percent conduct blue team exercises, with 24% performing them monthly, 12% quarterly, 13% annually, and 11% bi-annually.

The fact that so many organizations practice these exercises monthly speaks volumes about their maturity and dedication to fortifying their security posture.

Not only do more organizations practice red team testing, but 35% of respondents claim that the blue team never or rarely catches the red team, while 62% say they are caught occasionally or often. Only 2% say they always stop the red team, emphasizing that organizations must constantly evaluate and adjust their security investments to keep up with today’s adversaries.

Promisingly, the study found that 74% of IT security professionals have seen their companies increase security infrastructure investment as a result of red and blue team testing, with 18% calling the budget changes significant. Only 25% claimed that their company has never upped its security budget after performing these tests.

The survey also identified communication and teamwork (27%) as the top skill blue teams need to work on, followed by knowledge of the attacks and tactics (23%), threat detection (20%), incident response time (17%) and persistence (8%).

“Adversaries’ offensive tactics evolve more rapidly than the majority of security technologies on the market today. It’s abundantly clear that regular and relevant red/blue team testing helps companies develop their security capabilities,” said Stephen Moore, chief security strategist, Exabeam.

“The study also demonstrates that while having technical knowledge is a necessary foundation for all security professionals, interpersonal skills are highly sought after to promote more cohesive teams and better cooperation, especially during an incident or intrusion.

“We encourage companies to employ these types of testing exercises to find and fill security gaps, which, over time, become methods to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their cybersecurity defenders.”

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