Beyond Red and Blue: What Is Purple Teaming in Cyber Security?

May 30, 2024 • April Miller

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The original approach to protecting organizations’ digital assets has always used two teams — the red and the blue. One involves testing the system’s defenses, while the other is tasked with defending against attacks in real-time. However, the division of these two teams often results in missed opportunities for strategic defense mechanisms. By using purple teaming in cyber security, you can surpass the limitations of two cyber security methods and enhance your security posture. 

What Is Purple Teaming in Cyber Security?

A purple team represents a group of cyber security professionals from the red and blue teams. While organizations use purple teaming to combine forces, it also allows for the chance to create a constant feedback loop. Those who work in the red and blue teams can learn from each other’s strategies to enhance an organization’s IT security measures. 

In practice, purple teaming involves conducting joint exercises where red teams simulate attacks under controlled conditions, and blue teams defend against them. The immediate goal is to test and refine the defensive mechanisms in place, but the broader objective is to create continuous improvement. Bringing two teams together tightens security protocols and builds a stronger cyber security workforce. As such, the company can become more adept at responding to threats and addressing wherever vulnerabilities exist.

How Does Purple Teaming Work?

IT teams structure purple teaming around continuous interaction between the red and blue teams. The process works by starting with joint planning sessions. Each team collaborates to design realistic cyberattack scenarios that test specific aspects of the organization’s security framework. These exercises help you understand the blue team’s defensive mechanisms and refine them through direct engagement with the red team’s offensive techniques.

During the execution phase, the red team launches attacks that mimic real-world threats. The blue team then implements its defensive strategies. Observers from both teams monitor the exercise, gathering data on how they detect, manage and mitigate attacks. 

Once the exercise is over, both teams come together to discuss the outcomes and focus on identifying successful strategies, vulnerabilities or failures. This way, they can develop actionable strategies to strengthen the organization’s cyber security tactics and overcome the latest threats.

The Benefits of Purple Teaming in Cyber Security

In cyber security, purple teaming offers you several advantages you get from red and blue teaming. 

Enhanced Threat Detection

Purple teaming greatly improves an organization’s ability to detect and respond to cyber threats. By integrating both teams’ tactics, you better understand potential security breaches. It ensures the blue team is familiar with the latest hacking techniques and knows how to respond more effectively. As a result, you can identify threats earlier and respond more swiftly.

Accelerated Learning and Skill Development

Red and blue teams often work in silos, which can limit their understanding of the other’s strategies and thought processes. Purple teaming breaks down these barriers by supporting open exchanges of knowledge and tactics. Shared learning helps both teams refine their skills, which is especially crucial since cyber threats are constantly evolving.

Strengthened Security Posture

Through continuous collaborative testing, you can validate security measures and improve them regularly. This repeatable process helps organizations stay ahead of cybercriminals by ensuring their defenses evolve as quickly as attackers’ tactics. Additionally, a deeper understanding of attack and defense mechanisms builds a more proactive approach to cyber security. 

Cost-Effectiveness

Setting up purple teaming may require initial investments for training and staffing purposes. However, it can be highly cost-effective in the long run. Purple teaming reduces the likelihood and impact of security breaches, which costs $9.48 million on average. Moreover, you gain more efficiency from shared efforts and resources. This ensures the organization can optimize its cybersecurity budget over time.

Getting Started With Purple Teaming in Cyber Security

Since purple teaming benefits companies in numerous ways, they may want to learn how to get started to ensure it works effectively. 

1. Assess Current Capabilities and Needs

The first step to successfully implementing purple teaming is looking into the organization’s cyber security landscape. This should also include assessing the effectiveness of red and blue team activities. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your current security measures to identify where purple teaming could bring the most benefit.

Then, align the purple team objectives with the broader goals of the organization’s security needs. This will ensure the purple team’s efforts stay focused while aligning with your overall security strategy. 

2. Assemble Your Purple Team

Form your purple team by selecting members from red and blue teams. Consider choosing those who have expertise and are open to collaboration and cross-training. Next, you’ll want to outline their roles and responsibilities, ensuring all team members have clear expectations of purple teaming.

3. Develop a Purple Teaming Framework

Create joint exercises by designing realistic scenarios that reflect real-life threats. These exercises should challenge your team’s offensive and defensive capabilities so it can grow and adapt. 

Effective communication is also crucial for purple teaming success in cyber security. Develop protocols that ensure clear and timely exchanges between team members during planning and debriefing sessions.

4. Conduct Regular Training and Simulations

Implement a regular schedule for purple team exercises. Regular training will keep your team sharp and prepared for real incidents and help to improve your security practices. After each exercise, gather feedback from all participants to identify what worked and what didn’t. Use this feedback to refine your approach and update your training scenarios to address new or overlooked threats.

5. Measure Progress and Adjust

Ensure you define metrics to measure the purple team’s efforts. These could include the number of vulnerabilities discovered and the time to detect and respond to incidents. Next, it helps to review your team’s performance against these metrics. This way, you can adjust your strategies and meet changing business objectives.

Implementing Cyber Security Success With Purple Teaming

Using purple teaming in cyber security is a strategic move that can help your organization’s defenses become stronger. It fills the gaps in communication and skill between teams and facilitates continuous improvement and collaboration. As you move forward, nurture an environment that encourages learning and adaptability. That way, your team can stay ahead of the latest cyber threats.

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