How Senior Leaders Navigate the World of Red Team Exercises

senior leaders managing red team exercise

Cybersecurity threats have become increasingly sophisticated and pervasive. As a senior leader, it is crucial to ensure that your organization has robust defenses in place to protect its sensitive data and systems from potential breaches.

One powerful way to assess the effectiveness of these security measures is by regularly conducting a Red Team Exercise. This post will discuss how you can navigate this process and implement mitigation strategies to close identified gaps.

What Exactly is Red Teaming?

Red Teaming is an advanced form of security assessment that simulates real-world cyber threats to the organization by fully emulating an adversary. Typically spanning four to six weeks, their primary objective is to identify technical, physical, and administrative control vulnerabilities.

  • For technical controls, this generally means pinpointing technical vulnerabilities present in software and hardware components.
  • Physical security controls are frequently assessed by attempting to gain unauthorized access to facilities and properties.
  • Administrative controls are tested by evaluating the effectiveness of policies and procedures, for example, attempting to reset a user password through the helpdesk without verifying the employee’s identity.

During these exercises, the Red Team mimics an attacker’s tactics, techniques, and procedures. Open-source intelligence is gathered, the target network is identified and profiled, and a targeted attack plan is then conducted. All forms of penetration testing and social engineering strive to gain access to the organization.

Leveraging the techniques employed by attackers allows organizations to better understand their potential risks and prioritize their investments in security controls.

Setting Goals

While the primary goal of a Red Team Exercise can be broad (just gain access and see what happens), setting specific objectives can fully demonstrate the impact of any discovered gaps.

Take time to think about what is truly business critical. What is most valuable to the business? At times, this could be a physical item or asset, but many times, it is something intangible. If the core business is health insurance, perhaps the business has developed a new algorithm to streamline the claims process, which drastically reduces costs and improves patient satisfaction. This is the primary profit driver.

What would happen if an attacker could alter or obtain this information?

Alternatively, what if the business is a defense contractor developing a new propulsion system? The threat actors interested in this are most likely nation-states and the motivating factors are vastly different.

By thinking through core business functions and aligning the Red Teaming goals to these functions, the return on investment is increased and the business can be assured that their most critical assets and processes have been sufficiently evaluated.

coordinate red team exercise internal team

Coordination with Internal Teams

In most cases, a Red Team Exercise is intentionally a black-box approach with limited stakeholders aware of the ongoing activities. There are no planning meetings or team/company announcements in a real-world scenario.

Threat actors have unlimited time to observe the organization and attack without notice. The scenarios must be kept as close to day-to-day as possible to get the most value from these types of exercises.

As a senior leader, it is up to you to determine who knows of the exercise and balance the pros and cons of informing other stakeholders or teams. In a typical situation, the CISO and a limited number of security personnel are informed (usually no more than four or five individuals).

As an important note, ensure that either the Head of Physical Security or the Director of Facilities are informed of the exercise. The exercises include Physical Security Assessments and if an alarm is activated during testing, law enforcement could be called to the scene.

If it is preferred to not inform this individual, the Physical Security Assessment could be removed and considered not in-scope for the engagement.

Support for Strategic Objectives

The results from a Red Team Exercise will strengthen the organization’s security posture by identifying vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and process gaps which can then be remediated. These results also provide valuable opportunities to get buy-in for strategic objectives and validate your return on investment.

These findings can be used to gain buy-in from key stakeholders by demonstrating the potential risks associated with inadequate security measures and highlighting the need for targeted investments in specific areas of the organization’s cybersecurity program.

Quantifiable evidence is also provided to support the claim that such investments yield a positive return on investment (ROI), thereby justifying continued funding for ongoing security improvements.

Bringing it All Together

A Red Team Exercise is designed to emulate the tactics, techniques, and procedures used by real-world attackers. By simulating various scenarios, Red Team members can identify potential vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and process gaps within an organization’s security infrastructure. This enables organizations to proactively address these issues before they are exploited by malicious actors, thereby strengthening their overall security posture.

Investing in this kind of proactive testing upfront can save organizations significant costs associated with recovering from a data breach or cyber-attack. By identifying vulnerabilities before malicious actors exploit them, you can minimize the risk of monetary loss, reputational damage, and legal penalties due to non-compliance.

When done correctly, this proactive approach can find vulnerabilities, process gaps, and serve as your penetration testing requirement for various regulations and frameworks.

Are you ready to test the state of your security? Contact us today so we may learn more about your ecosystem and if we can help secure it better.

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