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What is Purple Teaming?

Traditionally, red and blue teams work in silos, guided by competing goals. While the red team conducts offensive drills like pen tests and ethical hacking, the blue team strengthens defenses and responds to incidents.
Because of this divide, red and blue teams have developed a naturally adversarial dynamic – but when the two work together, they create a complete picture of their organization’s security posture, rather than two fragmented ones. That’s why purple teaming is so effective.
But what is purple teaming? And why does all of this matter?

What is a Purple Team in Cybersecurity?

Purple teaming is a dynamic, tailored approach to security that tests defensive capabilities against offensive attacks. Purple team exercises measure and validate an organization’s security coverage to equip organizations with the clarity and skill set to defend against their highest priority threats.

Purple Team vs. Red Team vs. Blue Team

Purple Team

Who’s on a purple team?
Purple teaming is a collaborative approach to security that combines the skills and techniques of both red and blue teams to evaluate and fortify an organization’s security posture.

What does a purple team do?
Red teams complete offensive tests, such as penetration tests and other ethical hacking activities, and blue teams try to block or detect them via defensive techniques that realistically mirror the organization’s network. In short, purple teams test and validate an organization’s security systems, processes, and procedures in a real-world environment to ensure they are effective when the adversary truly strikes.

What is the purpose of a purple team?
Fostering communication and collaboration between offensive and defensive teams gives security teams greater visibility and a real-world perspective on their security posture. By completing realistic purple teaming activities, security teams can determine their weaknesses, their most relevant threats, and where they should focus their efforts and resources.

Red Team

Who’s on a red team?
Red teamers are experts in offensive security who test an organization’s security posture through simulated attacks that emulate real-world threat actors. They may be ethical hackers, penetration testers, or other offensive security team members.

What does a red team do?
Red teams simulate realistic attacks on their organization’s environment to assess their security standing and coverage. This is accomplished through offensive activities such as ethical hacking like social engineering attacks, penetration testing, and more exercises that emulate true threat actors.

What is the purpose of a red team?
If the red team fires an attack at the blue team that they can’t defend against, that’s an alarm signaling that there are gaps or weaknesses in the organization’s coverage. Red teams’ insights inform the blue team as to where they should be focusing their defensive efforts and what kinds of attacks the organization is most susceptible to. By emulating real-world threat actors and putting their security to the test, organizations can use red team findings to inform their security strategy and prioritize incoming threats.

Blue Team

Who’s on a blue team?
Blue teams are experts in defensive security, such as incident responders and analysts, and are responsible for defending against external and internal threats.

What does a blue team do?
Blue teams protect the organization from incoming attacks by identifying and responding to TTPs from the red team. They operate in an environment that reflects the organization’s, and have a thorough understanding of the tools and systems the security team uses. Their ultimate objective is to reduce the attack surface and block incoming threats.

What is the purpose of a blue team?
Blue team activities put an organization’s security defenses to the test in a realistic environment so they can adjust and fortify their approach before the real adversary strikes. They gain the valuable perspective and experience of defending against a threat actor without any of the risk.

What Are the Advantages and Benefits of Purple Teaming?

1. Purple teaming fosters communication and collaboration

While they typically operate in completely separate silos, purple teaming enables communication between red and blue teams.

When red and blue teams collaborate, they can develop a threat-informed defense strategy that’s continuously improved upon with feedback and insights from purple team exercises. By working together, both teams can gain a better understanding of each other’s findings and objectives, resulting in a more efficient and effective security posture.

2. Purple teaming reduces risk

Purple teaming provides key insights into an organization’s security risks and weaknesses in their defenses. Security teams that engage in purple teaming can update their risk register based on their findings and stay up-to-date with changes in their security posture.

3. Purple teaming makes teams more efficient

When red and blue teams are siloed, they don’t have access to the key insights the other team could provide. By collaborating, they can make contextualized improvements to their approaches to make their efforts more realistic and relevant to the organization’s operating reality.

4. Purple teaming helps teams achieve proactive cybersecurity

Purple teaming tests defenses before the adversary strikes – meaning they don’t have to wait for the damage to be done before they can assess and strengthen their defenses.

5. Purple teaming identifies more relevant threats

Purple teaming gives teams direction and insight into which threats are the most relevant to their organization and security environment. They’re able to prioritize based on feedback from purple teaming exercises.

6. Purple teaming reduces mean time to detect

When purple teaming exercises are completed regularly, the blue team gains more contextualized experience with incoming threats. When the real adversary strikes, they know what to look out for – and what to do when they see the warning signs.

Purple Teaming Frameworks

Traditional Purple Teaming

The most common purple teaming framework is the traditional approach. It’s a simple back-and-forth exercise wherein the red team fires an attack at the network, and the blue team attempts to identify and block the attack.

Traditional purple teaming brings offensive and defensive capabilities together on a basic level to elevate red and blue team activities. A skilled red teamer can bring a level of creativity and technical capability to the table that automation cannot replace.
Many times, organizations will outsource this function to be done once a year or so to tick-a-box and say they’ve done it – but in most cases, their findings are not operationalized or considered beyond that single activity. This is only effective when teams use purple team findings to inform their security strategy moving forward.

Automated Purple Teaming

While traditional purple teaming relies on manual processes between red and blue teams, automated purple teaming equips automation and advanced technology.

Utilizing automated tools can be faster and more efficient – machines can run more tests in a shorter period of time, processing much higher quantities of data than a manual team could alone. Additionally, in a widening talent gap, automated tools can pick up some of the labor and free up time for thinly-stretched security teams.

Some purple team activities that can be automated include:

  • Pen testing tools
  • Breach attack simulation tools
  • Adversary emulation
  • Reporting

Hybrid Purple Teaming

A hybrid approach to purple teaming combines the efficiency of purple teaming tools or platforms with the manual operation and interpretation of team members. Using tools to automate components such as vulnerability scanning or attack simulations leaves red and blue teams more time to invest in manual purple teaming processes.
Team members provide the perspective of a human attacker while the tools can streamline some processes leading up to the exercise itself, reducing the time between research, discovery, and remediation of threats.

Continuous Purple Teaming

Continuous purple teaming, a type of hybrid purple teaming, is the fusion of threat-informed defense and collective defense, where red data (attacks), blue data (detection analytics), and the people who produce that data coexist and inform one another. This results in a continuous loop of enhanced security and an improved understanding of their own environment and coverage.

By implementing insights and findings from purple team exercises, blue teams can build more effective, relevant defense strategies, and red teams can put them to a more realistic test. Turning purple teaming into a loop rather than a one-off activity enables teams to continuously improve their security standing and maintain a comprehensive view of their coverage.

This integrated process leads to a robust, repeatable, and collaborative workflow that provides each team with the context necessary to leverage purple team findings. And best of all, a continuous workflow keeps teams up-to-date with the ever-evolving threat landscape.

How Do I Get Started With Purple Teaming?

1. Set Objectives

Successful purple teaming begins with a foundation of understanding about each team members’ role and objectives of the exercise. Additionally, purple teaming exercises should focus on a specific threat or threat actor – so the red team knows how to attack, and the blue team knows what to look out for.

2. Make a Plan

Once teams are aligned, they need a plan of action. Both teams should be clear on the timeline, objectives, resources they’ll need, and how they’ll communicate to share information and stay on the same page.

3. Monitor and Measure

As purple teaming exercises are carried out, teams may find that they need to adjust their approach.

To determine whether they’re on the right track, purple teams should monitor certain metrics, such as:

  • Threats identified
  • Mean Time to Detect/Respond (MTTD / MTTR)
  • Risks mitigated
  • Efficiency
  • Team progress

4. Adjust

Depending on the effectiveness of their exercises, purple teams may need to make certain adjustments. Reasons for this may be that they’re not identifying as many threats as they had wanted, they’re taking longer to identify threats than expected, or that the team is simply not seeing enough change to their security posture to justify the exercises.
The blue team might want to take a different defensive strategy if they’re unable to detect the red team, or the red team may need to take a stronger offense if the blue team is blocking their attacks too easily. Additionally, if their outcomes aren’t meeting expectations, teams may need to reassess their objectives and predictions for the exercises.

What Is a Purple Teaming Platform?

A purple teaming platform provides a centralized location for both red and teams to collaborate on their offensive and defensive exercises. With one streamlined location, purple teaming platforms make it faster and easier for red teams to share offensive insight so that blue teams can adjust and fortify defenses as necessary.

By breaking down the wall that separates traditional red and blue teams, purple teaming platforms lead to more valuable, actionable results and make it easier on both teams to complete meaningful, collaborative work.

How SnapAttack Can Help

SnapAttack is the world’s first purple teaming platform and enables continuous collaboration and improvement through a centralized, collaborative platform. With built-in dashboards and reporting, SnapAttack provides both teams with crucial insights into the other’s activities.

Finally aligned under shared goals and contextualized data, purple teams can gain complete visibility into their organization’s security standing – and where their efforts are needed most.

With attack emulation, detection development, automated validation, and defense measurement all in one place, teams gain the freedom to be proactive and the clarity to answer the question, “Are we protected?” with confidence.