Red Teaming vs. Penetration Test

Cybersecurity is critical to any business, as the increasing reliance on technology has made organizations more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Two standard methods used to evaluate the security of a company’s network and systems are Red Teaming and Penetration Testing. Though both methods identify security weaknesses and measure the effectiveness of a company’s security measures, they differ in their approaches and aims.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the differences between these two techniques and explore their different values.

What is Penetration Testing?

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration Testing, also called Pen Testing, is a more targeted approach to security. It involves one or more security professionals attempting to find vulnerabilities to gain access to systems or data within a defined scope. Companies often conduct annual Pen Tests on a limited set of assets, such as a single website or on one internal subnet of systems. The scope of targets to test is set by the company being tested, not the Pen Testers.

A Pentester will have a limited time frame to conduct his testing, typically one to two weeks. Due to time restraints, a Pen Test will utilize as much automation as possible to gain insights into the target quickly. The automation results will help the Pen Tester decide which aspect of a target is most valuable for further manual review.

Penetration Testers focus more on quickly discovering as many vulnerabilities as possible, which often means most of their tests are noisy on the network. However, a lot of network noise is fine since stealth is not the primary concern.

Penetration Testing Pros

  • A narrow scope can focus a Pen test on teasing out complex vulnerabilities.
  • Short testing windows allow for quick feedback on vulnerabilities within scope.
  • Noisy scans and access attempts should set off alarms for your security team. So your internal security should get some incident response practice.

Penetration Testing Cons

  • The company sets the scope, which may leave critical weak points ignored.
  • Time limitations on large scopes can lead to missing vulnerabilities.
  • Sophisticated attackers are far more stealthy, so the test lacks realism.

What is Red Teaming?

What is Red Teaming?

Red Teaming is a form of security testing that simulates real-world adversarial attacks. A Red Team is two or more cybersecurity experts who play the role of an attacker trying to achieve a goal, and this process is called a Red Team exercise. The Red Team is objective-focused, unlike Penetration Tests, which focuses on finding all the vulnerabilities. So a Red Team only needs to find the one vulnerability that gets them closer to their goal.

Red Team exercises consider the company’s entire attack surface as its target. The Red Team will look for the weakest security point when breaking in. So if attacking the human element or physical security is the quickest path to a goal, it is a target. For this reason, various attack techniques are used, including social engineering, phishing, and exploiting known vulnerabilities.

The engagement window for Red Team exercises is much longer to mimic an actual adversarial attack. Where a Pen Test is one to two weeks, the timeline for a Red Team exercise may be several weeks or even more than a month. Internal personnel should not be aware of the exercise during the engagement window. Keeping internal personnel in the dark will allow company stakeholders to understand better how security policies stand up to sophisticated attacks.

Red Teaming Pros

  • Holistic insights into the effectiveness of existing security measures and policies.
  • The SOC and Blue Teams undergo more realistic attack scenario tests.
  • The efficacy of employee security awareness training is tested.

Red Teaming Cons

  • Not all vulnerabilities within a system will be discovered.
  • Employees are targets for social engineering or phishing, which may single someone out.
  • Due to the time involved, the Red Team exercise is typically more expensive than a Pen Test.

Wrap Up; Red Teaming vs. Penetration Test

Red Teaming vs. Penetration Test

While Red Teaming and Penetration Testing have their merits, it is essential to understand that they are different. Red Teaming identifies potential weaknesses, while Penetration Testing focuses on exploiting known vulnerabilities. Furthermore, Red Teaming is typically used to evaluate the overall security posture of an organization, while Penetration Testing is more focused on a specific system or network. Additionally, the techniques used in each approach are different, with Red Teaming relying more on social engineering and Penetration Testing relying on more sophisticated system exploitation techniques.