When to choose red teaming over penetration testing: A guide to a robust cybersecurity program

Computers & TechnologySite Security

  • Author Nick Morgan
  • Published July 18, 2020
  • Word count 712

In the cybersecurity arena, red teaming and penetration testing have quite a reputation when it comes to ensuring business security. Given my field of work, I’ve come across plenty of clients who believe these are the same thing, when, in reality, red teaming is far more sophisticated than penetration testing.

If you’ve been thinking long and hard about your business’ security defences (as you should be!), you may have thought about whether you need to have your systems evaluated with these types of assessments.

To enjoy protections that work for your business, it’s important that you understand the capabilities, potential, and benefits of both red teaming and penetration testing. While certain companies may need to leverage both these assessments, others may need to rely on one or the other.

With this post, I hope to make this decision more straightforward for your business.

Understanding the distinction between red teaming and pen testing

While many consider red team assessments similar to penetration tests, the former is both more and less sophisticated. I say this because while it may detect fewer vulnerabilities compared to penetration tests, it looks at something more important: How your organization detects and responds to cybersecurity threats and issues.

Here, testers will try and access sensitive information and will actively seek to avoid detection. Their focus is restricted to exploiting specific vulnerabilities that will help them achieve what they’ve set out to do, which is completely exploiting your systems.

Penetration testing, on the other hand, seeks to detect as many vulnerabilities and configuration issues as possible. Moreover, these teams go on to exploit these vulnerabilities as a way of determining the level of risk within your organization.

Red team assessments are also generally more extensive compared to pen tests and take longer to complete. The average duration of a red team assessment is around a month whereas penetration tests last around 1-2 weeks.

When should you choose red teaming over a penetration test?

Given the more advanced nature of a red team assessment, these are usually best left for organizations that already have robust security structures and systems in place. For the most part, red team assessments are sought out by companies that have already conducted penetration tests and have detected and fixed patches and vulnerabilities.

When it comes to choosing between these security assessments, the better test for your organization will entirely depend on how advanced your security setup and strategies are. If you’ve only set up rudimentary defences and don’t have any idea about your level of risk, penetration testing will be more useful for you.

Once you’ve identified all vulnerabilities and have taken steps to remediate them - usually through different types of penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and other types of security assessments - red teaming is much more useful at this stage. This is because it will help you understand just how prepared your teams are to deal with a full-scale cyberattack, where the mission is to gain access to your systems and control your data.

As an organization, if you’re up-to-date in terms of vulnerability detection, a red team assessment will really be like the icing on the cake for you. If you’re not at this stage yet, it probably means you haven’t baked your cake yet - is there really any point in adding the icing just yet?

Speak to professional security teams for your cybersecurity testing needs

Beyond just knowing what your testing needs are, it’s vital that you have the support of a security team that has plenty of experience running these types of assessments.

Both penetration tests and red teaming require a fair bit of time and may disrupt your day-to-day operations. This means that when done once, they need to be done properly and help you understand the issues you may be facing; otherwise, your investment will go to waste.

I’ve found that when experienced teams are brought onboard for these activities, they not only do the testing but sit down with you to ensure that you understand exactly what’s going on and are fully aware of the implications of your results.

This is the hallmark of a good penetration testing team or a red team expert.

Despite boasting a wealth of experience and qualifications in the cybersecurity sector, Nick doesn’t like considering himself the boss. Describing himself simply as one of the co-founders of Triskele Labs, his organization is an energetic and flexible cybersecurity company ‘that makes a difficult subject simple to understand.’

Red teaming: https://triskelelabs.com/blog/red-team-basic-objectives-and-functions/

Website: https://triskelelabs.com/

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