What is Red Teaming?

Red teaming is a simulated cyber attack that assesses an organization’s security by having security professionals act as pseudo-hackers to identify and exploit vulnerabilities. The scope can be open or closed, and the end goal is to provide a detailed report on vulnerabilities, methods used, and advice on fixing them, covering a range of potential attack vectors.


When considering security, it’s important to know what it looks like from the outside as well as the inside. Red teaming is designed to give an external assessor the ability to look at an environment from a potential attacker or adversaries’ perspective.  This comes in the form of an expert security professional taking the time to find and assess the public environment of an organisation or piece of software.

Red teaming involves a simulated hacker attempting to hack into an organization’s IT infrastructure and providing a report on any discovered vulnerabilities. The assessment can be performed by a team of penetration testers or an individual and is designed to find and exploit new weaknesses in the target scope. The scope of a red team assessment can be either closed or open. In a closed scope, the assets and assessment criteria are designated before testing, such as a selection of servers, firewalls, or routers. An open scope gives the penetration tester complete freedom to test any infrastructure belonging to the target organization, including social engineering attacks such as phishing.

Red Teamer in a hoodie

The end goal of a red team assessment is to provide the client with a comprehensive report on the infrastructure tested, including a summary of the tested infrastructure, any issues found, and advice on how to fix them. This gives the client the best chance to address vulnerabilities before malicious actors or hackers discover and exploit them. Red teaming often also includes a re-test to check for bypasses after the client’s infrastructure has been fixed.

How is red teaming done?

Red teaming involves a range of techniques and tools, but there is a general process followed when conducting a red team assessment:

  1. Scoping: The client and cyber security company define what is and isn’t acceptable to be tested.
  2. Reconnaissance: The penetration tester gains as much information as possible within the current authorization level, such as building lists of email addresses, websites, mail servers, and physical location information, to increase the chances of a successful attack.
  3. Exploitation: The tester uses the information gathered to launch an attack on the organization, exploiting outdated software, zero-day vulnerabilities, or launching phishing engagements. Physical attacks, such as tailgating and USB drops, may also be included if scoped.
  4. Pivot: The attacker uses any authorized accounts or data found to gain access to sensitive information and delve deeper into the network, using techniques such as password spraying, passing the hash, or further exploitation.
  5. Reporting: The tester provides a comprehensive report on any issues found and methods used to access sensitive information.
  6. Re-testing: The initial exploitation techniques are retested to ensure they are secure after being fixed. The client receives a certificate with a summary of the testing and re-test results, which can be displayed to interested parties as proof of testing
cracked file exploding with data

What does red teaming target?

Red teaming can cover a huge range of vulnerabilities and is designed to be the most comprehensive type of simulated cyber-attack. Some organisations require a test to find out about infrastructure they might not have known they had and to harden exciting solutions. Some of the potential attack vectors included in the red team assessment  are:

  • Vulnerability scanning: Scanning for known vulnerabilities in the organisation’s systems and infrastructure.
  • Social engineering: Testing the organisation’s defences against phishing attacks and other social engineering techniques.
  • Network penetration testing: Attempting to penetrate the organisation’s network and systems to identify security weaknesses.
  • Physical security: Testing the security of the organisation’s physical premises, including access controls and surveillance systems.
  • Endpoint security: Evaluating the security of the organisation’s devices and systems, including laptops, smartphones, and servers.
  • Application security: Testing the security of the organisation’s web applications and software systems.
  • Insider threat: Evaluating the organisation’s ability to detect and prevent attacks from insiders, such as employees or contractors.

Who needs a Red Team Assessment?

As a rule, red team assessments stand to improve the security of any organisation whether large or small. But they are most likely to be adopted by organisations whose value relies on a product that they offer which requires a high degree of protection not only from direct attack but also through the supply chain or insiders. These companies most likely fall into finance, defence, and medicine where the reliability of a service has to be unquestionable, and its secrecy is of the highest importance.

Red team assessments stand to improve the security of not only an organisation but also all of the employees of the organisation giving detailed information on what a potential attacker may do and which employees require extra training. It aims to secure both the physical and digital footprint and gives them the tools they require to do so.

magnifying glass searching servers and code

Red Teaming vs Pentesting

Pentesting and red teaming can be quite similar, as penetration testing is a kind of reduced version of a red team assessment. Penetration testing often improves security but gives very limited scope to a tester when conducting the test. Whereas red teaming ideally allows the simulated attacker as much freedom as possible and often gives much more dramatic results. Pentesting is also restricted in its interactions with employees of an organisation and doesn’t engage in social engineering attacks which might be used to gain greater access.

Red teaming also starts from a black box perspective where an attacker is giving an organisation and a scope but often does not include giving them any credentials other than those which are publicly available or accessible.

Frequently Asked Questions


Red Teaming Defined

A Red Team assessment is a simulated attack scenario that tests the security of an organisation. It is conducted by a team of security experts who act as a simulated adversary, attempting to penetrate the organisation’s defences and identify weaknesses in its security posture. The assessment focuses on testing the effectiveness of the organisation’s policies, procedures, and technologies, and aims to provide a comprehensive view of the organisation’s security posture and the risks it faces.


What are Red Teaming tools?

Some red teaming tools which are commonly used are:

  • c2 framework ( often cobalt strike) to manage and infect devices.
  • GoPhish to launch and monitor complex phishing engagements.
  • Nmap to map an organisations network
  • Burp Suite to attack HTTP applications
  • Linked In to gather employee information to for social engineering attacks. 
  • to make company assets based on SSL certificates.
  • dnsrecon to map a company’s DNS profile.
  • Amass to automate attack surface detection

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