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The difference between Penetration Testing and Red Team

Penetration testing versus red teaming. We often hear them used together, but in fact, they’re two different things.
So, what exactly is the difference between the terms between penetration testing and red team?
In this article, we’ll explain, with the goal to help you learn more about which one might be the best fit for your organization.

Penetration Testing:
Type of audit to assess the security of a specific part of network, system or application.
In penetration testing assessment, the consultant's will analyze and scan your chosen asset (network, application, device, physical, etc.) security by manual and automated vulnerability discovering without paying attention for his alerts.
In penetration testing methodologies, the consultant is allowed to attack like an "Automated gun" while preventing denial of services attacks (unless the customer requested).

Note that penetration testing is based on scoping only and usually carried out on the development environment, and sometimes, the results of the testing could be different in product environment, in a way you can’t predict the results.
The scoping is planned by the architects, developers and the CISO inside the organization combined with the security department. The goal is to mark the demarcate and the functionality that needs to been tested.
The red team operation that might include findings from other organization assets to the exploitation process and always carried out on the production environment.

An experienced penetration tester can identify:
  • Identifying low-hanging-fruits
  • Discovering attacker's entry points
  • Discovering advanced vulnerabilities
  • Bypassing your defensive systems
  • Data breaches issues based on the scope

All those are very important for your organization in order to take up measures against hackers and map your asset.
Penetration testing seeks to identify application layer flaws, network, and system level flaws, and opportunities to compromise your security barriers.

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Red Teaming:
A red team is an independent group that challenges an organization to improve its effectiveness by assuming an adversarial role or point of view.
It is particularly effective in organizations with strong cultures and fixed ways of approaching problems.
The United States intelligence community (military and civilian) has red teams that explore alternative futures and write articles as if they were foreign world leaders.
Little formal doctrine or publications about Red Teaming in the military exist.
In our article, we describe what is the red team in the information security industry.

Penetration testing sets out to find as many vulnerabilities and configuration issues as it can, exploit them, and to determine risk levels.
While the red team is trying to cover itself from your security department, in order to achieve the crown jewels.
In comparison to the two fields, the tools and techniques apply differently, it depends on the strategy and the organization topology.

Red teamers and real attackers have only one job to do, complete the mission by any means necessary, everything is permitted including human intervention in your organization (Under the law).
Moreover, Red team operation is a nice indication for the defensive department in the organization and helps them to handle real security crimes following that red team will always demonstrate real attackers,
every operation will be different between the organizations and the team will sometimes develop a targeted exploit for each organization.
Red teamer always builds the map attack like a puzzle, and use all the intelligence (OSINT) of the organization in order to get a foothold inside.

Red team operations will narrow objectives and a simultaneous approach. They often involve more people,
resources and time as they dig deep to fully understand the realistic level of risk and vulnerabilities against an organization’s technology, human, and physical assets.

The biggest advantage red team operation has is the end of the assessment,
the organization will get a guideline that helps them to protect the organization against real attackers and explain deeply how to protect the organization against real cyber-crimes.
Red teaming is typically employed by organizations with more mature or sophisticated security postures.
Having already done penetration testing and patched most vulnerabilities,
they’re now looking for someone to come in and try again to access sensitive information or breach the defenses - in any way they can, from many different angles.

A Red Team Operations is all about stepping into a real adversary’s shoes to get a realistic notion of your current security level and testing the effectiveness of your security programs.
By becoming the tailor-made threat that you are (or should be) worried about, we will challenge your digital, physical and human attack surfaces.
This will shed light on security issues you should be aware of and provide solutions specific to your organization. When it comes to information security, there are no "one-size fits all".

In Conclusions:
The advantages of the red team are the malleable scope and testing organizational security posture - has defined goals.
If your goal of the assessment is to test Organizational security awareness and posture and the SOC and Blue Team - you should have a Red team operation with an open scope.
The Red team will define potential targets by using reconnaissance and research on the organization and his systems each,
The Defined trophies of the Red Team should be the sensitive internal/external system or achieving confidential information.
If your organization's goal is to perform a penetration testing on environment or application, and assess the application and not the security posture, you should perform a penetration testing.

Here is a sorted table that will display the goal differences between penetration testing and red team:
Red Team Penetration Testing
Amount of goals Amount of findings
Testing of the defenders Testing the functionality of the system
Reconnaissance and research required Background information for the tested component only
Defined Mission Scope defined for specific component.
In the following video, Nimrod Levy Presents the difference between penetration testing and red team in Hebrew language:v

Sounds interesting? Check out our Web Application Penetration Testing, Network Penetration Testing and Red Team Operations services for your business and contact us!

Tags: Red Team Penetration Testing Information Security Network Penetration Testing

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