You’ll have heard of red and blue teams, but what is a purple team?
A purple team facilitates the combination of red and blue team activities to foster a collaborative approach to improving cyber security. This comprehensive guide will detail everything you need to know to understand what a purple team does, its key responsibilities, and how they can benefit you.
The article will also explore how you can become a purple team member by delving into the tools and methodologies this team uses, the individual skills required to fulfill this complex role, and the certifications needed to land a job.
Let’s get started exploring what a purple team is!
Understanding Red and Blue Teams
Before exploring what a purple team is and how they are a key component in strengthening your organization's security, you must first understand what red and blue teams are.
A red team is responsible for testing security controls and uncovering flaws in IT systems. They simulate real-world cyber attacks by attacking systems and trying to exploit any vulnerabilities they find. The team then reports these vulnerabilities to be fixed before a black hat hacker exploits them.
A blue team defends systems by implementing security controls that protect against cyber attacks. The team then monitors these controls and responds to any emerging threats likely to target their organization. They protect an organization's critical assets 24/7.
A purple team combines elements of both the red and blue teams. They combine the red team’s attack techniques and the blue team’s defensive controls to find ways to improve the cyber security posture of your organization. Let’s look at how they do this.
For a detailed comparison of the teams read Red Team vs Blue Team: Which Is the Best Choice for You?
What Is a Purple Team?
A purple team uses a collaborative approach to cyber security. They combine the expertise and experience of both the red and blue teams to improve the cyber security effectiveness of your organization. This combination of red and blue gives the team the name “purple.”
The purple team uses cooperation and knowledge sharing between the offensive red and defensive blue teams to bridge the gap between each side of cyber security. They use the red team’s ability to simulate real-world attacks and identify weaknesses, along with the blue team’s capabilities around implementing security controls that can address these weaknesses.
The collaboration and communication of attack techniques and defensive tactics to mitigate these techniques allow the purple team to create a continuous feedback loop. This loop helps your organization strengthen its security posture and stay up-to-date with emerging threats.
Purple Team Roles and Responsibilities
Now you know what a purple team is, let’s look at the key role this team plays in an organization and the responsibilities that come with this role.
The role of a purple team in your organization is to facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration between the red and blue teams. They take charge of security initiatives and projects that require input from both the offensive and defensive sides of cyber security.
For instance, they may need to know the latest attack techniques used by a threat actor from the red team and the most efficient security controls to mitigate these techniques from the blue team. The purple team would facilitate this knowledge sharing and assess where there are gaps in the organization’s security. They would then collaborate with the two teams to identify the most effective way to address these gaps.
Taking the lead on knowledge sharing and collaboration between the red and blue teams means that the purple team has the following key responsibilities:
- Coordination: The team is responsible for coordinating the efforts of the red and blue teams in joint purple teaming exercises that test the security of the organization.
- Facilitation: The team facilitates the communication and execution of joint purple teaming exercises and information sharing between teams.
- Knowledge sharing: The purple team establishes communication channels and resources where the teams can share information.
- Continuous improvement: The purple team drives the continuous improvement of an organization’s security posture by identifying weaknesses, evaluating security controls, and making remediation recommendations.
- Training and skill development: The purple team assists in the training and skill development of both the red and blue teams by facilitating cross-discipline training and knowledge sharing.
- Improving defense effectiveness and optimizing security investments: The purple team must measure the effectiveness of existing security measures and optimize them where possible by testing their effectiveness at preventing cyber attacks.
Purple Team Methodologies
To help them fulfill these key responsibilities, the purple team will use cyber security methodologies to standardize their work.
A popular methodology used by the purple team is the MITRE Adversarial Tactics, Techniques, & Common Knowledge (ATT&CK). This framework comprehensively categorizes the known tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) threat actors use during cyber attacks. It provides a common language to describe how hackers attack systems and is extensively used throughout cyber security.
A purple team uses this methodology to map the TTPs that threat actors are likely to use against their organization so they can better protect themselves. For instance, you may discover that an adversary will use a Spearphishing Attachment (T1566.001) to gain initial access to your organization. You can use your red team skills to test if this would be successful against your organization, and then your blue team skills to mitigate this weakness.
The MITRE ATT&CK framework will help you test for known TTPs and MITRE’s complementary Design, Develop, and Deploy, Effects (D3FEND) framework to defend against said TTPs.
MITRE D3FEND documents a comprehensive list of defensive measures to mitigate specific TTPs described in the MITRE ATT&CK framework. This mapping of offensive technique to corresponding defensive countermeasure allows a purple team to develop effective defensive strategies quickly.
Purple Team Tools
Along with a methodology, the purple team will use various tools used by the blue and red teams and tools the teams share. These tools allow the purple team to test systems and improve the effectiveness of the security controls your organization employs efficiently.
Blue team tools used by the purple team
- Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platforms - Microsoft Sentinel, QRadar, Datadog, Elastic Security, and Splunk.
- Endpoint security tools - OSSEC, ClamAV, SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux), CrowdStrike Falcon, and Microsoft Defender for Endpoint.
- Threat Intelligence Platforms (TIP): MISP, ThreatConnect, and Recorded Future.
- Threat modeling tools: Microsoft Threat Modelling Tool, OWASP Threat Dragon, and IriusRisk.
Red team tools used by the purple team
Shared tools used by the purple team
- Operating systems - Kali Purple
- Networking tools - Nmap, Wireshark, and Dig
- Information gathering and enumeration tools - Whois, Bloodhound, and PowerView
- Vulnerability assessment and management tools - GVM (formerly OpenVAS), Nessus, and Metasploit.
- Collaboration and information sharing tools: JIRA, Confluence, Slack, and Microsoft Teams.
This is just a brief list of tools a purple team could use. For a more details breakdown of the top tools used on both the red and blue sides, give the following articles are read:
- 25 Top Penetration Testing Tools for Kali Linux in 2023
- Top 25 Linux Security Tools to Boost Cyber Defense
- 25 Essential Threat Hunting Tools for Your Arsenal in 2023
If you want to find out which tool is best for your use case, take a look at:
Benefits of a Purple Team
A purple team brings several benefits to your organization that help improve its overall cyber security posture.
The benefits of a purple team include the following:
- Enhanced collaboration and knowledge sharing: A purple team opens communication channels between teams to foster a collaborative approach to tackling security problems.
- Improved security defenses: The purple team identifies weaknesses and quickly implements security controls by combing red and blue team knowledge.
- Validation of security controls: The purple team can quickly validate if a security control works as expected by employing their red team knowledge.
- Optimization of security investments: The team can use joint purple teaming exercises to test which security controls are effective at preventing cyber attacks and optimize these controls.
- Continuous improvement and learning: The purple teams allow the red and blue teams to learn from one another and continuously improve their skills.
How to Get Into Purple Teaming
Becoming a purple team member requires knowledge and experience on both sides of cyber security. You need to know how to attack systems using red team techniques and how to defend systems by implementing effective security controls. This requires you to possess strong technical skills and certain soft skills to facilitate collaboration between the two security teams.
The Technical Skills Required
Technical skills (or hard skills) are the specific knowledge and expertise required to perform the tasks that make up a particular profession. For a purple team member, this includes foundational IT skills, such as programming, networking, and operating systems. As well as cyber security specific skills like penetration testing, incident response, and vulnerability assessment.
A purple team member does not need to become an expert in any particular cyber security skills as they can rely on the domain expertise of team members when they collaborate with them. However, a basic understanding of various cyber security skills is needed.
Key technical skills of a purple team member:
- Penetration testing
- Red teaming techniques, tactics, and procedures
- Incident response
- Vulnerability assessment
- Investigation and root cause analysis
- Operation systems
- Data analysis
The Soft Skills Required
Aside from technical skills, a purple team member must possess certain soft skills to facilitate collaboration between the red and blue teams.
Soft skills are interpersonal skills that allow you to interact effectively with others and navigate the modern workplace. These skills are not cyber security related but are essential for success in any profession. They include skills such as teamwork, communication, and leadership.
You must master these skills if you want to become a member of the purple team, as it is vital that you can coordinate and organize the collaboration of different teams. This requires you to be a capable communicator, strong team player, and efficient problem solver.
Key soft skills of a purple team member:
- Conflict resolution
Purple Team Certifications
Purple teams consist of cyber security professionals who understand how to attack and defend systems. This knowledge has typically been gained through certifications that fall under both the red and blue side and industry experience. For instance, you may learn how to attack systems by obtaining the OSCP and how to defend systems by getting your CySA+.
Recently there have been certifications tailored specifically for purple team members, including the GIAC Defending Advanced Threats (GDAT) from SANS and the Certified Purple Team Analyst (CPTA) from CyberWarFare Labs. However, these more advanced certifications require prerequisite knowledge in basic red and blue team skills.
If you want to join the purple team, start out by gaining entry-level red and blue team certifications and then build yourself up to tackling a more advanced purple team certification. To discover out where to start read Top Entry-Level Cyber Security Certifications for You in 2023.
Popular purple team credentials and certifications:
Looking for cheat sheets? Try out:
A purple team combines elements of the red and blue team to improve the cyber security posture of an organization using collaboration and information sharing. They perform joint purple team exercises that use the red team’s attack techniques to reveal vulnerabilities and the blue team’s defensive countermeasures to mitigate security gaps. This approach optimizes an organization’s security investments by efficient and continuous improvement.
To become a purple team member, you need skills that transcend the red and blue sides. From penetration testing to incident response, you must have a wide range of technical knowledge and soft skills to coordinate effective collaboration and teamwork. You saw various industry certifications that will help land you are role on a purple team, but a good place to start is with entry-level certifications on both sides.
If you want to learn the skills required to become a purple team member, try one of these training courses:
Frequently Asked Questions
An example of a purple team exercise would be a mock ransomware scenario. This scenario would progress in six steps:
1. The purple team would work collaboratively to develop a ransomware scenario that mimics a real-world attack.
2. The team would plan and coordinate with everyone involved to establish communication channels, define the scope of the exercise, and set any rules of engagement.
3. The red team would execute the ransomware scenario and emulate any real-world TTPs a specific ransomware group may employ during an attack.
4. The purple team would coordinate with the blue team to record the detection and response activities performed in relation to the attack.
5. The purple team would then facilitate the collaboration between the teams, where each team will share information, insights, and observations concerning the attack.
6. Finally, the purple team will analyze the results of the exercise and write a report that includes lessons learned, vulnerabilities exposed, and specific recommendations to address any areas for improvement.
The benefits of a purple team include the following:
• Enhanced collaboration and knowledge sharing: A purple team opens communication channels between teams to foster a collaborative approach to tackling security problems.
• Improved security defenses: The purple team identifies weaknesses and quickly implements security controls by combing red and blue team knowledge.
• Validation of security controls: The purple team can quickly validate if a security control works as expected by employing their red team knowledge.
• Optimization of security investments: The team can use joint purple teaming exercises to test which security controls are effective at preventing cyber attacks and optimize these controls.
• Continuous improvement and learning: The purple teams allow the red and blue teams to learn from one another and continuously improve their skills.
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