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Much like the military, cybersecurity involves offensive and defensive strategies to uncover vulnerabilities before they happen, as well as be ready to protect assets, networks, and systems when an attack happens.

On the proverbial battlefield, organizations employ red teams (offensive), blue teams (defensive), and sometimes purple teams (both) as a proactive approach to improve their security posture.

Learn more about the differences between red team and blue team cybersecurity, the key skills required for each team, potential career paths, and certifications required.

Understanding offensive cybersecurity

Offensive cybersecurity simulates attacks so organizations can assess their vulnerabilities and current security measures. Imagine a soccer team getting ready for a championship game. As preparation, the team would analyze their opponent’s game for weaknesses and vulnerabilities, then attempt to exploit them during the match through various strategic maneuvers. Similarly, offensive cybersecurity involves gathering intelligence on an organization’s defences and networks, identifying their weaknesses (like outdated software or lax access controls), and attacking them using strategies like brute force or phishing (more on this below).

Understanding defensive cybersecurity

Unlike offensive cybersecurity, which focuses on identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities, defensive cybersecurity aims to prevent and respond to cyber threats effectively. Using our soccer team as an example again, their defence team would need a solid strategy with planned maneuvers to block their opponents’ attacks on their goalpost. Similarly, defensive cybersecurity uses strategic measures like firewalls and intrusion detection systems to block threats like malware and unauthorized access attempts and continuously monitor networks and systems for potential threats.

What is a red team?

A red team is hired specifically to attempt to break through an organization’s defensive networks, expose security gaps, and identify vulnerabilities in its defensive strategy. Red teams get into the minds of hackers and need to think outside the box to try new, creative approaches to breach an organization’s security.

Red team activities

Some red team tasks include:

  • Penetration testing: Using automated tools and manual techniques to gain unauthorized access, escalate privileges, and exfiltrate sensitive data.

  • Social engineering: Using tactics like phishing, spear phishing, pretexting, and phone calls to manipulate individuals into revealing sensitive information or compromising security.

  • Physical security testing: Attempting to bypass physical barriers and gain unauthorized access to restricted areas.

  • Wireless network assessment: Assessing wireless network security by using techniques like wireless packet sniffing, deploying rogue access points, and brute-force attacks against Wi-Fi passwords.

  • Reporting and recommendations: Providing detailed reports that highlight vulnerabilities and weaknesses, along with recommendations for improvements.

Red team skills

Red team members should have the following skills:
Hard skills

  • Software construction, operating systems, and security protocols

  • Scripting and programming

  • Reverse engineering

  • Penetration testing

  • Social engineering

Soft skills

  • Adversarial thinking

  • Problem-solving

  • Creativity

  • Collaboration

  • Ethical mindset

Red team career path

If you like the idea of playing hacker for a living, look for jobs like:

  • Penetration tester (Avg. salary: $87,697)

  • Ethical hacker (Avg. salary: $92,029)

  • Information security consultant (Avg. salary: $90,485)

  • Red team analyst (Avg. salary: $60,839)

Red team certifications

Some examples of certifications that might be required of a red team member or employee may include:

  • CompTIA PenTest+

  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

  • Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

  • EC-Council Licensed Penetration Tester (LPT)

  • GIAC Certified Penetration Tester (CPEN)

  • IACRB Certified Penetration Tester (CPT)

  • Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)

  • Certified Security Analyst (ECSA)

  • INE Junior Penetration Tester (eJPT)

Job listings usually include the certifications (or equivalent) required for a role. If you’re interested in offensive cybersecurity, understanding these certifications and bolstering your education will make you a valuable candidate once it’s time for your job hunt.

What is a blue team?

Where red teams are the hypothetical bad guys, blue teams are the good guys. Blue teams defend an organization's networks against potential breaches and security threats. They implement proactive security measures for vulnerabilities uncovered by red teams, detect and respond to security incidents, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and industry standards.

Blue team activities

Blue team tasks include:

  • Network monitoring: Analyzing network traffic, log data, and security alerts.

  • Incident response: Identifying the type and scope of a cybersecurity incident, containing the threat, and restoring systems and operations.

  • Vulnerability management: Applying security patches, implementing configuration changes, and deploying security updates to mitigate known vulnerabilities.

  • Security controls and policies: Implementing and enforcing access control mechanisms, encryption protocols, endpoint security solutions, and security awareness training.

  • Cybersecurity awareness training: Providing cybersecurity awareness training to employees, including security best practices and organizational policies and procedures.

  • Security architecture and design: Collaborating with IT teams and management to design and implement secure architectures and solutions that align with the organization's security objectives.

Blue team skills

Blue team members should have the following skills:
Hard skills

  • Network protocols, architecture, and security controls

  • Endpoint security

  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platforms

  • Vulnerability management

  • Incident response

  • Security tools and technologies

  • Scripting and automation

  • Compliance and regulatory knowledge

Soft skills

  • Communication

  • Problem-solving

  • Adaptability

  • Attention to detail

  • Resilience

  • Continuous learning

Blue team career path

If you’re interested in a more defensive cybersecurity role, look for jobs like:

  • Cybersecurity analyst (Avg. salary: $81,384)

  • Incident responder (Avg. salary: $88,758)

  • Security architect (Avg. salary: $128,688)

  • Threat analyst (Avg. salary: $76,860)

Blue team certifications

Some examples of certifications that might be required of a blue team employee include:

  • CompTIA Security+ (or equivalent certification, such as Lighthouse Labs’ Cybersecurity Program diploma)

  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

  • Certified Information Security Auditor (CISA)

  • GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC)

  • EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA)

  • Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

As with red team certifications, be sure to review job listings for the certifications (or equivalent) required for a role.

The role of cybersecurity in modern businesses

As more businesses transform digitally, the demand for cybersecurity professionals will only increase. 85% of Canadian organizations were hit with a cyber attack in 2022, with the average cost of a data breach at $5.4 million. And cyber crimes aren’t just targeted at large enterprise companies. 43% of cyber attacks are targeted at small businesses—phishing/social engineering being the most frequent type of attack.

No industry is safe from cyber crime, either. In 2023, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) experienced two data breaches from malicious code embedded on their website.

Tech companies, financial institutions, healthcare organizations, governments, retail and E-commerce companies, and educational institutions are just a few examples of the types of industries that suffer from cyber attacks.

This means the market is hot for cyber professionals—especially blue teams—as companies gear up to protect their systems, networks, and data from cyber threats.

Emerging trends in cybersecurity

AI and machine learning

The biggest trend emerging in cybersecurity is the use of AI and machine learning to enhance security teams’ capabilities.

Rich Streeter, Senior Technology Consultant at Sertainty says AI will replace the tedious work that cyber defenders do today, like going through log files and analyzing large datasets to detect anomalies.

“My suspicion is the role of the network administrator will be highly impacted both in terms of how many network administrators are needed and more importantly the amount of mistakes in network configurations that will occur,” he says. “An AI system should be able to greatly reduce the amount of attack surfaces that will be available.”

Internet of Things (IoT security)

Internet of Things (IoT) refers to physical objects that connect and exchange data with other devices over the internet. These can range from smart home devices like thermostats and smart doorbells, to connected cars, to industrial machines. IoT collects and transmits large amounts of data, making them ripe for attackers to steal sensitive information. Because many IoT devices have limited built-in security features and diverse deployment environments, this leads to new vulnerabilities that cyber attackers can exploit. Penny Longman, Director of Information Security for the Fraser Health Authority says a proactive approach to cybersecurity is increasingly important. “We still have devices running Windows XP…but it's better software design, better application security, better architectural design," she says.

Read the full interview with Longman here.

Building a career in cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is an extremely in-demand industry as incidents continue to surge. This means if you have an interest in becoming a cybersecurity professional, now is a great time. From small businesses to large corporations, companies in a variety of industries are investing in cybersecurity to avoid the financial and brand implications of a cyber attack.

Lighthouse Labs prepares you for a career in blue team cybersecurity with an intensive and immersive 12-week or 30-week flex program. Graduates achieve proficiency in line with entry-level certification requirements, including CompTIA Security+.

You’ll learn technical skills like incident response (the most in-demand specialization), network security, coding, and more, with hands-on learning and mentor feedback to prepare you for the real world. Our program also focuses on important soft skills needed to succeed in cybersecurity to make you a well-rounded candidate when job hunting.

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Become a Cyber Security Professional in as little as 12 weeks!

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What is the difference between red and blue teams in cyber security?

The red team focuses on simulating cyber attacks to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in an organization's defences, while the blue team is responsible for defending against and mitigating cyber threats.

Is SOC a red team or blue team?

A Security Operations Center (SOC) typically functions as part of the blue team, with security personnel responsible for monitoring, detecting, analyzing, and responding to cybersecurity incidents in real-time.

What is a purple team in cyber security?

A purple team in cybersecurity combines elements of both red teams and blue teams as the two teams work to simultaneously test and defend an organization’s security. The goal is to improve overall cybersecurity posture by knowledge sharing between offensive and defensive teams.

Is red team better than blue?

Neither the red team nor the blue team is inherently "better" than the other; rather, they serve complementary roles in cybersecurity. Both teams play critical roles, and their effectiveness often depends on collaboration, communication, and coordination between the two teams.