You've probably heard of these on the interwebs: Offensive and defensive application security. Red team and blue team security. Even purple team security. What do they even mean in the context of application security? And why should you know about them?
In this article, I'm going to give you a quick primer on what all of these things are, and why they're so important for the future of application security. So let's get right into it, shall we?
As the name suggests, offensive security, also known as red teaming, is the process of finding, and exploiting vulnerabilities in a system to highlight its weak points. While this might sound identical to penetration testing, there are a few key differences.
Penetration testing is the process of using security tools to scan an application and find security vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit. This often combines both automated and manual security tests. If the testing stopped there, it would simply be known as a vulnerability assessment.
But penetration testing goes one step further. The pen-testers use the information they gained during the 'scanning' phase to actually exploit the application, giving them a more in-depth understanding of the app's security posture. This allows them to create a more comprehensive report that will help the developers fix these major vulnerabilities.
Now we can talk about red team security. Red teaming, or offensive security, is the process of testing a system's security measures simulating the same methods an attacker would. Where pen-testers only attempt to exploit vulnerabilities found with their security tools, red teaming is a no-holds barred effort to use any method possible to break or compromise the application. It tends to be a lot more well-planned, organized, and intensive than regular pen-testing, involving more people and unconventional methods.
Real-world attackers don't follow the rules and can be unpredictable, and red team security is trying to simulate that.
Offensive and defensive application security are two sides of the same coin. In the next section, let's talk about the latter.
If red teaming is an outsider's perspective to application security, blue teaming is an inside-out view of your security posture. This is the process of strengthening your application's defensive measures against external threats.
Defensive security usually begins with the security team gathering data about the application, conducting a security risk assessment. The actual process of securing the apps involves implementing security procedures, protocols, and putting monitoring tools in place to check the system for unusual activity.
Regular checks and audits are a key component of defensive security to ensure that new vulnerabilities don't crop up with new builds of your application. When new weaknesses are identified, they're subsequently fixed, or new security measures are added.
Take blue and red, put them together, and what do you get? That's basically what purple team security is all about.
Purple team security is a combination of offensive and defensive application security techniques, where both red and blue teams work together to strengthen the security posture as a whole.
For example, once the red team conducts a series of attacks or exploits, they create a comprehensive report, advising the blue team on the methods they used to penetrate their defenses and how they can block similar attempts from attackers.
The blue team uses this report to build stronger security measures for the app, and let the red team know whether or not their monitoring procedures were able to detect their attack attempts. This sort of back-and-forth between the red and blue teams forms a symbiotic relationship between the offensive and defensive sides of application security.
Traditionally, application security has had a strong focus on the offensive aspect of the process. Most product teams focused their security efforts on exploiting their apps and identifying vulnerabilities. However, this is only half the battle won.
Offensive security only exists to inform and facilitate defensive security tactics by providing the necessary data and reporting to allow the blue team to build and strengthen their existing security measures.
Engineering teams need to be educated both on how to break their application and fixing it, because breaking the app exposes the cracks in its surface, and fixing it keeps their data secure from malicious actors.
All of AppSecEngineer's courses feature training material that comprehensively covers offensive and defensive application security. We even have hands-on labs that take you step-by-step through the processes of attacking and defending applications, whether they're deployed on containers, the cloud, or Kubernetes.
In the last few years, purple teaming has gained a lot of steam in the world of application security, largely because organizations have begun to recognize the importance of both offensive and defensive security teams working in-sync with each other to build stronger, better apps than ever before.