Blue teaming is the practice of creating and protecting a security environment and responding to incidents that threaten that environment. Blue team cybersecurity operators are adept at monitoring the security environment they protect for vulnerabilities, whether pre-existing or induced by attackers. Blue teamers manage security incidents and use the lessons learned to harden the environment against future attacks.
So why are blue teams important? What roles do they actually take on?
Why Is Blue Teaming Important?
Products and services built on technology are not immune from cyberattacks. The responsibility falls, first, on technology providers to protect their users from internal or external cyberattacks that could compromise their data or assets. Users of technology also share this responsibility, but there is little a user can do to defend a product or service with poor security.
Regular users cannot hire a department of IT experts to design security architectures or implement features that boost their own security. That’s the fiducial responsibility of a company that deals in hardware and network infrastructure.
Regulatory organizations like the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) also play their part. NIST, for example, designs cybersecurity frameworks companies use to ensure IT products and services meet security standards.
Everything Is Connected
Everyone connects to the internet through hardware and network infrastructures (think your laptop and Wi-Fi). Important communication and businesses are built on these infrastructures, so everything is connected. For example, you take and save pictures on your phone. You back up those files to the cloud. Later on, social media apps on your phone help you share moments with your family and friends.
Banking apps and payment platforms help you pay for stuff without physically queuing at a bank or mailing a check, and you can file taxes online. All of these happen on platforms you connect to via a wireless communication technology embedded in a phone or laptop.
If a hacker can compromise your device or wireless network, they can steal your private pictures, bank login details, and identity documents. They can even impersonate you and steal stuff from people in your social circle. They can then sell this stolen trove of information to other hackers or make you ransom it.
Worse still, the cycle does not end with one hack. Falling victim to one hack already doesn’t mean other attackers will avoid you. Odds are, it makes you a magnet. So, it is best to prevent attacks from starting in the first place. And if prevention does not work, then it is important to limit the damage and prevent future attacks. On your part, you can limit exposure with layered security. The company delegates the task to their blue team.
Role Players in the Blue Team
The blue team comprises technical and non-technical security operators with specific roles and responsibilities. But, of course, blue teams can be so large that there are subgroups of several operators. Sometimes, roles overlap. Red team vs. blue team exercises typically have the following role players:
- The blue team plans defense operations and assigns roles and responsibilities to other operators in the blue cell.
- The blue cell comprises operators who front the defense.
- Trusted agents are people who know about the attack or even hire the red team in the first place. Despite their prior knowledge of the exercise, trusted agents are neutral. Trusted agents do not meddle in the affairs of the red team or advise defenses.
- The white cell comprises operators who act as buffers and liaise with both teams. They are referees who ensure the activities of the blue team and the red team do not cause unintended problems outside the scope of engagement.
- Observers are people whose job is to spectate. They watch the engagement play out and note their observations. Observers are neutral. In most cases, they don’t even know who is on the blue or red teams.
- The red team is made up of operators launching an assault on the targeted security architecture. Their job is to find vulnerabilities, poke holes in the defense, and try to outwit the blue team.
What Are the Objectives of the Blue Team?
The objectives of any blue team will depend on the security environment they’re in and the state of the company’s security architecture. That said, blue teams typically have four main objectives.
- Identify and contain threats.
- Eliminate threats.
- Protect and recover stolen assets.
- Document and review incidents to refine response to future threats.
How Does Blue Teaming Work?
In most organizations, blue team operators work in a Security Operations Center (SOC). The SOC is where cybersecurity experts run a company’s security platform and where they monitor and handle security incidents. The SOC is also where operators support non-technical staff and users of company resources.
The blue team is responsible for understanding and creating a map of the extent of the security environment. They also note all the assets in the environment, their users, and the state of those assets. With this knowledge, the team puts measures in place to prevent attacks and mishaps.
Some of the measures blue team operators implement for incident prevention include setting administration privileges. This way, unauthorized persons do not have access to resources they should not in the first place. This measure is effective at restricting lateral movement if an attacker gains entry.
Besides restricting administration privileges, incident prevention also includes full disk encryption, setting up virtual private networks, firewalls, secure logins, and authentication. Many blue teams further implement deception techniques, traps set with dummy assets to catch attackers before they cause damage.
Incident response refers to how the blue team detects, handles, and recovers from a breach. Several incidents trigger security alerts, and it is not possible to respond to each and every trigger. So, the blue team must set a filter for what counts as an incident.
Generally, they do this by implementing a security information and event management (SIEM) system. SIEMs notify blue team operators when security events, such as unauthorized logins paired with attempts to access sensitive files, happen. Usually, upon notification from a SIEM, an automated system reviews the threat and escalates to a human operator if necessary.
Blue team operators typically respond to incidents by isolating the system that’s been compromised and removing the threat. Incident response may mean turning off all access keys in cases of unauthorized access, making a press release in cases where the incident affects customers, and releasing a patch. Later, the team does a forensic audit after a breach to collect evidence that helps prevent a repeat.
Threat modeling is when operators use known vulnerabilities to simulate an attack. The team makes a playbook for responding to threats and communicating with stakeholders. So, when a real attack happens, the blue team has a plan for how they’ll prioritize assets or allocate man-power and resources to defense. Of course, things rarely go exactly as planned. Still, having a threat model helps blue team operators keep the big picture in perspective.
Robust Blue Teaming Is Proactive
The work blue team operators do ensure your data is safe, and you can use technology safely. However, a rapidly changing cybersecurity landscape means a blue team cannot prevent or eliminate every threat. They can’t harden a system too much either; it could become unusable. What they can do is tolerate an acceptable level of risk and work with the red team to continually improve security.