What Is the Purpose of the Purple Team?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn what a purple team is, how one can benefit your organization, and how to get started in a purple team job in this cutting-edge area of cybersecurity.

[Featured image] Cybersecurity expert checks data on a laptop computer

The purpose of the purple team is to provide a comprehensive, coordinated approach to security that combines both offensive and defensive strategies. While working on a purple team, you aim to improve your organization's overall security posture by identifying weaknesses and gaps in defenses through purple team exercises and then developing and implementing plans to address them.

What are the red, blue, and purple teams in cybersecurity?

You can divide cybersecurity teams in several ways, but one common way is into red and blue teams. 

Red teams are typically responsible for trying to break into an organization's systems, simulating the actions of real-world attackers. 

Blue teams are responsible for defending against these attacks and securing the systems.

The purple team combines the skills of both the red and blue teams. In its simplest form, a purple team can be one member of a red team and one of a blue team working together.

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Your organization may require that several professionals work together in the group. You can bring together purple teams temporarily, create a permanent team, or bring them in as an external resource on a consultancy or contracting basis.

When your organization creates a purple team function, you can transform what can be a competitive, antagonistic relationship between red and blue teams into a collaborative process where the teams share a vision and align their strategies.

Purple teaming defined

Traditionally, cybersecurity has been seen in the context of an attacking team and defending team working in different silos. Purple teaming is a collaborative approach to cybersecurity that brings together red and blue teams to test and improve an organization’s security posture. 

Your purple team changes the team dynamic and culture, maximizing the contribution of each set of skills. You use the knowledge and tools of both the red and blue teams to identify weaknesses in security controls, processes, and procedures. You use the information you learn to create actionable plans that can improve the overall cybersecurity of your organization.

Purple team exercises and activities

A purple team uses various tools and techniques to identify weaknesses in the organization's defenses and helps to improve the organization's overall security posture. 

You’ll work on activities designed to improve the systems, procedures, and controls that shield the company from threats like social engineering, password cracking, malware, Denial of Service (DoS), and phishing attacks. Here are some of the activities your purple team will carry out:

  • Performing social engineering attacks and attempting to gain access to sensitive data

  • Launching cyber malware and bugs attacks against critical systems

  • Trying to exploit vulnerabilities in systems and applications

  • Conducting penetration testing of systems and networks

  • Performing security audits of systems and networks

  • Developing and implementing a comprehensive security plan

  • Performing regular vulnerability scans

  • Identifying and patching security vulnerabilities

  • Encrypting data at rest and in transit

  • Restricting access to sensitive data and systems

  • Monitoring network traffic for suspicious activity

  • Deploying intrusion detection/prevention systems

These purple team activities reflect both sides of what red and blue teams traditionally do. The difference is that professionals with red experience and those with blue experience sit together. Your team looks at specific attacks and vulnerabilities to see if they can detect them. They also adapt systems and processes to enable better security practices. 

Purple activities involve an interactive, transparent, collaborative approach to cybersecurity improvement. This varies significantly from the traditional approach, where a red team submits a cybersecurity penetration test or other reports that you may or may not read and act upon.

Benefits of purple teaming

Purple teaming aims to improve the organization's overall security by collaboratively identifying weaknesses and vulnerabilities and then developing and implementing plans to mitigate those risks. Changing the team dynamic brings several benefits:

  • Strengthening overall cybersecurity faster: Purple teaming can help identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities in an organization's security posture. The organization can address these issues through improved policies, procedures, and technology. Working together can challenge specific vulnerabilities and improve defenses more quickly. The strategic approach means you can target attacks.

  • Improving the ability to detect vulnerabilities: Purple teaming can help security professionals better understand how attackers think and operate, making it easier to identify potential vulnerabilities before they can exploit them. Both teams gain a deeper understanding of the overall security landscape of your organization.

  • Works for many different kinds/sizes of organizations: Purple teaming is not just for large enterprises; any organization can benefit from this exercise.

  • Continuous feedback: Purple teaming provides a constant feedback loop between the red and blue teams, which can help identify areas for improvement and ensure the blue team professionals are up to date.

  • Creativity and innovation: When you have red teams and blue teams working together, you improve their ability to think outside the box and develop innovative solutions. New perspectives bring creativity and a more rounded understanding of cybersecurity. Red and green professionals develop “purple skills.”

Purple team best practices

Purple team activities are comparable to Agile sprints, with short timeframes. It’s, therefore, essential to be strategic in setting up purple team communications and processes. You should follow these best practices when assembling a purple team. 

Get the right people: Make sure you have the right mix of skills and knowledge on your team. The last thing you want is for your team bogged down by someone who doesn't understand the problem or can't contribute to the solution.

Plan and scope thoroughly: Take the time to plan your attack and defenses. Know what you're trying to accomplish and what resources you have available. This will save you a lot of time and frustration later on.

Track and revise the process: Keep track of how your team is doing and make changes as needed. This includes modifying the plan if it's not working, adding new members if needed, and adjusting the project scope.

Ensure collaboration and effective communication: It’s essential to establish clear communication channels between the red and blue sides of the team. This will help ensure you share information appropriately and efficiently and that the team becomes collaborative rather than competitive. 

Document and report: You must document everything done during the exercise. You’ll then have a record of what your team accomplished to use as a reference in the future.

Certifications/education that support purple team expertise

There are many certifications and educational programs that support purple team expertise. Some of these include:

  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

  • GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC)

  • GIAC Certified Incident Handler (GCIH)

  • Security+

  • CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+)

  • SSCP - Systems Security Certified Practitioner | (ISC)²

  • Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)

Read more: 10 Popular Cybersecurity Certifications [2022 Updated]

Potential purple team jobs

The term "purple team" is not commonly used in the job market. However, you'll see many jobs that you could consider purple team jobs or require “purple skills.” You'll need to understand security's offensive and defensive sides to work in these roles. 

Here are some purple team jobs and their corresponding annual salaries.

  • Security analyst: $96,130 [1]

  • Security engineer: $113,768 [2]

  • Cybersecurity advisor $94,222 [3]

  • Cybersecurity analyst: $99,394 [4]

  • InfoSec consultant: $110,497 [5]

  • Ethical hacker (purple team): $116,447 [6]

Ready to take the next step in your cybersecurity career?

In a purple team role, you’ll protect organizations from cybercrime, safeguard data, and respond to security incidents. Many online courses and training programs can help you learn more about purple teaming and how to carry out these activities effectively.

You might like to consider The IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate. In this course, you’ll have the opportunity to develop the expertise needed for in-demand cybersecurity and purple team roles. Through a series of comprehensive courses, you will explore key concepts and gain hands-on experience with the tools and techniques used by cybersecurity analysts.

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Article sources

1

Glassdoor, “How much does a security analyst make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-security-analyst-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,19.htm.” Accessed October 25, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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