Red vs blue team exercises

One effective way to enhance cyber security is through red vs blue team exercises, which simulate real-world cyber attacks and defences. Let’s explore the benefits of these exercises and how they can strengthen your organisation’s security posture.

Punit Sharma

31st May 2024

What are red and blue teams?

Before delving into the benefits and implementation of these exercises, let’s clarify what red and blue teams represent in the context of cyber security:

Red team: This group plays the role of threat actors, simulating real-world cyber threats and attempting to breach the organisation’s defences. Their goal is to identify vulnerabilities, exploit weaknesses, and test the effectiveness of the security measures in place.

Blue team: In contrast, the blue team is responsible for defending the organisation’s assets. They detect, respond to, and mitigate the attacks initiated by the red team. Their focus is on strengthening the security posture, improving incident response, and ensuring business continuity.

Benefits of red vs blue team exercises

One of the key benefits of red vs blue team exercises is that they provide a realistic testing environment for cyber security defences. By simulating real-world attacks, organisations can identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in their security posture. These exercises also help improve incident response capabilities by allowing teams to practice and refine their response procedures in a controlled environment. Additionally, red vs blue team exercises promote teamwork and collaboration among security professionals, as they must work together to defend against simulated attacks.

The true power of red vs blue team exercises lies in the collaboration between the two teams. While they may seem to be in opposition, they share a common goal: to enhance the organisation’s cyber security resilience. Through these exercises, both teams gain valuable insights into the tactics and strategies of their counterparts.

Financial sector

In 2016, the Bank of England initiated a program called “CBEST,” which involved red team testing to assess the resilience of financial institutions to cyber-attacks. The program aimed to provide a controlled environment for banks to test their defences against sophisticated attacks, improving their overall security posture.

Healthcare sector

The healthcare industry, with its vast amount of sensitive data, has also seen the implementation of red vs blue team exercises. Following the WannaCry attack in 2017, which significantly impacted the NHS, the UK’s health service has increased its focus on cyber security resilience. NHS Digital conducts regular cyber drills for hospitals and other health services to prepare for various cyber threats. These exercises have been instrumental in developing a more robust cyber security framework within the NHS, ensuring the protection of sensitive patient data and healthcare services.

Government agencies: 

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of GCHQ, actively promotes and supports cyber security exercises across government departments and critical national infrastructure. One such initiative is the “Exercise in a Box” tool, which has been widely used by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across the UK. According to the NCSC, over 10,000 organisations had used the tool by the end of 2020, reflecting its value in enhancing the UK’s collective cyber security defence capabilities.

Operation ‘Waking Shark II’:

This was a sector-wide exercise since 2013 that involved key financial institutions across the UK, simulating a cyber attack on the banking sector to test the industry’s resilience and response mechanisms. The exercise revealed the need for better communication and collaboration between banks during a cyber crisis, leading to enhanced protocols for information sharing and incident response among UK financial entities.

The path to implementation

Implementing red vs blue team exercises requires careful planning and execution. It starts with defining clear objectives and setting the scope of the exercises. Businesses need to ensure that the scenarios simulated by the red team are relevant and challenging, yet within the bounds of ethical hacking.

The exercises should be conducted in a controlled environment, with strict rules of engagement to prevent any unintended consequences. Both teams should be equipped with the necessary tools, resources, and access to carry out their tasks effectively.

Following the exercises, a thorough debriefing session is crucial. This is where the teams come together to share their experiences, insights, and lessons learned. The findings from these sessions should then be translated into actionable improvements in the organisation’s cyber security practices.


Red vs blue team exercises are a powerful tool for enhancing cyber security. By simulating real-world attacks and defences, organisations can identify vulnerabilities, improve incident response capabilities, and promote teamwork among security professionals. Incorporating red vs blue team exercises into your cyber security strategy can help strengthen your organisation’s security posture and better protect against cyber threats.

Interested in implementing red vs blue team exercises in your organisation? Learn more about how our cyber security experts can help you enhance your security practices here

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Red vs blue team exercises


Red vs blue team exercises

Let’s explore the benefits of red vs blue team exercises and how they can strengthen your organisation’s security posture.