Red Team Assessment versus Penetration Testing

We often hear them reciprocally, but in fact, they’re 2 distinct things. So what is the difference between these 2 terms(Red Team Assessment and Penetration Testing) precisely?

Penetration Testing

Generally, penetration testing is turned into one huge umbrella with all security considerations. Many people do not comprehend the differences between a Red Team Assessment ( Learn more), a Penetration Test(Learn More), and a Vulnerability Assessment. Hence they call them all Penetration Testing. Nevertheless, this is a delusion. Though they have similar components, each one is diverse and must be used in a different context. 

At the core, Penetration Testing identifies as many configuration issues and vulnerabilities as possible in a fixed duration of time and exploiting those vulnerabilities to figure out the risk of the vulnerability. This does not essentially mean revealing new vulnerabilities; it’s more of looking for well-known, unpatched vulnerabilities. Similar to vulnerability assessments, penetration testing is intended to find vulnerabilities and evaluate them to make certain they are not false positives. Nonetheless, Penetration testing digs further, as the tester tries to exploit the vulnerability.

How is Penetration Testing performed? 

This can be done in various ways, and even when the vulnerability is exploited a good tester will not stop. They will carry on to search and exploit new vulnerabilities, processing attacks together to attain their goal. This goal keeps changing, as every organization is unique, but generally, it comprises PHI (Protected Health Information), PII(Personally Identifiable Information), and trade secrets. Sometimes it may need Domain Administrator access.

Red Team Assessment versus Penetration Testing

Who would require a Pen-Test?

Government authorities such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and the ) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) would need a Pen-Test. However, organizations who are already conducting frequent security audits internally, and executing security training and monitoring, are possibly ready for pen-test.

Red Team Assessment

Red teaming is a broad-brush approach to pentesting which uses techniques of real-life attackers to check if an attack is possible. Such tests are generally united with an assessment of the organization’s incident response procedures, security controls, and threat intelligence. The aim of the Red Team Assessment is to test the company’s identification and response capabilities. The Red Team would creep in and access sensitive data by hook or by crook and as quietly as possible. The Red Team Assessment imitates a malicious actor aiming for attacks and looking to shun detection, similar to an APT ( Advanced Persistent Threat).


The duration of Red Team Assessments is generally longer than Penetration Testing. Red Team Assessment involves multiple people and usually lasts for more than 3-4 weeks, whereas a Pen Test usually takes place over 1-2 weeks.

Goals and Methods

Rather than searching for multiple vulnerabilities, Red Team Assessment looks for vulnerabilities that would help them to achieve their goals. Generally, the goals resemble a pen test. Red Team Assessment methods comprise of Wireless, External, Social Engineering (both Physical and Electronic), and more.

red team assessment

Who should undergo Red Team Assessment?

Red Team Assessment should be conducted by organizations with mature security programs. These are organizations that have generally conducted pen tests, have patched the majority of the vulnerabilities, and have positive pen tests results.

What does a Red Team Assessment comprise of?
a) A Red Team member pretenses as a Fed-Ex delivery driver and enters the building.

b) As soon as it enters the building it plants a device on the network to get easy remote access.

c) This device establishes a C2 (command and control) channel to the Red Team’s servers using a permitted common port like HTTP, HTTPS, or DNS (80, 443, or 53)

d) Later another Red Team Member picks up the Command and Control channel and rotates around the network, probably using insecure printers or other devices that would take the highlights off the device placed.

e) Further the team member would then continue to revolve around the network till they would achieve their goal, taking their leisure time to prevent detection.

Which to Prefer?

Which one is better? Generally, Red Teams and Pen-Testers are the same people who use dissimilar techniques and methods for different assessments. Ideally, one is not essentially better than the other. It’s just that each is helpful in specific scenarios. 

For instance, a Pen-Test is not advisable to judge how good your incident response is and a Red team assessment is not advisable to discover vulnerabilities. It all depends on the situation and scenarios that would help us opt for the better one.

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Author Of this post: Naimisha

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