Double Your Threat Blocking in 90 Days
By Picus Labs • July 20, 2023, 16 min read
Having established an understanding of blue teaming, it's critical to further expand on this concept to truly comprehend its significance in the realm of cybersecurity.
In the following sections of this blog, we'll delve deeper into the roles and objectives of blue teams, drawing a contrast with their red team counterparts. We will explore how these two distinct yet interdependent teams collaborate to bolster an organization's security posture. Additionally, we'll provide you with a comprehensive list of essential blue team tools and valuable certification programs, which can serve as a stepping stone for anyone aspiring to excel as a blue teamer.
A blue team is a group responsible for defending an organization’s network and system by regularly assessing the effectiveness of existing security controls, identifying potential vulnerabilities, and performing prioritized remediation efforts to maintain and improve organizational security posture against known and emerging threats.
As a result, blue teams are characterized by their proactive approach, prioritizing prevention and preparedness over merely responding to incidents after they occur.
Blue teaming is a cybersecurity process that refers to strategic and proactive engagement in safeguarding an organization's digital infrastructure. It involves
continuous monitoring of systems to identify unusual activity,
conducting comprehensive vulnerability assessments,
conducting deep cyber threat intelligence (CTI) research,
examining the result of attack simulations and adversary emulation plans for the identified threats with CTI practices,
taking prioritized remediation actions, and
implementing timely patch management.
Furthermore, it encompasses conducting thorough digital forensics investigations and swift response to potential threats.
The objectives of a blue team can be categorized into three main subjects.
Objective 1: Blue team professionals identify and mitigate vulnerabilities, anticipate and respond to threats, and continuously improve the security infrastructure.
For instance, by collaborating with red team professionals, a blue team can conduct attack simulations or adversary emulation plans to gain a data-driven perspective of their organization's security posture. In essence, they can determine which security controls successfully prevented the attack and, if the attack was not, whether it was logged correctly and alerted by the SIEM system.
In scenarios where security measures fall short, blue teams have the capability to fine-tune the system's defenses. For instance, if they identify a new version of Darkside Ransomware that the existing security infrastructure can't mitigate, they can add the vendor-based mitigation signature directly to the firewall.
This allows them to adjust to emerging threats, customizing their defensive tools to optimize the security of their systems. This flexible, adaptive approach underpins the proactive nature of the blue team.
Objective 2: Other key activities of blue team professionals include regular security audits, intrusion detection, incident response, and recovery.
For instance, during regular security audits, blue team professionals might use a tool like OSSIM for event collection, correlation, asset discovery, vulnerability assessment, and intrusion detection.
Should an intrusion be detected, a system like Suricata can be employed to identify any malicious activities.
As a response to the detected incident, teams may leverage tools like GRR Rapid Response for remote live forensics and incident mitigation.
Lastly, in the event of an attack, blue team professionals would coordinate recovery measures, potentially utilizing an open-source firewall like pfSense to restore and reinforce system defenses.
The lesson learned from these incidents is then used to further enhance the organization's security measures.
Objective 3: Blue teams aim to educate the organization about potential cyber threats and promote a culture of security awareness.
For instance, to promote security awareness, blue teams often conduct simulated phishing campaigns. Using tools like GoPhish, they send deceptive emails to employees that mimic real-life phishing scenarios. Actions taken by employees on these emails are recorded, not causing any actual harm. The results of these simulations are then used to educate staff about recognizing and responding to real phishing attempts, thereby strengthening the organization's defense against such threats.
While the blue team is fundamentally dedicated to safeguarding an organization's digital assets, their duties extend beyond defensive strategies. Ideally, the roles of blue team members is to proactively uncover potential vulnerabilities, test the effectiveness of existing security measures against known and emerging threats and prioritize remediation efforts to improve an organization's security posture.
Here are eight primary skills that a knowledgeable Blue Team member should have in their skill box.
Cybersecurity Fundamentals: Understanding of basic concepts such as encryption, firewalls, secure network architectures, vulnerability assessments, threat modeling, MITRE ATT&CK framework, identity and access management, and the cybersecurity kill chain.
Systems and Network Knowledge: In-depth knowledge of different operating systems (Windows, Linux, macOS, etc.), network protocols, server architectures, cloud platforms, databases, and how they can be secured.
Threat Intelligence: Ability to gather and utilize threat intelligence to anticipate, prevent, and respond to attacks. This includes understanding the current threat landscape, attacker methodologies and behaviors, and indicators of compromise (IOCs).
Security Analysis: Proficiency in interpreting data from various security tools to detect anomalies and potential security incidents. This may involve log analysis, traffic analysis, and security incident and event management (SIEM).
Incident Response: Skills in developing and executing incident response plans, which includes initial detection, containment, eradication, recovery, and post-incident review.
Forensic Analysis: Ability to perform digital forensics to investigate the nature of a breach, identify what data has been compromised, and understand the techniques used by the attacker.
System Hardening: Expertise in hardening systems to make them resistant to attacks. This could involve techniques like patch management, secure configuration, least privilege principle, and application whitelisting.
Security Tools Expertise: Proficiency in using various security tools like firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention systems (IDS/IPS), antivirus software, SIEM systems, vulnerability scanners, etc.
Below, we've provided several examples that offer real-life, concrete scenarios illustrating the responsibilities of blue team members.
Blue and red teams can cooperate to enhance an organization's security posture. Let's take an example:
Let's assume your organization belongs to the healthcare sector. Lately, an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) group has begun exploiting a recently identified vulnerability in an Exchange server, primarily targeting hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.
Being a member of the blue team and knowing that your healthcare organization uses this specific Exchange server, you promptly run a vulnerability scanning tool and see that your Exchange server is vulnerable to a remote code execution attack. You immediately patched the identified vulnerability and updated your Exchange server to the current version.
However, despite these measures, there's a lingering concern about whether your existing controls and updated systems are adequately fortified against this type of attack. To eliminate these concerns, you engage with the red team to devise an attack simulation that replicates the modus operandi of the APT group.
Following this emulation, as a blue team member, you're tasked with examining how your security controls reacted to this simulated attack. It's necessary to validate whether your existing EDR, XDR, or firewall solutions could have prevented the attack. If not, you need to ascertain if the attack was appropriately logged or if it triggered an alert on your SIEM, alerting other blue team members. This information is critical for response to the attack and any subsequent incident activities.
Figure2: Suggested Prevention Signatures by Picus Security Control Validation Platform.
After the simulation, you may need to adjust both your prevention and detection layer solutions as necessary. For instance, within the prevention layer, you could add both vendor-based and generic signatures to your EDR, XDR, or NGFW solutions to instantly prevent the attack. Alternatively, you can configure your SIEM to log and raise alerts for behaviors correlated with that specific APT group and their exploitation attack.
Example 4: Log Analysis and Log Health Check
It is important to regularly check whether logs are collected and the log collection rules are working properly in a healthy way.
For instance, imagine a blue team member working in a major bank conducting a routine log health check. They utilize a log monitoring tool which provides a visual representation of log data over time, presenting an overview of the log collection from various systems throughout the workday.
They observe a strange pattern where between 12 pm and 2 pm, no logs are being collected from their Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) software. Considering the bank operates 24/7 and the EDR should be continuously collecting and logging data, this absence of data during this two-hour period indicates a problem.
Upon further investigation, it's discovered that a recent update to the EDR software created a conflict with the log collection system. This conflict resulted in logs not being properly collected during the time period in which the daily automated backup process runs on the EDR system.
The blue team member coordinates with IT to resolve the conflict and restore continuous log collection, thereby maintaining the integrity of their log monitoring process. In doing so, they ensure any unusual activity or potential threats would not be missed during these hours, enhancing the overall security posture of the bank.
Example 5: DNS Security Audits
A DNS security audit is a systematic examination and evaluation of a network's Domain Name System setup to identify any vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, or stale records that could be exploited for cyber attacks, and to ensure the implementation of appropriate security measures.
Suppose you are a member of the blue team in a large corporation that has multiple domains, subdomains, and DNS records to manage. Recently, the organization has been targeted by sophisticated phishing attacks, attempting to direct users to malicious sites disguised as legitimate company resources. The attackers are leveraging stale DNS records pointing to resources that no longer exist within the organization, which they've then registered and used for hosting malicious content.
To counter this, you initiate a DNS audit. You begin by cataloging all the DNS records associated with your organization's domains and subdomains. You then verify the legitimacy of each entry and remove any stale or unused records. As you proceed with the audit, you identify several stale DNS records that were indeed pointing to external IP addresses controlled by the attackers.
Post audit, you also implement DNSSEC to ensure DNS integrity and prevent DNS spoofing attacks. Additionally, you configure DNS sinkholing for known malicious domains and regularly update your DNS firewall with the latest threat intelligence. Lastly, you establish a routine for conducting regular DNS audits to prevent such issues in the future and reduce the likelihood of DNS-based attacks.
Example 6: Digital Footprint Analysis
For example, a blue team might monitor a network for signs of unusual data transfers from a privileged account during off-peak hours. Upon detecting such activity, they use digital footprint analysis tools to trace the source and destination of the data transfer.
They find the data was being sent to a foreign IP address and further discover the same IP has been linked to several cyberattack incidents in the past. Based on this digital footprint analysis, the blue team identifies the activity as a potential security breach, possibly due to compromised credentials of the privileged account. They then take immediate remediation measures to address the situation.
Example 7: Network Security Auditing
This involves a thorough examination of the network's security setup, including firewalls, intrusion detection systems, etc., to identify any vulnerabilities or misconfigurations.
For instance, a financial services company might hire a blue team to conduct a network security audit. The blue team would first map out the network architecture and identify key components such as firewalls, routers, and intrusion detection systems. They would examine the configuration of each component, ensuring that it adheres to best practices for security and that the latest patches and updates have been applied.
During the audit, they might discover that a certain model of router used throughout the network has a known vulnerability that hasn't been patched. They would also notice that the firewall rules have been configured too broadly, leaving potential open ports that could be exploited.
Based on these findings, the blue team would recommend immediate patching of the vulnerable routers and a thorough review and tightening of the firewall rules. This audit helps to secure the network and prevent potential attacks that could exploit these vulnerabilities.
Red Teams are essentially ethical hackers that simulate real-world attacks on an organization’s IT environment to test its security posture. Their goal is to identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious attackers and provide a comprehensive report of their findings to the organization, along with recommendations for improvement.
On the other hand, Blue Teams are responsible for defending an organization's IT infrastructure. They design, implement, and manage the organization's security architecture, actively monitor systems for any suspicious activity, and respond to security incidents. Their goal is to protect the organization's assets, ensure compliance with security policies, manage risks, and limit the impact of any security breaches.
Both teams are critical to the organization's security strategy. While the Red Team identifies vulnerabilities and potential attack paths, the Blue Team uses this information to strengthen defenses and improve incident response capabilities. In many organizations, these teams work together in a 'Purple Team' approach to collaboratively improve the organization's overall security.
Here is a table that compares red and blue teams within an organization according to their roles, objectives, methodology, tools, mindset and outcome.
Red and blue teams work together in a cooperative manner known as "Purple Teaming". In this approach, the red team, which plays the role of attackers, continuously tests and probes the defenses set up by the blue team, simulating real-world attack scenarios. The blue team defends against these simulated attacks, learning to detect, prevent and mitigate them.
The goal of this cooperative effort is not to see who "wins," but rather to identify and address vulnerabilities, enhance the organization's defenses, and improve incident response. Communication and collaboration are crucial, with the red team providing valuable insights and feedback that help the blue team strengthen the security posture of the organization. Ultimately, this cooperative process improves the overall security of the organization.
In this section, we have provided blue toolkit that is divided into six categories, which are SIEM, honeypots, network security monitoring, threat detection,
OSSIM: An open-source SIEM by AlienVault that provides event collection, correlation, asset discovery, vulnerability assessment, and intrusion detection.
Elastic Stack: Formerly known as ELK Stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana), it's an excellent tool for real-time data search, analysis, and visualization.
SIEMonster: This solution combines various open-source security tools into a single, user-friendly platform for monitoring and analysis.
OSSEC: This is an open-source host intrusion detection system (HIDS) offering log analysis, rootkit detection, and Windows registry monitoring.
Kippo: A medium-interaction SSH honeypot that logs brute force attacks and the shell interaction performed by an attacker. Its main features include a fake filesystem, the ability to add and remove files, and various other ways of engaging an attacker.
Glastopf: An HTTP-based honeypot capable of emulating different types of vulnerabilities, including local and remote file inclusion, SQL injection, and HTML injection via POST requests.
ElasticHoney: A honeypot specifically designed for the Elasticsearch database. It captures malicious requests attempting to exploit Remote Code Execution (RCE) vulnerabilities in Elasticsearch.
Artillery: More than just a honeypot, Artillery is also a monitoring tool and alerting system. It can set up the most commonly scanned ports and blacklist anyone who tries to connect to them. In addition, it can monitor SSH logs for brute force attempts and notify you via email when an attack occurs.
Zeek (formerly Bro): An open-source platform that observes network traffic and creates transaction logs, file content, and fully customized output.
Wireshark: This tool performs deep protocol analysis, live capture, offline analysis, and VoIP analysis.
RITA (Real Intelligence Threat Analysis): RITA is an open-source framework for network traffic analysis, supporting beaconing detection, DNS tunneling detection, and blacklist checking.
Maltrail: This is a malicious traffic detection system that uses publicly available blacklists and advanced heuristic mechanisms to identify threats.
ThreatHunting: This is a Splunk app that helps to enable hunting indicators for further investigation.
Yara: Known as the "pattern-matching Swiss army knife," Yara helps to identify and classify malware samples.
HELK (Hunting ELK): This is an open-source threat hunting platform that provides advanced analytics capabilities over the Elastic Stack.
Cuckoo Sandbox: This is an open-source automated malware analysis system. You can feed it suspicious files or URLs and it provides you with detailed results of the file's behavior.
Joe Sandbox: This tool uses deep learning methods to detect malicious files, URLs, and phishing sites. It can be used for comprehensive and detailed analysis of malware and suspect files. It's free for non-commercial use.
Firejail: An open-source Linux sandbox that restricts the capabilities of untrusted applications by using Linux namespaces and seccomp-bpf. It is easy to use and can sandbox any type of processes.
Sandboxie: A Windows-based application that creates a sandbox-like isolated environment in which applications can run or install without permanently modifying the local system. This isolation prevents harmful scripts or applications from causing damage to your machine.
GRR Rapid Response: An incident response framework focused on remote live forensics. It's an open-source tool that allows the execution of Python code over the network against a fleet of machines.
ModSecurity: An open-source web application firewall (WAF) offering real-time application security monitoring and access control.
Wallarm: A security platform that, in addition to being a WAF, performs application vulnerability scanning, threat verification, and application security testing.
SNORT: A widely used open-source network intrusion detection and prevention system offering real-time traffic analysis and packet logging.
Suricata: This is an open-source high-performance network IDS, IPS, and network security monitoring engine.
pfSense: This open-source firewall/router software based on the FreeBSD operating system is reliable, robust, and flexible.
Here are five certifications that you can take to prove your experience and knowledge.
Renowned globally, the CISSP certification affirms a professional's advanced understanding of cybersecurity program design, implementation, and management. It encapsulates eight security domains, including asset security, security operations, and risk management, forming a solid foundation for blue team members.
Aimed at those who protect organizational assets against cyber threats, the OSDA certification validates the holder's capability to apply practical defensive techniques and strategies. It verifies skills in areas like network security, host security, and digital forensics.
A focused certification, the GCIH validates a professional's ability to manage incidents, limit damage, and implement recovery strategies post-cyber attack. GCIH holders are proficient in the legal aspects of incident handling and understanding the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of adversaries.
This certification showcases the holder's competency in malware analysis and reverse engineering. eCMAP professionals are skilled at dissecting malicious software to understand its functionality, origin, and impact, thereby aiding in the development of countermeasures.
The CHFI certification equips professionals with the expertise to uncover and analyze digital evidence of cybercrime. They can meticulously trace the steps of a cybercriminal, thereby aiding in investigations, while ensuring the evidence's legal sanctity for potential courtroom proceedings.