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Penetration Testing vs Red Teaming

Penetration Testing vs Red Team Engagement: Understanding the Differences

When it comes to evaluating the security of a computer system or network, there are two common approaches: penetration testing and red team engagements. While these two terms are often used interchangeably, they are different in their objectives, scope, and methods.

Penetration Testing

A penetration test (pentest) is a simulated attack against a system or network, performed by security professionals, in order to identify vulnerabilities and assess the overall security of the system. The purpose of a pentest is to identify and report on security weaknesses and provide recommendations for improvement. A pentest typically focuses on finding and exploiting known vulnerabilities, such as misconfigured firewalls or unpatched software, for example.

The process of a pentest typically includes reconnaissance, scanning, and exploitation. The security professional will gather information about the target system and identify any potential vulnerabilities. They will then attempt to exploit these vulnerabilities to gain access to sensitive data or systems. The results of the pentest are documented and reported to the organization, along with recommendations for improving the security of their systems. It’s important to note that the blue team is not actively trying to stop the pentesters, and the pentesters are not trying to evade detection.

Red Team Engagement

A red team engagement is a more comprehensive security assessment that goes beyond just finding vulnerabilities. It involves a team of security experts simulating a real-world attack scenario, including reconnaissance, weaponization, delivery, exploitation, installation, and command & control. The objective of a red team engagement is to test the effectiveness of an organization’s security measures, identify weaknesses in their defenses, and evaluate their response and incident management capabilities.

In a red team engagement, the security experts will often adopt the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of a real-world attacker. This includes social engineering, malware, and other techniques that are commonly used by attackers. The red team will also attempt to evade detection and blend in with normal network traffic to make the assessment as realistic as possible.

The end goal of a red team engagement is to provide the organization with a comprehensive view of their security posture. The results of the engagement are documented and reported to the organization, including a detailed assessment of their defenses and response capabilities. The organization can then use this information to make improvements to their security measures and better prepare for actual attacks.


Both penetration testing and red team engagement are important methods for evaluating the security of a computer system or network. While pentests are focused on identifying vulnerabilities and providing recommendations for improvement, red team engagements provide a more comprehensive view of the security posture, including an assessment of the organization’s defenses and response capabilities. Typically, a Red Team engagement is something an organization would undergo once their security program has reached a certain level of maturity, and have undergone multiple penetration tests.

By understanding the differences between these two approaches, organizations can make informed decisions about which approach is best for their specific security needs.