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Simulating hacking attempts

Red Team testing, also referred to as Red Teaming or Adversary Simulation, involves skilled security professionals who simulate real-life cyberattacks on an organisation’s systems. The experts use a range of techniques to identify weaknesses and use a range of attack vectors like physical attacks and social engineering. They might develop elaborate phishing emails or try to get into secure areas like server rooms. The ultimate goal is to assess how effective the infrastructure is to identify where an organisation can make improvements.

Here are some of the techniques used to simulate hacking attempts in Red Team testing:

  • Reconnaissance: the experts gather information about the organisation. This will include things like infrastructure, applications used, network topology and information about employees.
  • Scanning: the team will use port scanners, vulnerability scanners and network mapping tools to identify where the organisation’s systems and networks might be vulnerable.
  • Exploitation: after the experts have successfully gained access, they will try to maintain the access and escalate privileges. They might also attempt to exfiltrate sensitive information or install backdoors to enable future access.
  • Reporting: after they have completed the simulation, the team will provide the organisation with a detailed report that outlines the identified vulnerabilities. They will also make recommendations on how to rectify these vulnerabilities.

Examples of Red Teaming techniques

Let's look at some of the Red Team techniques in detail.

Physical penetration testing

Physical penetration testing is a security assessment that tests the organisation’s physical security measures to find vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit. This testing is particularly important for those who store assets or sensitive data onsite like financial institutions, government facilities or data centres.

Physical penetration testing often involves the following steps:

  • Information gathering or ‘reconnaissance’ to find out about the site’s physical security measures like security cameras, security guards and access controls.
  • Social engineering to gain access like impersonating a maintenance worker, IT technician or delivery person to gain access to a secure area.
  • Testing the effectiveness of alarms, CCTV and security personnel through a range of methods like jamming locks and temporarily disabling cameras.

After the testing stage, the tester will write a detailed report that outlines the physical vulnerabilities of the site. The report will also include suggestions to fix the issues outlined.

Physical penetration testing is important for organisations to develop a comprehensive security strategy and stay ahead of emerging threats.

Social Engineering

Social engineering is an important aspect of Red Team testing. Some of the weakest areas of an organisation are its staff so it’s important to test their susceptibility to social engineering attacks.

Clever deception techniques are used to manipulate staff. They might be duped into divulging confidential information, granting access to information or restricted areas.

There are lots of ways social engineering is tested. This includes sending phishing emails, pretexting, baiting and tailgating.

Phishing emails

Most people are familiar with phishing, but this doesn’t mean they’re not vulnerable. These emails are a social engineering attack in which attackers send emails that appear to come from a legitimate source. They might look like they’re from a well-known organisation or company, but they are actually designed to trick the recipient into disclosing sensitive information or performing an action that might compromise security.

There are a range of duping techniques used in phishing emails. They might be written to seem urgent or have incentives and rewards offered. There could be links to fake websites that look like legitimate ones. If recipients enter personal information like their login credentials or other sensitive data into these sites, they leave the whole organisation vulnerable.

Hackers use phishing attacks for a number of reasons, and they have serious consequences like financial losses, unauthorised access to sensitive date and identity theft. Preventing these attacks is important, which is where Red Team testing can help.


Another social engineering technique used by hackers involves the creation of a false pretext to gain access to systems or sensitive information. The attacker will create a fictional situation or false identity to trick a victim into disclosing confidential information or granting access to systems or restricted areas.


Baiting involves enticing victims with rewards or false promises to trick them into doing something that would compromise security. This might involve a victim finding a USB drive with a tempting label like ‘confidential’ or ‘salary details’ to encourage them to insert it into a company computer. Of course, this is a bait that could install malware or a fake website for login credentials harvesting, for example. This type of attack is highly effective because it preys on human curiosity.


This is a practice also known as piggybacking. It involves an unauthorised person following an authorised person closely in order to gain entry to a restricted area. In this type of attack, the attacker might wait for someone to enter the secure area (a server room or data centre, for instance) and then follow them without them noticing. This way, they bypass physical controls like security personnel or key card access.

This is often successful because it is a technique that exploits people’s natural tendency to be polite and hold doors open. If the environment is particularly crowded or busy, employees might not pay attention to being followed. Large organisations where staff don’t know everyone who works in the building are particularly at risk.

Final thoughts on the techniques used in red team testing

To summarise, Red Team testing is a valuable tool for identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses in an organisation’s security defences. It involves simulating real-world attacks with a range of techniques like physical penetration testing and social engineering.

The experts use their experience and knowledge to think like an attacker to identify potential weaknesses that could be exploited. If organisations conduct regular Red Team tests, they can gain an up-to-date view of their security posture in order to make improvements to prevent real attacks and stay one step ahead of criminals.

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