Article: Red Team Theory - Emotional Awareness

I sincerely appreciate all of the positive feedback that I have received for my last article.  I have decided to continue my work on this subject with a series of articles that I will release periodically.  These articles will focus on practical ways to implement the adversarial mindset to your daily life.  If you simply want to improve yourself or if you’re really adamant about becoming a “Red Teamer”, hopefully the information I will share in this series will prove useful.  This article, in particular, focuses on the importance of emotional awareness and more important, emotional availability.


"When people talk, listen completely. Don't be thinking what you're going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe. You should be able to go into a room and when you come out, know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling. Try that for practice." - Ernest Hemingway

Social Engineering

As the bad actor in an adversarial assessment you must explore all avenues of attack.  If you carefully examine past incidents involving security breaches, you’ll quickly learn that the human element of security is often the weakest.  The success of an attack is most often the result of human negligence.  So, for a moment, let’s put aside all of the technical skills that you and your group would need to be an effective red team.   Can you have and maintain a conversion with a stranger?  If you needed to extract information from your target without your expensive high-tech gadgetry, how would you do it?

There is a scene in The Bourne Identity that is often overlooked and actually used to bring levity to the story, but I feel it is most realistic scene in the entire film.  Bourne tasks Marie with gathering records from a hotel regarding a certain Mr. Kane.  He gives her an exhausting list of directions to follow once she enters the hotel.  As she walks inside, she sees a male front desk agent, he smiles at her.  Suddenly, the scene cuts to her meeting Bourne outside, records in hand.  Now, how do you think Marie was able to acquire those records without following Bourne’s direction?  Her feminine wiles?  Following Bourne’s questioning, she states she simply asked for them.  Don’t we all wish red teaming was that easy?  Marie tells Bourne that she told the desk agent she was Mr. Kane’s personal assistant.  Although, she provides a simple answer, the engagement was likely more complicated than that.  I believe she was able to tap into the most receptive part of the human person. 

Human emotion.

A few days ago, I had an interesting conversation with my girlfriend.  She works in property management.  On top of her daily tasks, she is constantly fielding problems, dealing with vendors, addressing tenant complaints, and managing her employees.  During our conversation, she said, “Whenever you need something from someone, never demand it.  Saying, ‘please,’ won’t help you either.  Instead, put yourself in a position of the needy.  State your problem and ask for help.”  People that ask for help are automatically people you feel you can trust.  Why?  Because they are trusting you to help them.

People in need of help trigger something in human beings.  They trigger emotion, it can be sympathy, sadness, in some cases it can even be pride.  When you put yourself in a position of need, especially in this particular way, you put your target in a position of power.  It will make your target feel like they hold all of the cards.  Whether or not that is  true is irrelevant.  Although, you never really see Marie’s engagement with the hotel agent, I would like to think the encounter was more complex than the movie makes it out to be.

This method of social exploitation, by it’s very nature, runs contrary to what you would normally expect from an adversarial engagement.  The goal is to be noticed.  You want your target to focus on you.  However, it is also important to understand the culture of the environment in which you are going to work.  Some people are more willing to help a man wearing a Verizon shirt asking for a restroom than they would a panhandler.   Remember your ABCs.

Emotional Awareness

To be truly effective in a social engagement, emotional awareness is essential.  To be aware of others, you must learn to be emotionally available yourself.  All of our emotions are inherently good.  Although, some may be uncomfortable, they are still good.  They are primal tools, which inform us of ourselves and our surroundings.   In the information age, emotional insensitivity seems to be norm, not the exception.  This leaves us at a disadvantage.  If it takes you more than sixty seconds to identify what you’re feeling at any given moment, you probably have an issue.

If you think about how the human body responds to stimuli, your body reacts first, then your emotions, and finally your intellect.  All three are meant to compliment each other.  Once your body reacts, you are meant to feel, and then temper those emotions with your reason.  So, how do you begin to put this into practice?   Next time you read a book, have a glass of wine, or dinner with your significant other, ask yourself how it made you feel.   The emotions are there, you just have to start giving them their proper attention.

Once you gain a better understanding of your own emotional state, you can purposefully begin to engage others.  Years ago, when I realized I was a bit emotionally underdeveloped, I decided to make a dramatic career shift.   The work forced me to engage people on a daily basis.   I encountered numerous difficulties.  In spite of that, I had to remain proactive, and I had to challenge myself.  And after two years, I found that I had I changed and grown in ways I never thought possible. 

So, if you find yourself lacking in emotional awareness, you know have work to do.  Red Teaming is a multifaceted and multidisciplinary field.  This particular skill will eventually be applied to any large scale social or cultural intel gathering activities.  Challenge yourself, do not fear failure, and embrace your own suffering.  It is the man that can properly harness his emotional state and recognize the emotional state of others, that will find success in whatever he chooses to pursue.   So, do you still want to be a red teamer?

“There are some games you don't get to play unless you are all in.” - Jordan B. Peterson


Quote: What is the secret of our success?

What is the secret of our success?

Well, I think it had to do with a basic American’s Creed. Perhaps it never passed a pioneer’s lips in this form, but if it had I think he would have said something like this:

‘I believe in my God, in my Country and in Myself.’

I know that sounds like a trite too simple thing to say, and yet it’s a rare man today who will dare to stand up and say, ‘I believe in my God and my Country and in Myself.’ (And in that order.) When the early American pioneer first turned his eyes toward the west, there were only Indian trails or ‘traces’ as they were called, for him to foll’er through the wilderness. Do you know, today, you can roller skate from Miami to Seattle, from San Diego to Plymouth Rock? In this little bitty instant, as historical time is measured, our 7% of the Earth’s population has come to possess more than half of all the world’s good things.

How come?

Well sir, when that early pioneer turned his eyes toward the west, he didn’t demand that somebody else look after him. He didn’t demand a free education. He didn’t demand a guaranteed rocking chair at eventide. He didn’t demand that somebody else take care of him if he got ill or got old.  There was an old fashioned philosophy in those days, that a man was supposed to provide for his own and for his own future. He didn’t demand a maximum amount of money for a minimum amount of work. Nor did he expect pay for no work at all. Come to think of it, he didn’t demand anything. That hard-handed pioneer just looked out there at the rolling plains stretching away to the tall green mountains and then lifted his eyes to the blue skies and said:

‘Thank you God. Now, I can take it from here.’
— Paul Harvey

Article: The Theory of Red Teaming - A Call to Action

GW RT Article.jpg

Since March 2018, I have been following the Red Team Podcast.  It is a podcast and blog dedicated to the subject of red teaming.  Now, you’re probably asking, “What is a red team?”  The concept is rooted in military history.  If that is of interest, just google Red Cell. A Red Team is a group that assumes the role of adversary and challenges another group to test and improve the efficacy of its strategies and procedures.   As the adversary, a Red Team will attempt to attack and exploit their target by any viable means necessary.  Vectors of attack can be physical, digital, social, and even theoretical.  The intention is to highlight the vulnerabilities of a target and eventually work with the target to eliminate those vulnerabilities.  Sounds cool, right?

The Red Team Podcast, however, dives deeper into the subject of what true red teaming is and discusses the mindset required to be an effective “Red Teamer.”  Ironically, the more you listen to the podcast, the more you learn that red teaming is quite difficult to define.  It spans numerous subjects of thought and study.  By it’s very nature, it proves difficult to provide a short and concise definition that encompasses all of its elements.  However, with all of the information provided in the podcast, the hosts (Uri and Dan) constantly field two questions in particular.  Hopefully, I can provide an answer to both that will be easy for average folk to understand.

“What is Red Teaming?”

 Ultimately, Red Teaming is a call to action.

It is about figuring out what you don’t know about yourself, and acting on that information.  It’s about self improvement.

From a security standpoint, it’s knowing your adversary.  It is about knowing who the hostile actors might be and what they want from you.  It is knowing how they will exploit your weaknesses and impose on your vulnerabilities. 

It’s imperative to know two things.  First, who is the adversary?  It can be a competitor, it can be a malicious hacker, or an insider threat.  “Insider threat,” means your adversary is within your own group or organization.  It is also important to realize that an attack will come through any viable means necessary.  It can be a physical attack, a digital breach, or simply through social engineering.

So, to truly define your enemy, the best course of action is to have an independent party, a Red Team, complete an assessment of your organization.  This Red Team will assume the role of your adversary.  They will carefully observe your practices, define habits and a method of exploitation, and finally commit a real world attack.   Afterward, they will report any discovered vulnerabilities, they should help you to mend them and help create any proactive response protocols deemed necessary.

From a Red Teamer’s perspective, your method of attack should be unique to what is observed.  If you truly want to service your client, remaining unpredictable is key.

Now, to the dismay of Uri and Dan, this usually leads to the second question.

“How do I become a Red Teamer?”

The answer is simple, but may be difficult for some to accept.

Build resiliency.

Many seem enthralled with the “cool factor” of red teaming, without realizing what is actually required of them.  They undermine the fact that red teaming requires a very specific mindset to achieve the objective.  It is not about what exploits you know or your locking picking skills.  If you really want to know what it takes to be a Red Teamer, apply the methodology of red teaming to yourself. 

What don’t you know?   What are your weaknesses?  Be sure to account for personal bias.  Speak with trusted friends, ask them to comment on your personality traits and your habits.  What do you do when you encounter difficulties?  Do you panic?  Do you quit?

Test yourself.  Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and see what happens.  Is there a particular skill set in which you lack expertise?  Say you have the digital capability, are you fit enough to properly accomplish a physical assessment?  If not, what are you doing about it?  If you don’t have the discipline to better yourself, what makes you think you can provide such a service to someone else?

To be a Red Teamer, you must have the strength of mind and character to embrace your own suffering.  Once you can achieve that, then the answer to this question should be clear to you.

“Do not sleep under a roof. Carry no money or food. Go alone to places frightening to the common brand of men. Become a criminal of purpose. Be put in jail, and extricate yourself by your own wisdom.” - Miyamoto Musashi