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In this Article

Penetration Testing Red Teaming: Evaluate Your Protective Security Measures

9th January 2024
In this Article

Threat & Vulnerability Assessment Review (TVAR), referred to as Red Teaming, is a basic wargaming or strategic gaming model initially in a table-top exercise setting. The model relies on an individual or group taking the part of the attacker (the Red Team) and testing threat-based plans against the site security system (the Blue Team) to ascertain whether it is fit for purpose and to identify any residual risks. 

Where plan changes cannot adequately treat these risks, they should be recorded and elevated as appropriate. Attack Methodology assessments should be used to evaluate the Red Team exercise arrangements. Red Teaming is primarily intended to simulate the threat posed by Lone Actors or small groups of individuals with little or no experience. 

The Red Team can then perform a physical penetration testing exercise to evaluate the findings.

The Basics of Physical Security Penetration Testing 

Definition and overview

Physical penetration testing is a method of assessing the security of a physical facility or infrastructure by simulating real-world attack scenarios. It involves evaluating the effectiveness of physical security controls, such as access, surveillance, and alarm systems, to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses that unauthorised individuals could exploit.

During physical penetration testing, a team of security professionals, often called "Red Teamers," attempt to gain unauthorised access to the target facility, just like an attacker would. They employ various techniques, including social engineering, lock picking, tailgating, and physical bypassing, to test the physical security measures in place.

Physical penetration testing aims to identify weaknesses in physical security controls and provide recommendations for improvement. Organisations can take proactive measures to strengthen their physical security posture and protect their assets, sensitive information, and personnel by identifying vulnerabilities.

Physical penetration testing can be conducted on various facilities, including corporate offices, data centres, critical infrastructure, government buildings, manufacturing plants, and sporting events. It is an integral part of a comprehensive security assessment, complementing other testing methodologies such as network penetration testing and application security testing.

It is important to note that physical penetration testing should only be conducted with proper authorisation and by legal and ethical standards. Organisations should engage experienced and qualified professionals to perform these tests to ensure the safety of personnel and the integrity of confidential information and of the testing process.

The necessity for regular testing in the changing threat landscape.

The threat landscape constantly evolves, and new vulnerabilities may arise. Regular physical penetration testing helps organisations stay proactive by identifying new weaknesses and vulnerabilities in their physical security controls. This allows them to address these vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them.

Physical penetration testing provides an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of existing security measures in real-world scenarios. It helps organisations determine if their access controls, surveillance systems, alarm systems, and other physical security controls are functioning as intended. Regular testing ensures that security measures are up to date and working effectively.

Physical penetration testing often involves social engineering techniques to exploit human vulnerabilities. Regular testing helps assess the security awareness and preparedness of employees and staff members. It helps identify areas where additional security training and awareness programs may be required to mitigate the risk of social engineering attacks.

Physical penetration testing provides valuable insights and recommendations for improving physical security controls. Regular testing allows organisations to implement these recommendations and improve their physical security posture over time. It helps create a culture of security awareness and accountability within an organisation.

Differences between physical and network penetration testing.

Physical penetration testing and network penetration testing are both essential aspects of assessing the security of an organisation's systems. However, they focus on different areas and employ different techniques.

To identify security vulnerabilities, physical penetration testing involves attempting to gain unauthorised access to a physical location, such as a building or a data centre. The goal is to determine how easily an attacker could physically breach the organisation's defences. 

This may include tailgating (following an authorised person into a restricted area), lock picking, or bypassing security systems. Physical penetration testing helps organisations identify weaknesses in physical security measures and implement appropriate controls.

On the other hand, network penetration testing, also known as ethical hacking, focuses on assessing the security of computer networks and systems. This involves attempting to gain unauthorised access to network resources, such as servers, routers, or web applications, to identify vulnerabilities that malicious attackers could exploit. 

Network penetration testing may include vulnerability scanning, password cracking, or exploiting known software vulnerabilities. The goal is to identify and remediate network infrastructure and application security weaknesses.

Understanding the role of Red Teams in physical security 

Red teams play a crucial role in physical penetration testing. They are tasked with simulating real-world attacks and attempting to breach an organisation's or site's physical security measures.

The primary goal of a Red Team is to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the physical security infrastructure. Red team members use various techniques and tactics to test the organisation's defences,

Red team members often have specialised skills and experience in physical security, including knowledge of lock picking, surveillance techniques, and familiarity with physical access control systems. They may also use tools and equipment such as lock picks, RFID cloners, or wireless signal detectors to aid in their testing.

By mimicking the tactics of real attackers, Red Teams provide organisations with valuable insights into their physical security posture. They help identify weaknesses that could potentially be exploited by malicious actors and provide recommendations for improving security controls and procedures.

Overall, the role of Red Teams in physical penetration testing is to provide a realistic and comprehensive assessment of an organisation's physical security measures, helping them identify and address vulnerabilities before real threats can exploit them.

The Process of Conducting a Physical Penetration Test

From reconnaissance to execution

Once the scope of the test has been agreed upon with the client and an agreement is in place, the following process will be followed.

The first step is gathering information about the target organisation, such as its physical location, employees, security measures, and other relevant details. This can be done through open-source intelligence (OSINT) gathering, social engineering, and physical surveillance.

Based on the gathered information, a penetration tester develops a plan outlining the physical penetration test's objectives, scope, and methodology. This includes identifying potential entry points, attack vectors, tools, and techniques.

Before proceeding with the physical penetration test, the client must obtain proper authorisation and consent. This ensures the test is conducted legally and ethically without harming or disrupting the client's operations.

A pre-test assessment involves evaluating the existing security measures, such as access control systems, CCTV cameras, alarms, and physical barriers. This helps identify potential weaknesses or vulnerabilities that can be exploited during the test.

The penetration tester carries out the planned activities, including attempts to gain unauthorised physical access, bypass security controls, tamper with equipment, or retrieve sensitive information. The objective is to simulate real-world attack scenarios and test the client's physical security defences.

Detailed notes, photographs, and videos are captured throughout the test to document the actions taken, the results obtained, and any vulnerabilities discovered. This documentation serves as evidence and helps in the analysis and reporting phase.

The collected data and findings are carefully analysed to understand the impact and severity of the vulnerabilities identified. This includes assessing the potential risks, possible attack scenarios, and the likelihood of successful exploitation.

A comprehensive report is prepared, highlighting the test objectives, methodology, findings, and recommendations. The report includes a detailed description of vulnerabilities, their potential impact, and suggested remediation measures. It also provides an executive summary for non-technical stakeholders.

A debriefing session is conducted with the client to discuss the findings, answer any questions, and further clarify the test results. This helps the client understand the vulnerabilities and prioritise the remediation efforts.

Based on the recommendations provided in the report, the client takes necessary actions to address the identified vulnerabilities and strengthen their physical security controls. This may involve implementing new security measures, conducting employee training, or improving security policies and procedures.

It is important to note that the process may vary depending on the specific requirements of the client and the scope of the physical penetration test.

Black Box, White Box, and Gray Box approaches.

Black box, white box, and grey box testing are methods used in physical penetration testing to assess the security of a target organisation's physical infrastructure. Here's an explanation of each method:

In black box testing, the penetration tester has no prior knowledge or access to internal information about the target organisation's physical security controls. The tester approaches the test as an external attacker with limited or no insider knowledge. This method simulates a real-world scenario where an attacker has no insider information. The tester relies solely on publicly available information and physical surveillance to identify and exploit vulnerabilities. Black box testing helps evaluate the effectiveness of the organisation's external security measures and overall physical security posture.

In white box testing, the penetration tester has complete knowledge of the target organisation's physical security controls, including floor plans, security measures, and access control systems. This method simulates an insider threat scenario, where the tester has detailed knowledge about the organisation's physical infrastructure. White box testing allows for a thorough examination of the specific security controls and their effectiveness. It helps identify vulnerabilities that may be exploited by an insider or an attacker with detailed knowledge of the organisation's physical security measures.

Grey box testing is a combination of black box and white box testing. In this method, the penetration tester has limited knowledge about the target organisation's physical security controls. The tester may have some high-level information about the security measures or access to specific areas within the organisation. This method simulates a scenario where an attacker has partial knowledge or a compromised insider position. Grey box testing helps assess the organisation's ability to detect and respond to insider threats and determine if partial knowledge can be leveraged to exploit vulnerabilities.

Each testing method has its advantages and limitations. Black box testing provides a realistic perspective of external threats, white box testing allows for a detailed examination of internal security controls, and grey box testing offers a balanced approach by considering external and internal perspectives. The choice of the testing method depends on the specific objectives, scope, and requirements of the physical penetration test.

Improving Physical Security Post Penetration Testing

After conducting a physical penetration test and identifying vulnerabilities in your organisation's physical security, developing a strategy to improve and strengthen your physical security measures is essential.

Evaluate your security policies and procedures to ensure they align with the identified vulnerabilities and best practices—update policies related to access control, visitor management, key management, and incident response. Clearly define roles and responsibilities for physical security and ensure employees are aware of and trained on these policies.

Strengthen access control measures by implementing multi-factor authentication, such as access cards or biometric authentication, to restrict entry into secure areas. Consider implementing a centralised access control system to track and manage access permissions. Regularly review and update access privileges to minimise the risk of unauthorised access.

 Assess physical barriers such as fences, gates, doors, and windows. Repair or reinforce any weak points identified during the penetration test. Install security film on windows to prevent easy break-ins. To protect critical assets, consider implementing additional physical security measures like security grilles, bollards, or security cages.

Upgrade or expand your surveillance systems to improve monitoring and detection capabilities. Install security cameras in strategic locations, including entry points, hallways, and parking areas. Ensure cameras have good resolution and support features like motion detection and night vision. Implement a centralised monitoring system and ensure proper storage and retention of video footage.

Install intrusion detection systems (IDS) or alarms to detect unauthorised access or tampering. Consider using sensors or motion detectors in critical areas to trigger alarms. Integrate the IDS with your centralised security management system to enable real-time alerts and responses.

Establish a regular schedule to conduct security audits and assessments to ensure ongoing compliance with physical security measures. These audits should include physical inspections, vulnerability assessments, and penetration tests. Regular audits help identify new vulnerabilities and ensure security measures are effective over time.

Provide comprehensive training to employees on physical security best practices, including the importance of following access control procedures, reporting suspicious activities, and maintaining the security of sensitive information. Regularly communicate security updates and reminders to employees to keep security in mind.

Consider engaging professional physical security consultants or experts to provide guidance and expertise in designing and implementing robust physical security measures. They can help identify specific vulnerabilities and provide recommendations tailored to your organisation's needs.

Remember, physical security is an ongoing process, and it's essential to continuously monitor, evaluate, and adapt your security measures to address emerging threats and vulnerabilities.


What is the main objective of physical penetration testing?
The main objective of a physical penetration test is to assess the effectiveness of an organisation's physical security measures and identify vulnerabilities that unauthorised individuals could exploit. The test aims to simulate real-world scenarios where an attacker attempts to gain unauthorised access to physical facilities, assets, or information.
How do Red Teams operate differently from internal security teams?

In physical penetration testing, the Red Team and internal security team have different roles and approaches:

Red Team: The Red Team operates from an external perspective, mimicking real-world attackers' tactics, techniques, and procedures. They are independent and objective, attempting to breach physical security measures as an unauthorised individual.

Internal Security Team (Blue Team): The internal security team operates from within the organisation. It is responsible for implementing and managing physical security measures continuously.

By working together, the red and internal security teams can comprehensively assess the organisation's physical security measures, identify vulnerabilities, and implement necessary improvements to enhance the overall security posture.

What are some common tools used in physical penetration testing?

Physical penetration testing involves assessing the security of physical infrastructure and facilities. Here are some standard tools used in physical penetration testing:

  • Lock Picking Set: Lock picks, tension wrenches, and other tools are used to bypass locks.
  • Bump Keys: Specially designed keys used to open pin tumbler locks by applying a bumping force.
  • Shims: Thin pieces of metal are used to bypass padlocks and other similar locking mechanisms.
  • Pry Bars: Tools used to force open doors, windows, and other locked or secured objects.
  • Wire Cutters: Used to cut wires or cables that may be protecting access points.
  • Bolt Cutters: Heavy-duty cutters cut through chains, padlocks, and other security devices.
  • Lock Bypass Tools: Specialised tools are used to bypass or manipulate different types of locks, such as tubular locks or combination locks.
  • RFID Cloners: Devices used to clone or copy RFID access cards or key fobs for unauthorised access.
  • Covert Entry Tools: Tools designed to gain access to restricted areas without leaving any evidence of tampering, such as picking locks without leaving visible marks.

It is important to note that these tools should only be used legally and authorised, such as during a physical penetration testing engagement with proper permissions and documentation.