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Welcome to the Art of Red Teaming

In his book Game Theory and Strategy, Philip Straffin notes the following:

Our two examples have had to do with small scale tactical situations in war, and I think they illustrate that zero-sum game theory could be useful in such situations. We have not discussed larger scale strategic questions. The reason is important. It is that above the level of small scale tactics most international conflict situations, even in war, cannot be reasonably modeled as zero-sum games. It is hardly ever true in international conflicts that interests are strictly opposed. There are usually outcomes which would be harmful to both sides.1

At first glance, this quote may have little to do with red teaming, but I think it leads to two interesting spinoff questions (and probably more):

  1. Do situations exist that exceed the limits of the red teaming approach? For example, might useful red teaming be limited to tactical situations? Alternatively, can the system of interest be so complex that the red team obscures or misleads more than it reveals? What’s more, I wonder if we are living among these sorts of systems every day. This morning’s Slashdot snippet on the F-35 suggests that, yes, we can sometimes bite off more than we can chew.
  2. How many red teaming situations involve zero-sum games, and do we sufficiently accommodate the variation when they don’t? We should always view a red team’s activities as the modeling of hypothetical real-world situations, and it’s always possible to oversimplify when modeling. It’s up to the smart red teamer to detect when this happens. Of course, this underscores the maxim that smart red teaming is much, much more than simply aiming a white-hat hacker at a target system and setting them loose.

The best answer to questions like these is probably “it depends.” It depends on the situation. It depends on the various perceptions and misperceptions of the situation. It depends on the purpose of the red teaming exercise. It depends on the nature of the adversary and the competitive field of adversaries, allies, observers, and pretenders. In short, welcome to the art of red teaming.

  1. Straffin, Game Theory and Strategy, p. 30. []