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The Red Teamer’s Go-To Move #1: The Lifecycle Lens

In this series, we will discuss several conceptual “go-to” moves with which you can attack just about any problem. Put differently, these moves are your never-fail judo techniques to which every problem or challenge must, to some degree, yield. We’ll build up a library of moves over time, but today we start at the beginning with #1: the “Lifecycle Lens.”
      Every problem or system lives in time, even the timeless ones. Every problem or system has a history and a future. Part of your job as a red teamer is to explore ways to change that future, and you can often do so by studying and manipulating the problem’s history.
      And how exactly might you do this? First, you can change the stakeholders’ perception of the problem’s lifecycle. In a sense, this allows you to go back in time. For example, you might lead your opponent to believe that you did something in the past to undermine the opponent’s capability (even though you didn’t). The effect can be quite profound, causing the opponent to go as far as discarding an otherwise sound capability.
      Second, you can actually undermine an opponent’s capability early in its lifecycle (in other words, do what you only hinted at in the previous case). You might do this by causing your opponent to misunderstand the need, concept, or requirement, thereby leading them to expend effort building a useless or semi-useless capability.
      Third, you can allow your opponent to unfold a capability, knowing that you will undermine the capability later in its lifecycle. For instance, you might avoid tampering with a capability early in its lifecycle knowing that you will undermine it once it’s deployed, again causing your opponent to expend effort building a useless, semi-useless, or even harmful capability (perhaps something that you can later turn against them).
      Fourth, knowing that your opponent likely deploys many systems of systems, each with its own lifecycle, you might choose to manipulate or undermine only select lifecycles, thereby undermining many more of them through the various connecting interfaces. This involves taking a systems view of multiple lifecycles, hinting at another Go-To Move (#5, “Adopting the Systems View,” which we’ll introduce in due course).
      We could go on, but you get the idea. The key is to view the problem through the Lifecycle Lens, understanding throughout that every problem, system, and capability has a lifecycle that begins with a need and moves through several necessary phases (concept; requirement; design synthesis; testing; manufacturing; deployment; training; operations; and, ultimately, retirement and disposal). As a red teamer, you should always consider the Lifecycle Lens and conceptually or in actual deed enter the lifecycle at one or more phases to undermine your opponent’s capability.
      Of course, red teaming needn’t always involve targeting an opponent’s system. You might simply be acting as a devil’s advocate to test your own plan or strategy. In such a case, the Lifecycle Lens also works. You might consider, for example, how your plan might fail at each phase of the lifecycle independent of any competitor or opponent act, or you might weigh how your opponent could undermine it at each phase. Regardless, as a thoughtful red teamer, this move should always be readily available at the top of your toolkit.