Navigating the Fine Line: My Perspective on SOCaaS and Penetration Testing Versus Red Team Exercises

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Navigating the Fine Line: My Perspective on SOCaaS and Penetration Testing Versus Red Team Exercises

In my role as the Head of SOC for a SOC-as-a-Service (SOCaaS) company in South Africa, I’ve navigated the complex terrain of cybersecurity services. One recurring theme in my professional journey has been the debate on the appropriateness of SOCaaS providers conducting penetration tests for their clients. Drawing from my experiences, I’ll delve into why we, as a SOCaaS provider, steer clear of penetration testing but embrace red team exercises as a means to elevate our services.

My Take on SOCaaS

In my tenure, I’ve steered my team to focus on the core elements of SOCaaS: real-time monitoring, incident response, compliance management, and threat intelligence. Our commitment has always been towards providing vigilant and responsive cybersecurity solutions, ensuring our clients’ IT infrastructures remain robust against evolving threats.

Steering Clear of Penetration Testing: A Professional Stance

While I recognize the critical importance of penetration testing in the cybersecurity landscape, we’ve consciously decided against offering this service. Here’s why:

  1. Conflict of Interest: In my experience, performing penetration tests for clients we’re already safeguarding can lead to biased outcomes. It’s challenging to objectively report on vulnerabilities in a system you’re tasked with protecting. This dual role can compromise the integrity of the assessment.
  2. Specialization Matters: Our expertise lies in defensive security strategies, not offensive. Penetration testing requires a different skill set, one that necessitates deep knowledge in offensive cybersecurity tactics — an area outside our primary focus.
  3. Resource Optimization: Throughout my career, I’ve learned the value of resource allocation. Penetration tests demand significant resources and specialized personnel, which can detract from our mainstay services in security operations.
  4. Navigating Regulatory Frameworks: South Africa’s cybersecurity landscape comes with its regulatory complexities. Offering both offensive and defensive cybersecurity services for the same client could lead to regulatory challenges.

Embracing Red Team Exercises: A Harmonious Fit

In contrast to penetration testing, I’ve found red team exercises to be more synergistic with our SOCaaS model. Here’s how:

  1. Refining Our Defense Mechanisms: Conducting red team exercises has been instrumental in testing our response strategies. These exercises provide practical insights, helping us fine-tune our security measures.
  2. A Collaborative Approach: Unlike the ‘cloak-and-dagger’ nature of penetration testing, red team exercises are collaborative. They foster a team-oriented approach to security, aligning with our ethos of partnership and transparency with clients.
  3. A Commitment to Improvement: Regular red teaming has become an integral part of our service offering, aiding in the continuous evolution of our defense strategies.
  4. Building Client Trust: Successfully countering red team attacks has bolstered our clients’ confidence in our capabilities, reaffirming their trust in our services.


In my journey as a cybersecurity professional in South Africa, I’ve realized the importance of aligning services with core competencies while avoiding potential conflicts of interest. By focusing on red team exercises, we’ve been able to enhance our SOCaaS offerings, ensuring robust and responsive security solutions for our clients. This approach has not only reinforced our expertise in the field but also cemented our reputation as a trusted partner in the dynamic world of cybersecurity.