Spartan9 Dispatch for May 2023
This month - Back to the grind, new books, new supply chain, and links to our latest articles.
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What we’ve been doing, where we’ve been travelling to, and what’s next.
Back to the grind
This month, I’m back to work with a few long-term clients on a range of different consulting assignments. Nice to be back at it after a short break.
New book on information security
I’m carving out a bit of time each day to work on the new book on information security for travellers. If you’re interested in seeing what this book is about, I’ve been extracting parts of it for the Dangerous Travels articles (links below).
As all good authors do, now that I’ve reached the hard part (refactoring and editing), I’ve started work on a few new books. These books will be short quick reference guides that relate to different aspects of field work:
- Field Operator’s Travel Packing Checklist
- Field Operator’s Travel Planning Checklist
- Field Operator’s Aide Memoire
The Aide Memoire is something I’ve wanted to write for a while. It covers all the essentials you need when working in the field, for example:
- Aircraft capabilities (covering wide and narrow body, light aircraft, helicopters)
- Assessing, preparing and marking airstrips and landing zones
- Determining wind speed and sea state
- Conducting a safety inspection of vehicles and boats
- Route survey checklist
- Convoy briefing format
- Hospital assessment checklist
- Medical evacuation procedure
- Guidelines for communicating with next of kin
- Plus, communications, navigation, medical, contingencies etc.
These books are short and to the point, designed to be aide memoires rather than replace books like the Field Guide series.
The first of these books should be out next month.
Training workshops and customised training solutions.
Interactive Crisis Management Deck
I’m noodling away on a new training product - an interactive crisis management deck. Early days, but showing promise. While I’ve delivered hundreds of workshops over the years, there’s a pressing need to develop training solutions that don’t require me to be at the front of the room or in front of a camera.
GEAR AND TECH
Updates on our in-house gear, sharing a behind-the-scene look at our design and manufacturing processes.
Building on the momentum from last month, which was focused on design and prototyping, this month I’ve been working on sourcing materials and supply chain realignment. There’s been quite a lot of progress.
There’s a new brand name coming. With brand tags and everything.
Domains and emails have been set up, and I’ve starting the process of building the website.
New supply chain
I’ve completely reworked the supply chain. In doing so, I’ve been able to go directly to materials manufacturers, which will help streamline operations and hopefully provide some cost savings (up until now, costs have been so high that the bags aren’t sufficiently profitable to make this a viable business).
Proportionally, shipping is a major cost, particularly when moving rolls of fabric around the world. Suppliers have no incentive to manage the outbound shipping costs of their materials, because they won’t pay for them. I’m also very aware of the environmental impact of shipping and want to reduce this impact as much as possbile by shortening the supply chain. In addition to supply chain efficiency and cost savings, the process has allowed me to source more interesting materials with greater technical capabilities. Here’s a rundown of the categories of suppliers I’ve had to navigate:
- Fabric (3 different types)
- Webbing and elastic (7 different types)
- Closed cell foam padding
- Spacer mesh
- Plastic components
- Zips and sliders
Of these, the only one yet to be fully settled is the spacer mesh. This is the stuff that goes inside the shoulder straps of backpacks to make them more breathable.
MOQs from manufacturers are not for the faint hearted. We’re talking kilometres of material in most cases.
I’ve managed to find a new manufacturer that will be able to operate at higher output without sacrificing quality. We signed a contract this month.
I’ve expanded the product line from one satchel to include five main products and a range of small accessories. I’d love to share more details on these products, but don’t want to jinx things. Plus, it’s always good to preserve the element of surprise…
Here’s what’s going to happen next:
- Sampling of the full product range will start next week using non-production materials. While this is going on, I’ll be continuing to evaluate different materials and make final selections.
- After receiving the first round of samples, I’ll probably tweak the designs a bit before moving to the second round of sampling.
- Mid-June, I’ll start ordering materials to be sent to the factory. Scary stuff, when you consider that the fabrics can cost up to US $35/yard and a production run requires hundreds of yards of material.
- The second round of sampling, using production materials, will be in late June / early July. Again, I may tweak the designs after this round and may even change some of the materials.
- The fabric is being manufactured in July, so the plan is to make sure that we’re ready to start production as soon as that fabric is available to the factory.
- The first round of bags should be coming off the production line in August.
I’m not going to lie, this is all pretty nerve wracking. I’m juggling a lot of things right now and trying not to smash anything on the floor.
Our latest articles and updates on selected publications.
Dangerous Travels is our weekly article focused on travel safety and security.
The Dangerous Travels articles this month focused on communicatinos and information security:
#### Crafting Effective Destination Guides
How to develop useful destination guides that empower your travellers to manage risk.
#### A Primer on Satellite Communications
A brief overview of satellite devices and networks in the context of travelling to higher-risk locations.
#### Securing Mobile Routers
How to secure mobile routers before and during your travels to reduce the risk that your information may be compromised.
#### An Introduction to Device Hardening
An overview of device hardening, focusing on the imperative to harden devices, vulnerable scenarios, and key principles.
The Business of Security
In addition to Dangerous Travels, I’m also writing a weekly article for The Business of Security. These articles focus on the practical aspects of setting up and running a company as an independent security professional.
This month, the Business of Security focused on different aspects of business design:
#### Designing Your Business
The key factors to consider as you start the process of designing your business as an independent security professional.
#### Defining your niche
The importance of specialising rather than generalising, how to effectively identify your niche, and ways to navigate potential pitfalls.
#### Three Key Principles of Business Design
Applying the principles of scalability, diversification and cost management to build a thriving and resilient business.
#### How to Build Leverage
Techniques you can apply as an independent security professional to build leverage in your business and maximise the potential for growth.
#### Building a Strong Value Proposition
An exploration of some of the challenges you'll come across as you work to define your value proposition as an independent security professional.
_We’ve published a number of books on crisis management, travel security and security evacuations. These books have been purchased by travellers, security professionals, several global companies, and one prestigeous university._
These books are available in PDF and on Apple Books.
If your organisation or team would benefit from the knowledge and experience contained in our books, please reach out. We can provide discounts for bulk sales.
_Links to interesting articles worth your time. This month: Chinese disinformation and domestic surveillance, Russian hackers, risks on the road in India, and other articles worth your time._
Shanghai Police Track Uyghurs And Foreign Journalists Visiting Xinjiang. Shanghai police are building a sweeping surveillance system which notifies authorities whenever foreign journalists book flights or train tickets to Xinjiang.
Dahua Selling Protestor / Banner Alarms, Deletes Evidence. Dahua is offering a technological solution to this with AI analytics that automatically detect and report protest signs and protestors' faces to PRC police.
Meta: Chinese disinformation network was behind London front company recruiting content creators. A Chinese disinformation network operating fictitious employee personas across the internet used a front company in London to recruit content creators and translators around the world, according to Meta.
The Full Story of Large Language Models and RLHF. Large Language Models have been in the limelight since the release of ChatGPT, with new models being announced seemingly every week. This guide walks through the essential ideas of how these models came to be.
The Team of Sleuths Quietly Hunting Cyberattack-for-Hire Services. For a decade, a group called Big Pipes has worked behind the scenes with the FBI to target the worst cybercriminal “booter” services plaguing the internet.
How China’s Echo Chamber Threatens Taiwan. Xi Jinping Has Unleashed Hawkish Forces He Can’t Control.
How a Secretive Swiss Dealer Is Enabling Israeli Spy Firms. The international mobile system is exposed and a loophole allows hackers, cybercriminals and states to geolocate targets and even hijack email and web accounts. Israelis can be found among the victims - and the attackers.
Testing a new encrypted messaging app's extraordinary claims. How I accidentally breached a nonexistent database and found every private key in a 'state-of-the-art' encrypted messenger called Converso.
Pro-China Internet Trolls Just Got Busted for Doing Something Wild. The New Europe Observation looked just like another far-right online-media outlet. But something more sinister was at work
China’s Global Influence Game. To combat Beijing’s rising geopolitical influence, the U.S. must engage with the developing world.
The Underground History of Russia’s Most Ingenious Hacker Group. From USB worms to satellite-based hacking, Russia’s FSB hackers known as Turla have spent 25 years distinguishing themselves as “adversary number one.”
The cyber gulag: How Russia tracks, censors and controls its citizens. The Russian government, under President Vladimir Putin, is increasingly using digital technology for surveillance, censorship, and control, employing methods such as facial recognition cameras, monitoring social media, and regulating online platforms, escalating since the mass protests of 2011-2012 and the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
The Rise of Xi Jinping’s Young Guards: Generational Change in the CCP Leadership. After firmly concentrating his political power, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has begun promoting a new wave of generational change within the country’s leadership.
Hackers, Hoodies, and Helmets: Technology and the changing face of Russian private military contractors.
Korean security researchers introduced new AI. And it is sweeping the globe. A new artificial intelligence model developed by a group of cybersecurity researchers in South Korea has gone viral in the global technology industry, swamping social media with its potential to deter cybercrimes.
Chinese internet trolls are adopting American racism to taunt Black users. Chinese trolls are harassing Black creators with profile pictures of white police officers.
People's Republic of China State-Sponsored Cyber Actor Living off the Land to Evade Detection. The United States and international cybersecurity authorities issued this joint Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) to highlight a recently discovered cluster of activity of interest associated with a People’s Republic of China (PRC) state-sponsored cyber actor, also known as Volt Typhoon.
Pegasus Spyware Is Detected in a War Zone for the First Time. Researchers say Armenian government workers, journalists, and at least one United Nations official were targeted by the NSO tool.
Brief: Abu Sayyaf Surrenders Indicate Growing Dysfunction. The article discusses the growing dysfunction within the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, as evidenced by the increasing defections to the Philippine government and reports of the death of a key commander, amid successful non-military efforts by the government and mounting pressure on global jihadist groups.
What is Beijing’s Timeline for “Reunification” with Taiwan? This analysis examines all authoritative Chinese Communist Party (CCP) political and strategic documents since 2012 and comparable documents dating back to 1992 that have discussed timelines for “reunifying” Taiwan, in order to better understand what, if any, formal timeline the CCP has outlined for legally and politically absorbing Taiwan into the People’s Republic of China.
Addressing Jemaah Islamiyah’s Infrastructure in Sulawesi. Despite aggressive counterterrorism efforts, Sulawesi still plays an important role for JI as a venue for key fundraising, membership training, and preaching.
The New Rules for Business Travel to China. From burner phones to inquisitive border agents, the WSJ has consulted experts on the do’s and don’ts in an era of heightened tensions.
What Makes India’s Roads the Deadliest in the World. Poor conditions, lax enforcement, unsafe vehicles and stray animals lead to more than 900,000 deaths and injuries a year. The government aims to cut road fatalities 50% by 2025.
What ‘De-risking’ Means for China. Beijing seems unable or unwilling to grasp the very different lineages of “containment” and de-risking.
On the trail of the Dark Avenger: the most dangerous virus writer in the world. Bulgaria in the 1980s became known as the ‘virus factory’, where hundreds of malicious computer programs were unleashed to wreak havoc. But who was writing them, and why?
That’s it for this month folks.
Thanks for reading and stay safe out there.
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