There is something about t-shirts that can bond a group of individuals, define a movement or mark milestones or events. Many of us will cherish those shirts long past their intended lifespan. When I was in high school I had the very fortune experience of playing saxophone in one of the best marching bands in the United States - Lake Park H.S. in Roselle, IL. Our director, would create a special t-shirt that we would wear under our uniforms at every competition. It was just a plain blue t-shirt with white print on the front commemorating year with an inspirational saying on the back. For the members of the marching band those shirts held such a profound significance due to the experiences we had while wearing them.
When I started SpiderLabs, I jumped at the first chance I had to design and print a t-shirt for the newly formed team within Trustwave. The year was 2006, the team was a little more than a year old and had grown from 3 original members to about 10. Some of us were located in Chicago, but many were located in other areas of the United States. We didn't have many opportunities to get together face to face during the year.
We decided to hold a small team meeting Chicago. The format was simple: the first half of the day was team and company updates followed by discussions around procedures and process improvement. The 2nd half was a mini-Con. We had various members of the team present on interesting client engagement and/or security research they were engaged in. After the day of meetings, we all gathered at the House of Blues to watch the David Lee Roth concert.
At the end of the team meeting in 2006, I wanted to hand out some "swag" that team members can take home with them, wear, and reflect on the team building experiences we had in Chicago. I wanted to design a t-shirt that people would want to wear, not just stuff in the back of their closet.
The first year's design was rather plain and simple. I took the "spider" image from our logo and fed a regular expression for finding Track Data into an ASCII art generator. The design was printed on a white t-shirt in blue. Given budget constraints, only printing a small number of shirt (<25), I had to resort to printing them via an online consumer site. The result was a white shirt with the design printed rather blurry. The shirt itself was so thin that it was basically translucent. Undoubtedly, this shirt would have been popular on Spring Break, but not so much unless you wore another shirt under it. Hence the reason I am only aware of about 3 or 4 shirts still in existence today.
The next year, we moved our team meeting to from Chicago to Las Vegas. Several members of the team wanted to attend DEF CON and what better place to combine efforts - we could have our team meeting on one day and then attend the conference during the other. That year we decided to get a room block at the Stratosphere and hold our meetings in one of their conference room at the top of the tall tower. This was also the year of the very first "Spiders are FUN!" party held during DEF CON, although it was so uber secret that no one showed up except for the folks in SpiderLabs and a few of their friends who wanted jobs.
That year we decided that the see-through white shirt was not the best idea and decided that if we are having our meeting in Vegas in July, we need to go with the obligatory black hacker-con shirt. The 2007 design was made by Rob Havelt (he is now the Director of Penetration Test at Trustwave SpiderLabs today). When I look back at this design, it actually defined one of the core values we hold in high regard. It has to do with us using innovative technology, to extend our reach, and move faster with better quality and accuracy.
The shirt had mechanized spiders on it and was printed in "3D" on a black t-shirt. We also gave out the shirt with a pair of 3D glasses, although the 3D effect wasn't that intense due to the failure on my part to do any Pantone matching on the colors when I had them printed. Again, this shirt was given out to the SpiderLabs team members who attended the meeting and was printed in a very small quantity (~50). If you happen to have one, you are either a team member or were a client who we ran into at DEF CON that year. This was also the year that we were designing our Remote PenTest Appliance, which greatly extended our reach in performing penetration testing on a global scale. The mechanical spider idea will make an appearance as well in a shirt a few years later.
The shirt in 2007 was the last year that team members directly designed the shirt. In early 2008, we decided to exhibit at Black Hat USA for the first time. We needed to have some booth swag to give out and I thought it would be a good idea to hand out a special edition SpiderLabs t-shirt. For the design, I initially wanted to crowd source the design through a contest of sorts so I turned to another local Chicago technology company, Threadless. They had a ton of experience running t-shirt design contests and I had found a place on their site where they had partner with companies to do a special commissioned design contest. From what I could tell the company sponsoring the contest would pony up some cash and technology prizes for the winners.
I located their general email box and sent them an email. I received a response back in about 24 hours from one of their founders who explained to me that "SpiderLabs was not a cool brand nor a band, so it did not make business sense for Threadlesss to partner with SpiderLabs." Not too thrilled with this shortsighted response, I decided to go direct to some of the artists who were featured on their site to see if I could get any of them to do a design for me.
I was able to get in touch with an amazing artist named, Ray Frenden. He also happens to live in Illinois - a little south of Chicago near Bloomington-Normal where I spent 4 years my life. He and I chatted about SpiderLabs and in the end he came up with this epic t-shirt design. He was also able to get me out of using consumer t-shirt printing companies and to contract with commercial print houses for our jobs. This year I used Oddica to print about 350 shirts. We kept 50 for the team and gave out 200 at Black Hat USA in about 20 minutes on the first day of the expo hall being opened. We also kept 100 for the 3rd year of the "Spiders are FUN!" party later in the week.
Note: This design became so loved by the team, that we even have members tattoo it on their back.
The following year (2009), I wanted to create more of a story with the design. I naturally gravitated towards a comic book cover. This design again was done by, Ray Frenden, and printed by Oddica. I reached out to the SpiderLabs team to provide names of the various comic book characters for the cover.
The characters on the shirt are "Stack Rider", "Mr. Malware", "The Middler", "Brute Force" and "Dr. Injector". You'll notice that the mechanized spider made a return in this shirt. This happened to be designed when I was in the middle of designing a system that changed the very way we delivery penetration testing for our client. The system is called PenTest Manager (PTM). PTM wasn't released in beta until the following year, but there was a "preview" of it here as it was in the forefront of my daily life at that time. There is also some pseudo-hidden meaning with the numbers on the shirt. The 4 represents our fourth-year as a team and the 7 was the month we released the shirt. We printed about 600 of these shirts and besides the ones handed out to team members, Black Hat USA attendees snatched all of them up in less than 2 hours.
In 2010 we did two designs. The idea around doing two was that we would print one version is very large quantity to give out at Black Hat USA and do a very limited edition shirt for just the team members, some clients, and a few of our friends.
Again, we used Ray Frenden to do our designs. The first shirt was influenced by the vector graphic video games of the 1980's. It also was meant to have a little bit of an MCP from "Tron" look to it. There is also a hint of the circuit board web that was used in the popular 2008 design.
For this shirt, I wanted to do something really unique. I had to contact about 20 shirt-printing companies until I found one that would work with me on this project. I worked with a shirt production company in Texas called Pony Express Printing. The owner at the time, Jeff Henderson and his team worked their magic to create something no one else in the t-shirt industry would do for us. What resulted was an all-over print, meaning the design was printed in a continuous way to cover the entire surface of the shirt. In addition, (this was the tricky party) they mixed the right amount of glow-in-the-dark chemicals into the discharge ink which basically sucked all the color out of the shirt, imprinted the design and made it glow in the dark in one pass of the printer. This was also the first year that we private labeled the shirt and poly bagged them. We printed this shirt in the quantity of 1,000. We gave out 500 in the first two hours of day 1 of the Black Hat USA expo and 500 in about an hour and a half during day 2. A shirt of this complexity and quality would easily retail for over $50.00 at clothing store. We gave them away at Black Hat that year.
The second shirt is one of my favorites to this day. It really captured the raw culture of the SpiderLabs team. This shirt is largely influenced by previous shirt designs including the purple spider in the 2008 design and the comic book style of 2009. There is also a tesla coil tossed in there that has some significance in my history, but that's not a story for a blog post. :-)
Like I mentioned earlier, we were in the process of developing some really innovative technology at SpiderLabs. Because of this development, as a team we were transforming from a great, well-respected security consulting organization to one that was more mature in our technology and processes. Again this shirt was designed by Ray and printed by Pony Express. We again did private labeling and poly bagging for easy of distribution (i.e. no folding on our part). We only printed 240 of these shirts. They also used discharge printing that resulted in a very high-end t-shirt feel. The only people who have one of these shirts are members of SpiderLabs, employees of Trustwave, or some clients who attended DEF CON with us that year. Because of the demand of these shirts, none of them (AFAIK) made their way to the "Spiders are FUN!" party to be given to our guests.
In 2011, we gain did two different design. We formally launched PenTest Manager and made significant expansions in our security research capabilities. In SpiderLabs we had always had two distinct cultural attributes.
The first is the comical side that I worked with Ray again to design. I wanted to do something that was almost seemed like a joke, but in very large quantity to hand out at Black Hat USA. What resulted is likely self explanatory to most. We have Three Spider Moon which is a parody of the ever popular Mountain Thee Wolf Moon shirt. This design was the first we had done where it actually looked like a hand painted work of art. To me it had the same comic feel as the "Kramer" did on Seinfeld. With this shirt we printed about 1,500 of them using the same techniques and printer as in the 2010 shirts. These shirts were just as popular, but only shipped about 1,200 of them to Black Hat. The rest we have been slowly handing out at various events since. We also gave out about 200 of these shirts at our "Spiders are FUN!" party that year.
The second design was meant to mark were many of the core team members began their technical journey. While some of us date back to the '70s many of our member's first exposure was in the form of 8-bit video game systems. This shirt was somewhat influenced by the stencil artist known as Invader who is known for this Space Invader work that can be seen on the streets of Paris. This is also one of my favorite shirts. I often were it while traveling to various conferences around the world. We printed about 750 copies of this shirt and gave them out in limited quantity at DEF CON, but we have some left over have been using them as promotional items over the past year.
That brings us to 2012. You may be wondering what this year's shirt will look like. Well, I am currently working with Ray on a single design for this year. We'll be keeping it under wraps until Black Hat USA this year. It is going to be just as epic as the shirts of the past. Amazingly, compared to our very first shirt, I'll need to print nearly 100 shirts just for our team members alone.
Finally, many people have asked how they can get reprints of past SpiderLabs shirts. The short answer is "You can't." You can view all of them printed in large formated and framed in the halls of our new SpiderLabs office located in Chicago. That being said, when the time is right, I have plans to make all of them available again to anyone who wants to purchase one at cost. The timing for this project is likely not until 2013. Stay tuned!