Stealth Quotient & Origins

Anyone can be stealthy. It doesn’t take an expert to avoid detection. Take an untrained person, put them far enough away from their adversary, and they can avoid detection. Put an untrained person deep in a jungle, out of sight on another continent, and their adversary will not detect them. Herein lies the point. Stealth skill is not a direct requirement for ‘invisibility’ any more than cooking skill is a requirement to microwave something.

Tip: Many modern militaries rely on this fact. Since the advent of firearms, you no longer need to get particularly close to your enemy to engage them. Certainly some modern forces retain great skill in stealth techniques. But for the most part, simple ‘scalable’ skills / tactics enable the requisite level of stealth for modern purposes.

You can get by with simple tactics and techniques, such as wearing concealing clothing – and remaining at a distance from your adversary. In this way, even someone without any training can be brought along on an operation that requires stealth – as long as you remain far enough away.

So where do stealth skills come in?

When you want to get closer to your adversary. When you want to do something more interesting around your adversary. These are the things which require increasing skill in stealth.

Take the firearm analogy a step further. Today, armies mass produce camouflage – and maneuver at a reasonable distance from each other. This helps them to avoid detection right up until they are within range (we’re primarily thinking of unmechanized infantry here) to engage with firearms.

You go back to before the time of weapons that can kill at 100s of yards – the stealth skill required to get close enough to kill was significantly greater. This meant that ancient stealth operatives had to be much better than the standard to which most of the world’s armed forces are held to today.

Now, one thing that hasn’t changed, is the skill required to infiltrate. So if we’re talking about stealth for the purposes of use in the information security field – we’re not talking open warfare as much as we’re talking infiltration. We’re talking access to resources inside a target facility. We’re talking getting in and out without being detected. If we’re talking all that – unless you have a gun that enables you to shoot a usb drive into a server from hundreds of yards away, we’re going to have to go in.

This means that we’re going to have to do something interesting. We’re going to have to use the age old ‘close contact’ skill sets to get the access that we need. This means that simply looking at what armies in the modern world are doing won’t cut it. We don’t have need for a solution to move squads of men within 200 yards of the enemy, then engage with firearms… that’s not our game. Even looking at special operations forces… don’t need a solution to quietly move through the dark and clear a building of hostiles. That’s also not our game.

We need to be even better. If we’re looking at infiltration tactics – without the benefit of being able to incapacitate or otherwise render our adversaries unable to detect us… we’re going to have to get really really stealthy.

We need to look back at the skills that were taught hundreds of years ago. We need to look back at the arts, strategies, and tactics of the ninja.

Rating Stealth Q

I like to call it the ‘stealth quotient’ or ‘q’ for short. This rating roughly translates into ‘how close you can get to the adversary – undetected.’ You can think of the average practitioner, with minimal training as having a ‘high q’ meaning that they have to be exceptionally far away from their adversary in order to avoid detection. Certain other actions such as carrying heavy things, running, manipulating equipment, etc… these things momentarily increase your q. This means that even at the same distance from an adversary, someone with a lower q (better stealth training) will be able to more quietly manipulate their equipment, or do whatever other task is required.

Over time, with enough training, your q should go down. It’s unlikely that it will ever go to a perfect ‘zero’ though certainly some very talented professionals are able to get unreasonably close to their adversaries while still avoiding detection.

What matters is that you think about q when planning an operation. Thinking about the gear you’re bringing, the team you’ve put together, and the route you’ll take. Try to keep in mind your (and your team’s) q when planning how close you need to be to your adversaries. Especially if you’re heading into a situation where you might encounter armed guards, or other dangerous situations if detected.

Finally, try to work on decreasing your q over time. Start your training out far away from practice adversaries. Work on ensuring you can avoid detection at range, then as you get better, move in closer.

Happy hiding!

About the author

Professional hacker & security engineer. Currently at Google, opinions all my own. On Twitter as @zaeyx. Skydiver, snowboarder, writer, weightlifter, runner, energetic to the point of being a bit crazy.


  1. I’m fairly stealthy by nature. Keep a quiet clear mind. Cultivate a fluid animal-like grace. Slip into the zone. It should just happen naturally, and by necessity. Overthinking is the enemy.

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