‘Cutting edge’ or a ‘security nightmare’? Government anti-espionage unit on the tech behind Bond gadgets

As No Time To Die smashes box-office records, technical experts from the UK National Authority for Counter-Eavesdropping tell us whether 007’s favourite spy toys are rooted in reality
Glynn Lowe/CC BY 2.0

By UK NACE

21 Oct 2021

With 75 years’ experience in detecting and protecting against technical espionage and attacks, the UK’s National Authority for Counter-Eavesdropping (UK NACE) provide technical security support for the UK government, armed forces, law enforcement and critical national infrastructure.

The organisation is one of three national technical authorities, alongside the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure and the National Cyber Security Centre.

The field of technical security in which it specialises encompasses physical and cyber security, as well as personnel. The objective is to ensure the safety of the country’s most valuable information assets: protecting them against the most capable attackers.

UK NACE has evolved from the Diplomatic Wireless Service and code breakers of Bletchley Park in the 1940s.  

"The ability to monitor 007’s location from anywhere might be of benefit to Q, but could leave the door wide open for hostile intelligence agents to compromise the system and potentially tamper with 007’s coordinates"

Its role nowadays is to make sure most sensitive and highly classified areas of government and its work are protected from hostile attacks. This involves using a number of highly sophisticated threat techniques.

But could such techniques one day include the likes of biometrically locked smart guns and nano-bot injections – as used by the country’s most famous intelligence agent?

To mark the release of the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, experts at UK NACE give their take on some of 007’s favourite on-screen spy gear.

Here’s what the organisation’s expert engineers and technologists had to say about some of the Bond’s favourite gadgets.

In the film Skyfall we see Q issue 007 with a Walther PPK/S pistol, which he claims contains a sensor so that only Bond can fire it. Is that possible?

UK NACE: Biometric technology has been used to secure firearms commercially, but any authentication measure is only as good as the mechanism it protects. Manufacturers have to contend with 3D printed rubber ‘fingerprints’ and mechanical bypass of the locking mechanism.
 
What about Spectre, when Bond gets injected with nano-bots, transmitting his location to MI6?

UK NACE: At present, no such tracking technology exists which can be injected into the bloodstream of a human being. However, many of us now frequently wear smart watches and wearables all day to monitor our vital signs.

These devices typically have a range of only a few metres so data could only be transmitted to a nearby phone or other receiving device (although cellular and satellite connectivity is getting more common). And while discreet, such a device would be difficult to covertly attach to someone without them noticing.

The ability to monitor 007’s location from anywhere might be of benefit to Q, but would also present a cybersecurity nightmare, leaving the door wide open for hostile intelligence agents to compromise the system and potentially tamper with 007’s coordinates, and relay false information back to Bond’s bosses.

How about Bond cars… the ultimate Q gadgets. Do armoured cars really exist in the real world?
UK NACE: Yes, they do.  The UK uses these special vehicles at some of our embassies overseas. Regular vehicles can be fitted with fibreglass panels with various armour ratings. Various levels of protection are available, although these increase the weight of the vehicle and alter performance and stability dramatically.

How are gadgets developed?

The director of UK NACE: Most of the gadgets Q makes for 007 eventually are made to work in some sort of fashion in the real world. The Bond franchise brilliantly captures one vital element of modern espionage – the importance of cutting-edge science and technology.

In real life, UK NACE’s home Hanslope Park, is at the heart of the UK government’s effort to use pioneering technologies to help protect its interests at home and overseas. Across the site there are a number of labs and teams comprising of professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds, forming a melting pot of ideas where innovation is the main objective.

The UK National Authority for Counter-Eavesdropping provides technical security support for the UK government, armed forces, law enforcement and critical national infrastructure. Find out more here.

This article first appeared on PublicTechnology.

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