James Bond is known for impeccable taste in clothes, cars and cocktails. Not to mention, cool gadgets and tricks up his sleeve like wristwatch lasers and passenger ejector seats. Along with the style and grace, keeping data safe and intelligence top secret is still top of mind for Bond.

This got us thinking: If given a choice, what would the world’s daring Secret Service agent choose to authenticate his identity? Or has he already used different systems, and in what capacity? As an MI6 agent, however, shouldn’t Bond try to be less conspicuous, and put a premium on security over style?


Photo by Ludovic Bertron

Mission-critical online service

Bond is on a mission. He desperately needs to access information in an unsecure internet line. Bond is required to log-in using a username and password plus a secondary factor — SMS text to a ‘burn phone’ or an alphanumeric code displayed on his wristwatch. If he’s logging in outside the secure realm of MI6-issued computers, he may be required to scan his fingerprint as well. Multi-factor authentication can deter potential prying eyes from getting access to sensitive data.

But is fingerprint scanning safe enough?

In Skyfall, Bond had a slick, biometrically encoded pistol that uses a palm scanner to lock out unauthorized users. The Walther PPK is coded to Bond’s palm prints to allow him, and only him, to fire the gun. Talk about the ultimate security protection. There’s also a radio transmitter to trace Bond’s whereabouts.

While biometric security is becoming increasingly commonplace as a way to secure and protect assets, the technology has been featured in many Bond scenarios as fingerprint scanners appear quite frequently. But fingerprints and palmprints can easily be lifted from a bar glass (shaken, not stirred) and replicated. 007 should know better!

Technology such as keystroke dynamics could be a better alternative. His overall typing speed, the length of time keys are depressed, common typing errors, or variations of speed moving between specific keys can be used to determine 007’s identity more securely than a fingerprint. There’s also body shape scanning or vein recognition, a type of biometrics based on the vein patterns in the human finger or palm.

Facial Recognition: Is it infallible?

Biometric face recognition technology has received significant attention in the past several years. Compared to other biometrics using fingerprint/palmprint and iris, facial recognition has distinct advantages because of its non-contact process. Face images can be captured from a distance without touching the person being identified, and the identification does not require interacting with the person. In addition, face images that have been recorded and archived can later help identify a person.

In Quantum of Solace, Bond photographs a series of strangers across a darkened opera hall, many facing partly away from him. The photos are beamed to the SIS’s backend systems and the software analyses the faces by breaking them into geometric shapes. They are referenced against a database, and the individual’s identities are rapidly returned.

Facial recognition is getting increasingly sophisticated, even Facebook has developed an algorithm to calculate a face “template.” The key factor is how much of the face the system needs to see to return a match with a confidence level of 80%.

In Skyfall, Raoul Silva a former MI6 operative turned cyber-terrorist who is hellbent on seeking revenge has a changed look. In Silva’s case would the facial recognition hold up as Silva wears a prosthesis to replace the teeth and keep his left cheek up. When taken out his face is disfigured. The polygon analysis normalizes the faces, mapping elements and examining their positions. Perhaps a 3D facial expression database for facial behavior could detect villains who may not look quite the same as they used to.

In essence James Bond has always been ahead of the curve. He has utilized palm print activation, facial recognition and other new and exciting forms of identity verification.

In future films, will we see the use of handwriting, odor, walking style or gait, odor, or actual DNA segments to determine the identities of MI6 agents? What could the future hold for Q’s new inventions and ways to continue protecting 007’s identity?