Spooks season ten – an identity and authentication review

Last updated: 21 March 2014

As a follow-on to my previous post on how identity can be verified according to your footsteps, I just wanted to highlight how this could be put to effect in catching assassins and other criminals.

One of the biggest TV highlights of the year, spy series Spooks (broadcast under the name MI5 for our American and French readers) kicked off last Sunday for its tenth and final season. For the uninitiated, Spooks is a highly popular fictional TV series that is based on the activities of Section D of MI5 – a team within the UK’s secret service.

It often plays out scenarios that are close to real life – from terrorist attacks on London to the extra-Governmental policy negotiations that take place behind closed doors. And, in the first episode of the last series, it did just that from a technology perspective.

I must confess; I am a bit of a spy show junkie. I love watching impossible scenarios play out to a positive outcome often fuelled by some pretty cool (read totally unrealistic) set of gadgets.

ALERT: Some – very minor – spoilers follow. Even if you haven’t seen Spooks Series 10 Episode 1, you’ll likely not be too upset about reading the following, but for television purists – you have been warned!

In this episode, MI5 Section D tracks down an assassin by scanning CCTV footage around the flat where the murder occurred, and then running it through a motion analysis filter to pinpoint the identity of the assassin.

If you can be identified by your footprint, why shouldn’t you be identifiable by your gait? While our previous blog post queried whether it would be too easy to change your footsteps, e.g. through injury or sheer will, changing your overall physical body movement might require more thought. That said, how MI5’s Section D had a criminal database that included gait information might have stretched the realms of plausibility somewhat… so this gets a ‘10’ for creativity, but a ‘2’ for practicality from us!

We maintain that, while this identification technology is a nice idea that would help police and spies better track down criminals, it is likely still too unreliable – and too far off – to implement more widely with a guarantee proper and secure authentication of identity. While it’s less useful in tracking down criminals, three-factor authentication is our preferred authentication philosophy so, if Spooks could include a ‘something you know, something you have and use the motion analysis filter as ‘something you are’ then we would be much happier.

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