Most of us, at some point in our childhoods – or even, if we're honest, as adults – have fancied the idea of being a spy. The cool Bond movie gadgets were almost always as exciting as the fisticuff action and scantily clad ladies. However, Bond-style gadgetry is well into the realm of pure fantasy. Or is it?
The real spooks definitely have access to all the best toys – many of them developed specifically for espionage and at great expense. But there are plenty of gadgets you can obtain for your own snooping. Technology also flows in the opposite direction – from commercial application to spy usage.
The most famous place in the UK for getting your own spy kit is Spycatcher of Knightsbridge. Highlights include a three-way plug adaptor with built-in GSM phone. You can dial in from anywhere in the world and listen to what's going on inside the room in which it's installed.
But it's hardly cheap at £575 inc VAT. You can also purchase a wide variety of covert cameras built into glasses, ties, pens – and even a book. With prices ranging from around £300 inc VAT, up to £2,700 for a camera built into a Ralph Lauren baseball cap, these are expensive toys. Night vision, on the other hand, will set you back as little as £150, although a military-type head-mounted setup is still at least £1,000.
If you want to keep track of what someone is doing with their PC, a simple key logging device which sits between the keyboard and computer is about £100, and has the ability to store up to 65,000 characters of text – approximately three times the length of this article.
For covert audio surveillance, you can pick up a sound recording watch for less than £100 from Active Spy Shop. Alternatively, transmitters in pens or pocket calculators are available. If you want to listen into someone's conversation from a distance, try a parabolic microphone – not exactly new technology, but now you can pick one up for as little as £100. Or what about your own miniature spy plane (opens in new tab)? It's even shaped to look like an AWACS reconnaissance aircraft.
Another specialist vendor of wireless surveillance kit is Swann. The company produces a range of static wireless surveillance devices, but is best known for its SpyCam, which can now be had from the likes of Amazon for just £40. This is a pure analog camera, however, so will need to be allied with a video recording device that has a composite video input.
Tracking their moves
Another favourite of TV and film is tracking the movements of a car using its GPS system. You can fit GPS tracking to any vehicle. The BlueRanger costs just £299, plus £9.99 per month for the service. This sends regular updates via SMS letting you know if the device leaves a predefined geographical area, or exceeds a certain speed.
The BlueRanger is about the size of a 24mm thick credit card, and is designed to be worn as well – although obviously that isn't going to be useful for tracking someone without their knowledge!
An even cheaper option is to use a simple add-on chip, which can be fitted to any car and includes an OBDII port. This has been a standard inclusion on most vehicles manufactured since the mid-1990s. The CarChip records when the vehicle is stopped and started, and samples its speed every five seconds. Up to 300 hours of data can be stored, and the top version even emits audible alarms when certain criteria are met – such as breaking the 70mph UK speed limit.
Although primarily aimed at fleet maintenance, the CarChip has also found favour with those wishing to keep more covert tabs on vehicle usage, such as children breaking the speed limit in dad's car. The data collected can be downloaded to a Windows PC and built into a graph. Although the options don't include GPS data, speed patterns can be used to deduce a probable itinerary.
Tracing mobile phone signals is a mainstay of shows like CSI and 24, and you too can have access to this technology via services such as Trace a mobile or ChildLocate. However, the owner of the mobile will need to give their permission.
World-tracker makes the whole process seamless, and works across the globe. When you request tracking of a mobile phone, the number entered is sent a text message informing them of this request, and asking permission.
Anyone with access to the phone for a short period can turn on tracking and delete the associated texts, then covertly track someone's movements. However, the system is also supposed to send out reminders that the phone is being tracked, as part of an industry Code of Practice. So your spying will eventually be found out.
Alternatively, if your victim is running Windows Mobile on their phone, you could install Mobile-Spy. This keeps track of text, call and email traffic surreptitiously, and uploads it to your account, where you can peruse it.
Technological advancement tends to accelerate, and that will mean that even more new and exciting spying technology is just around the corner.
For example, Korean company MCNex recently demonstrated the smallest VGA camera module – just 5.5mm square and 2.9mm tall. Although the spooks have the most recent technology on their side, there will be plenty of cool spy tech for everyone to use. So you can be sure that someone will be watching your every move.