This episode of the Innovation Ramble is all about the world of espionage, where our Marketing and Innovation Director Tom Ollerton looks at international spying and corporate ‘competitive' intelligence.

Our story this week starts with a WW2 spy named Christine Granville, the very first Bond girl who would sneak across the Polish border to Zakopane to deliver propaganda material for the Polish networks to distribute. She was caught several times by the Germans, but craftily bit her tongue whilst being interrogated so she coughed out blood and claimed to have the untreatable tuberculosis. At the end of the war the UK government said her services were “no longer needed” and she was paid off with £100, and a few years later was stabbed in the heart in a cloud of conspiracy.

Mother nature
Spying technology is amongst the most innovative tech out there, but it has sometimes been mother nature who has been employed as an unwitting secret agent. Enter Acoustic Kitty, a cat who was implanted with a battery and microphone, with an antenna in its tail; the idea was that it would wander about merrily doing cat things, and the microphone would pick up audio and transmit it to the CIA. Its first mission was to eavesdrop on two men in a park near the Soviet compound; upon release, it tried to cross the road and was killed by a passing taxi. The estimated cost of the project was around $25 million. Meaow!

In 2006, Tokyo University researchers created an army of zombie cockroaches that could be directed by remote control. This tech has been developed to use the cockroaches’ bodily functions to power the CPUs and radio components of spy devices.

While governments have been harnessing our animal buddies the University of Texas have taken a different tack. They have created a way to reconstruct conversations simply by taking pictures of the environment in which the words were spoken. What?! A presentation at the 2014 SIGGRAPH conference demo’d a sound spying system that uses the fact that sound waves produce minute, invisible-to-the-naked-eye vibrations that can be caught on camera. These vibrations can be analysed to recreate the original sounds. The new technique now means that, theoretically, anyone who can snap photos or video of a room could recreate conversations that occurred there — without having to bug the place or put their ear to the door.

Corporate espionage
Corporate espionage has been around as long as there has been commerce, and the greatest corporate espionage dates back to a tea obsessed Britain. Back then all tea came from China, and the UK wanted to be part of the action. So they hired “adventurer,” Robert Fortune, to smuggle tea plants, and the tea making secrets out of China. He disguised himself as a Chinese Merchant and brought the intelligence to British-ruled India. In his life time, India surpassed China in tea production.

For many modern organisations, stopping employees leaving with sensitive corporate data is a major headache. One way to prevent this is to retain key staff – a top priority for any organisation, especially in the tech industry where there are record numbers of job openings fuelled by unprecedented investment.

Workday Talent Insights is an innovative application that allows businesses to identify who is about to leave, and how to keep them within the company. It sifts through years’ worth of HR data, ranging from time between promotions, time at current job, and number of job functions. It then combines that with job posting data from sites like to gauge the market demand rate for certain employees.

Based on that, Workday can come up with the employees at risk of leaving and how much it would take to replace them. The technology behind all this is the brainchild of Mohammad Sabah, a former Netflix data scientist.

People spying on each other
Since the Cold War, our society has grown accustomed to spying. In a recent study, 50% of young Australians stated that “spousal-spying” was acceptable. A Daily Mail article from April 2015, suggested that 14% of Brits look at their spouse’s social media account with the specific intention of detecting evidence of adultery. Given that, it’s no surprise that 1 in 3 keep their login details secret from their partners.

It’s cheap and easy to spy on each other. A quick search online can find you an air freshener that has a camera, microphone and a SIM card that allows you to dial into the device and listen into, and watch what is happening while you are not at home. But if you’re worried about being snooped on then maybe the Kibo messaging app is what you need. If you and a friend, or secret lover both have the app you can encryt your texts so that if someone looks over your shoulder it appears to be a normal “how are you?” message but if you press on the message itself it will reveal the hidden message beneath.