Paperback

Published: Lightning Books (May 2020)

ISBN: 9781785631795

The Tempus Project

Antony Johnston

£8.99

The second Brigitte Sharp thriller

‘Absolutely awesome. One of the best techno-thrillers I’ve read for a very long time’ – MW Craven

In The Exphoria Code, MI6 officer and elite hacker Brigitte Sharp foiled a terror attack on London that used stolen military drone software to deliver a ‘dirty bomb’.

Now Bridge is back, battling a series of hacks and ransom-ware attacks, masterminded by a hacker known only as ‘Tempus’, who is targeting politicians and government officials with impunity.

Discovering that this campaign is linked to a cyber-attack on the London G20 summit, she is drawn into the dark-web world of crypto-currencies, Russian hackers and an African rebel militia.

In another compelling cyber-thriller from the creator of Atomic Blonde, Bridge races against time to prevent a disaster that could alter the balance of global power forever.

Extracts

‘You naughty boy,’ I whisper. I’m almost impressed by his balls.

He’s been discreet so far. Maxim has had meatspace agents on his tail for weeks, waiting for him to slip up, but so far they’ve got nothing. There have even been times I’ve wondered if Maxim’s intel was correct — but not out loud, not even in private to others here in the workshop. Hackers gossip like anyone else. I learned that last year, laughing it off like a silly joke. I’m pretty sure I got away with it, but since then I’ve kept my mouth shut around these loose-lipped motherfuckers.

I also scrubbed my browser history and bookmarks five times over. Just in case.

read more...

Extracts


‘You naughty boy,’ I whisper. I’m almost impressed by his balls.

He’s been discreet so far. Maxim has had meatspace agents on his tail for weeks, waiting for him to slip up, but so far they’ve got nothing. There have even been times I’ve wondered if Maxim’s intel was correct — but not out loud, not even in private to others here in the workshop. Hackers gossip like anyone else. I learned that last year, laughing it off like a silly joke. I’m pretty sure I got away with it, but since then I’ve kept my mouth shut around these loose-lipped motherfuckers.

I also scrubbed my browser history and bookmarks five times over. Just in case.

But it turns out Maxim’s source was right. As well as following the target, the agents have been doing garbage dives. They take at-site photos of everything, steal anything useful, and bring it all to me.

The target and his wife have a four-month-old child. After one recent dive I saw a discarded baby monitor box in a photo. A modern type with camera as well as sound, and more importantly networked so the parents can go out for dinner or whatever and still watch over their little angels.

(Strike one: that box should have been in the recycling, where the agents might not have found it.)

I looked up the manufacturer, a Shenzhen outfit that makes branded goods for big tech companies then uses the same machines and templates to pump out white-label versions to rebadge and sell as own-brand devices around the world. The Chinese government owns ten per cent of the company, but that doesn’t make much difference either way. Design theft like this is standard practice at Asian tech facilities.

(Strike two: never trust a connection inside your house to a generic Chinese manufacturer.)

I asked around the workshop, and the black hat community, but there were no existing hacks or code injection methods for this particular device. So it was down to good old brute force.

I went to a retailer — an actual store, where I had to talk to actual people, hating every actual minute of it — and bought the same model of baby monitor. I took it home, set it facing out the window of my apartment to trigger the motion activation, and hooked it up to my guest network (firewalled off from the real thing) with default settings. Then I returned to the workshop and started poking it over the internet.

By the end of that day I had a crude but effective man-in-the-middle attack that captured every fifth frame of video from the camera, watching people walk by the street below my apartment. No sound, but the video was what mattered. Every fifth frame may not sound like much, but these cameras run at 30fps so it was plenty.

I’d hacked my own monitor. Now it was time to hack the target’s.

I went old-school, locating it by ‘war-dialling’. Back when dinosaurs roamed the internet, war-dialling meant using a program to call every possible phone number in an area by simple number incrementation — 0000000001, 0000000002, 0000000003, and so on — and see if any of them answered with a modulated audio signal instead of a human voice. If they did, the program knew it had found something electronic. Something that could be hacked.

I war-dialled local IP addresses for the baby monitors’ manufacturer code. I found a few hundred in the city, so narrowed it down to the target’s residential area. That left me with a dozen possibles. Half the owners hadn’t changed the default login settings, and the ones who did had used crappy, obvious passwords.

I hacked them all.

That afternoon I piped the output from each camera into separate image directories, then wrote a quick script to automatically stitch the frames into Matroska video files and apply a motion-smoothing algorithm. It’s like watching a 1970s soap opera starring robots, but it’s fine.

At the end of each day for the past week, I’ve played all the day’s files simultaneously, spread over my tri-monitor setup. Because each camera is focused on a crib, it’s mostly sleeping babies. The camera only operates when they move, so they look like the most restless kids in the world. It’s boring as fuck.

But patience is a virtue. Every so often, a parent leans far enough over their baby to be seen. Or they pick up the monitor and move it, to adjust the angle, clean the crib, or place it in a different room where the baby’s fallen asleep. One by one I’ve seen each baby’s parent and been able to eliminate their video feed.

Until yesterday, when I recognised the target’s wife.

I spent the evening disconnecting from all the other monitors, securely deleting their feeds, and covering my tracks. Nobody would know I’d ever been watching. Meanwhile, the stream from the target’s camera has continued recording in the background, waiting for something to confirm the intel from Maxim’s source.

I didn’t have to wait long.

(Strike three: never take your mistress back to your own house.)

‘You naughty boy,’ I whisper, and smile. Today’s video feed shows him leading a young woman by the hand, down the hallway. It’s only visible in the corner of the monitor’s camera, and the image quality isn’t enough to positively identify the woman, but anyone can see it’s not his wife.

I don’t know what Maxim has planned for this unfortunate sucker; what horrible treachery he’ll have to perform to stop this video falling into the wrong hands. But I do know that young woman won’t stay unidentified for long. Maxim will be happy. When Maxim is happy, we’re all happy.

I light a cigarette and take out my phone. At the desk behind me Saskia mutters, ‘For fuck’s sake,’ and I don’t need to turn around to know she’s waving her hands in the air, wrinkling her nose at the smoke.

I laugh, blow a thick cloud at the ceiling, and call Maxim’s number.

quotes

‘Absolutely awesome – one of the best techno-thrillers I’ve read for a very long time. Bridge is a wonderfully painted character: flawed, vulnerable, tenacious and stubborn’

MW Craven

‘The perfect spy thriller for our time, with none of the baggage of Bond’

Jay Stringer

‘Forget about Lisbeth Salander. Here comes Brigitte Sharp’

Johana Gustawsson

‘Atomic Antony Johnston amazes as always’

Barry Forshaw

reviews

‘Johnston manages to make the world of “runtime executables” and “rootkits” thrilling — no mean feat — while also featuring car chases and old-fashioned mole-hunts on the streets of Tallinn’

The Times

‘Once again Antony Johnston shows his casual mastery of the thriller idiom. Brigitte Sharp is the most effective female espionage agent in fiction since Modesty Blaise’

Barry Forshaw, Crime Time

‘A breathless cat-and-mouse dance of shadowy operatives with mixed loyalties set against an evocative European background...delivers countless thrills and suspensions of the heartbeat’

Maxim Jakubowski, Crime Time

‘Johnston has cracked the code on how to make a keyboard warrior into an exciting spy... Bridge is the hacker hero we didn’t know we needed’

Spywrite

‘Good tense plot, certainly keeps your head spinning while you read, engaging characters, current-day thriller. I can definitely see why one reviewer compared Brigitte Sharp to Lisbeth Salander’

Independent Book Reviews *****

‘I have recently been reading a number of thrillers with strong female protagonists. The Tempus Project ranks as one of the best among them. [Delivering] a multi-faceted plot with complex characters and complicated relationships, Johnston takes his readers on both an international adventure and an intellectual experience’

Scintilla.Info

‘I love Brigitte! A fast-paced, fantastic read, full of twists and turns. If you like Mr Robot, this will definitely appeal’

Lecari’s LiveJournal 2.0

‘Balancing action and technology, and making sense of cyber concepts in a refreshing way, Johnston has crafted an explosive thriller that excites on many levels’

Novel Novelist

‘Wow - I absolutely loved this book. The Tempus Project is a smart, high-octane cyber-thriller featuring a heroine after my own heart’

Alice the Unique

‘It’s an exciting ride, full of enough twists and turns to satisfy any thriller reader. The tension is played just right. The plot’s intricate without becoming Byzantine. I can easily see myself coming back for another instalment’

Irresponsible Reader

‘Techno thriller at its finest. Fast-paced…captivating…Fascinating and an eye-opener, especially in regards to how the spy world of spydom has adjusted to this new era of crime’

Cheryl M-M

‘An interesting and clever book. The author clearly knows what he’s talking about and the detail gives the plot a real sense of what goes on behind the doors of MI6 and the CIA. Bridge is a great character’

Colin Garrow

extras

‘Faced with a happy, well-balanced and contented main character, I did the only thing I could: I ruined her life. Within the first twenty pages of The Tempus Project, Bridge is at the epicentre of a disaster which leads to demotion, ostracisation and depressive paranoia. If she were real, I’d apologise until the end of my days...’ Antony Johnston talks to Crime Time about preparing his protagonist for a second outing.

Here’s Antony interviewed by Jeff Quest for the Spybrary podcast.

ABOUT

Antony Johnston

Antony Johnston is a New York Times bestselling writer. The Charlize Theron movie Atomic Blonde is based on his graphic novel; his Brigitte Sharp thriller novels are critically acclaimed; and his first videogame, Dead Space, redefined its genre.

Antony’s books, graphic novels, and videogames include The Exphoria Code, The Tempus Project, The Fuse, Daredevil, Shang-Chi, Shadow of Mordor, the Alex Rider graphic novels and the adaptation of Alan Moore‘s ‘lost screenplay’ Fashion Beast.

He also hosts the podcast Writing And Breathing. Find him online at twitter.com/AntonyJohnston and antonyjohnston.com.

He lives in Lancashire.

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