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Podcast: The Computer Weekly Downtime Upload – Episode 42

In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly, Clare McDonald and Brian McKenna greet the new decade with reflections on the Travelex ransomware attack and Dominic Cummings’ call for data science to rejuvenate Whitehall. And they take stock of the retail sector’s grim 2019, while remembering to mention the big story of the moment: Harry and Meghan

In this week’s episode of the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast, Caroline Donnelly, Clare McDonald and Brian McKenna hail the new year with reflections on the Travelex ransomware attack and Dominic Cummings’ call for data science to rejuvenate Whitehall. And they take stock of the retail sector’s grim 2019 (“retail devastation” – Clare), while flagging the Harry and Meghan Instagram-powered separation from the Windsors.

  • Caroline gets the ball rolling with a summary of the Travelex attack story so far – a story covered from the get-go by Bill Goodwin, Computer Weekly’s investigations editor, and analysed by Alex Scroxton, our security editor. Caroline comments on the traditional seasonality of the “first big cyber security incident of the year”. Don’t these cyber criminals – in this case exponents of the Sodinokibi ransomware – ever take a break?
  • This is a developing story, with the attackers trying to extort Travelex and threatening to publish sensitive customer financial data. Bill appeared on the BBC’s Newsnight programme discussing the attack, thus amplifying the CW brand. There’s more to come from him and Alex.
  • Brian then revisits another early new year story – chief adviser to the prime minister Dominic Cummings’ blog calling on data scientists and software developers to join him in a crusade to revolutionise Whitehall. Clare asks: Is his rallying cry to “misfits and weirdos” just code for young white blokes in hoodies, and so a perpetuation of sexism?
  • Brian confesses some small doubt as to whether Dom knows as much about data science as he suggests, but concedes he might have a point about the lack of “cognitive diversity” in the civil service. And he draws attention to CW editor-in-chief Bryan Glick’s blogpost about the “same old, same old” cast of Cummings’ strategy, reminiscent as it is of Tony Blair’s rhetoric and the discourse of the Government Digital Service that came from Martha Lane Fox’s report on digital and government commissioned by Francis Maude.
  • Brian then briefly touches on the cyber security implications of the current US-Iran hostilities, inaugurated by Donald Trump’s authorisation of the drone-powered execution of Qassim Soleimani in Iraq, as analysed by Alex Scroxton. While nothing seems to have happened so far on the cyber warfare front, Iran will want to damage the US commercially somehow, and it is much less militarily powerful than its adversary. So, watch this space.
  • To cheer us up, Clare then retails a litany of dire statistics from the retail sector. Figures from the British Retail Consortium have confirmed that 2019 was the worst year for retail in 25 years, with total sales down by 0.1%. It was a poor Christmas period, with Superdrug, John Lewis, and Tesco all suffering, among others. Experiential shopping might come to alleviate the gloom, and the right balance between online and offline seems like it might be a way forward.
  • Clare refers back to some 2019 stories that show in some detail how the retail environment looks: Cap Gemini saying more than half of customers will shop for food online by 2020, and Global Data research indicating that “click and collect” will grow by 45% over the next five years.
  • Brian then remembers to mention Harry and Meghan, and their bid to detach themselves, to some extent at least, from the UK’s Windsor family firm and move to Canada. As Caroline points out, they announced their plans on social media (Instagram), which is a departure from royal protocol. Might they do a podcast? Or a reality TV show? Caroline and Clare express enthusiasm.

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