Outages at Greggs, McDonalds, Sainsburys and Tesco? What the hell is going on at Britain’s best-loved chains?

20 March 2024, 10:34

Moscow isn't coming for your vegan sausage roll just yet, writes Will Guyatt
Moscow isn't coming for your vegan sausage roll just yet, writes Will Guyatt. Picture: Alamy
Will Guyatt, technology correspondent

By Will Guyatt, technology correspondent

LBC’s Tech Correspondent Will Guyatt turns it off and on again...

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I’m surprised we haven’t had a “Russian Hackers are after our Big Macs and Steak Bakes” headline yet.

Typically - you wait a long time for a major tech outage, and then four turn up at once like a row of buses.

For Greggs, McDonalds, Sainsburys and Tesco all to experience such issues in under a week, you can almost excuse the temptation of a growing number of “tech experts” and speculators to assume this is leading to a major cyber attack that’s plotting to keep us away from food.

Perhaps the biggest challenge around tech issues like this is that from the outside looking in, it’s practically impossible for us to determine the difference between a cyberattack and an outage caused by Roscoe in the IT department - as both will stop a service we rely upon from working.

Today, it’s more important than ever for companies to communicate quickly and decisively about tech problems - whether Roscoe’s had a bad day at the office, or their systems are being hacked by an outside organisation.

Thankfully, within hours, both McDonalds and Sainsbury's had made it clear with short statements to the media and on their social media channels that outages were down to a failed software update from a third party provider - and soon, normal service was resumed.

It’s a huge challenge to know what it must be like for companies agonizing over what they will say to the public. There have been instances in the past where tech issues have actually been a distraction tactic to hide a hack elsewhere into a company’s systems, and we’ve also had those where companies have taken months to alert customers to an actual cyber attack where their valuable personal data was compromised, and possibly in the hands of nefarious hackers.

Because businesses now rely on a complex patchwork of providers to power their software and services - it’s currently impossible to say the issues faces by these major retailers ARE intrinsically linked, but at the same time, the likelihood of this being some kind of bizarre coincidence are decreasing.

Because the core issue is related to taking card payments, it’s entirely possible a third party provider is having issues with their software - but why on earth did two major supermarkets choose to update their software on Saturday - their busiest trading day, and why would they allow Greggs to succumb to the issue 120 hours later?

All we can do now is to keep watching and waiting for further updates - and that’s only if the companies choose to tell us more.

Recent issues over at Kensington Palace shows us that social media abhors an information vacuum and people love to speculate - but I don’t believe Moscow’s coming for your vegan sausage roll.