Aug 26, 2021 - Podcasts

A cybersecurity call to action

In the middle of messy evacuations from Afghanistan and just before a meeting with the Israeli prime minister, President Biden yesterday held a cybersecurity summit with tech and business leaders at the White House. Arvind Krishna, the chairman and chief executive officer of IBM, was one of them.

  • Plus, retailers tackle the shipping crisis
  • And Afghanistan’s all-women robotics team flees Kabul and talks to us from Mexico City about what’s next

Guests: Arvind Krishna, chairman and CEO of IBM; members of The Afghan Dreamers; Axios' Courtenay Brown

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Margaret Talev, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to us as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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MARGARET TALEV: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Thursday, Aug. 26. I’m Margaret Talev, in for Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what we’re watching today: retailers tackle the shipping crisis. Plus, Afghanistan’s all-women robotics team talks to us from Mexico City about what’s next.

But first, the White House cybersecurity call to action is today’s One Big Thing.

In the middle of messy evacuations from Afghanistan and just before a meeting with the Israeli prime minister, President Biden held a cybersecurity summit with tech and business leaders at the White House, yesterday. One of the leaders there was Arvind Krishna, the chairman and chief executive officer of IBM.

And I'm with Arvind now at IBM headquarters in Washington. Social distanced, of course. Arvind, thanks for taking the time.

ARVIND KRISHNA: My pleasure to be here with you, Margaret.

MARGARET: Did you have a chance to speak personally with the president at the summit and in the middle of everything that's going on, why is cybersecurity so important that there had to be a summit about it now?

ARVIND: His time with all of us was in a group setting, where there were about, I think 30 of us in the room all told, including half a dozen cabinet members. And the fact that they could convene 25-odd CEOs across different industries, and to at least imply that there will be more coordination and more of a holistic effort across both government and private industry, I think is energizing.

MARGARET: I've heard from you and from other CEOs that there are thousands or maybe tens of thousands of unfilled jobs in this area and no capacity to fill them.

ARVIND: I wish it was only tens of thousands. There are half a million unfulfilled jobs in cyber. So that's a question of the supply side, the supply isn't there. It creates two issues. One, the job is unfulfilled and the second: it drives wages way beyond being reasonable. So the issue is not so much for larger companies where we might be able to reach up, but then small and medium businesses find it really hard to be able to pay those wages for anyone. So we've got to work on the, on the supply. We have to work on training people. On maybe people reentering the workforce, maybe people mid-career for these jobs, not just people in high school and in college.

MARGARET: Do you see it as a business threat? Is it a national security threat? Is it both?

ARVIND: I think it's the issue of this decade. When I say that, I'll call it a little bit tongue in cheek, Sutton's Law after the bank robber. Why did he Rob banks? Because that's where the money is. Why are criminal the nation states coming off cyber infrastructure? That's where the value is today. If you shut down the cyber infrastructure, no payments will happen. Let's try living without payments. If you shut down a pipeline, you don't get fuel on the East Coast. Really? You can live without fuel. How do you drive and how do you go places? If you shut down water, how long can a human being live without water, two days?

MARGARET: You're saying we have no idea -- we know what could happen, but we've never really experienced it on the kind of scale that we could.

ARVIND: We haven't even experienced 0.1% of what could happen. And so that's the real — it's both the threat and the opportunity. The threat is it could be a thousand times worse. The opportunity is we have a bit of time to get it corrected. And to begin to put safeguards in place before it happens.

MARGARET: Arvin Krisha, CEO of IBM, thank you so much for joining us.

ARVIND: My pleasure.

MARGARET: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with stories of evacuating Afghanistan, while family is left behind.

Welcome back to Axios today. I'm Margaret Talev in for Niala Boodhoo. Global shipping is in chaos right now. And it's leading to empty shelves, long delays for big and small retailers -- but major companies like Home Depot and Walmart may have found the ultimate big box solution. Axios markets reporter Courtney Brown's here now to tell us more. Hi Courtney.


MARGARET: So how are these big retailers dealing with the shipping cost?

COURTENAY: The number one question, these companies, retailers, are getting from investors right now is great, you're seeing all of this consumer demand, but how are you stocking your shelves? And companies like Home Depot and Walmart have kind of a surprising answer: they've chartered their own boats that will solely carry their goods back and forth.

MARGARET: Is it really expensive to charter your own vessel?

COURTENAY: $40,000 per day. That's a drop in the bucket for Walmart and Home Depot. It's a rounding error. But for smaller retailers, you might see how this is not an option for them. And that's a problem because if you go to your neighborhood store and they don't have what you want, you're going to go to maybe a bigger retailer.

MARGARET: Where do they get these containers from?

COURTENAY: You know, how you can rent furniture or rent clothing, and there were companies dedicated to doing that? Well, there are companies dedicated to offering chartering vessels and they're kind of ramping up those offerings because they're seeing high demand from existing retail customers to charter the vessels.

MARGARET: Courtenay Brown writes for the Axios Closer newsletter. Thanks Courtenay.

COURTENAY: Thanks Margaret.

MARGARET: We're now just five days away from President Biden's deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. As evacuation efforts continue, five members of The Afghan Dreamers, the country's first all-women robotics team, have safely made it out of the country. They landed in Mexico City on Wednesday night, but their families are still trying to get out of Afghanistan safely.

With us now are some members of the Afghan Dreamers. Their identities have been out there before, but as their families attempt safe passage, we're withholding their names at their requests to protect their safety. Uh, ladies, I wanted to start by just asking you: the world has been watching all of your journeys for the past week, from Afghanistan, some to Qatar, some to Mexico now. How did you feel to have to leave your home behind and how did the journey go?

DREAMERS: It can not be easy for anyone to leave your beloved ones behind to leave their house to live the place they were born and the place they, uh, you know, had their whole life over there. Leaving memories over there is not an easy task for anyone. And the same just happened to us as well. Especially, you know, saying goodbye to our beloved ones from Afghanistan. It was a really, you know, hardship that we experienced, but now we are happy that we are safe and, um, hopefully looking forward to have our beloved ones safe as well.

MARGARET: What do you think is next for you and the rest of your team?

DREAMERS: We all have, as I mentioned before, we all have dreams. We all have goals and, um, we are going to continue this path. We really appreciate every single opportunity that we would have another life and opportunities are, you know, like diamonds that we have to save them. So any opportunity is appreciated.

MARGARET: Are you hoping to move to the United States?

DREAMERS: In the past, we had many opportunities to have meetings with the universities like Yale, and they were having, you know, recommendations for us to have us as their students. And we had many promises from them. Like they would be, uh, helping us and having the opportunities to study in universities like Yale University, Cornell, Harvard. They were promising us that they will give us the opportunity to have our studies over there. Because it's our big dream to continue our path, and now they are responsible for the promises that they have given us. And we want them to, you know, put their promises into action now because it's the time.

MARGARET: What is your message for President Biden. He has made a promise to get as many Afghans as possible who have been allies of the United States, or could be in trouble, out by August 31st. But that is only a couple of days away. What do you want President Biden to know about the situation?

DREAMERS: First, we want to thank and say that we really appreciate the support that he is having for Afghanistan, but we want him to save our home, save our country as well because our country is about those people who are not having the opportunity to save themselves as well. Those who live in villages and remote areas and they don't have access to, save themselves. Afghanistan is home of those people as well, and they need safety. And because they have dreams, they have their children, and we want our country to be saved.

MARGARET: We've been speaking with the all female Afghan Dreamers robotics team from Mexico City. Ladies, thank you very much for talking with us.

DREAMERS: Yes. Thank you so much for having your time for us.

MARGARET: That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Margaret Talev. Thanks for listening, stay safe, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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