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US Intel Community now uses AWS’ Cloud-Based ‘Secret Region’

Andrew Hamilton


aws secret region

It is hoped that the new platform will allow the IC’s 16 different organisations to collaborate more efficiently.

Only two weeks after ‘dozens of terabytes’ of US military intel stored on AWS was left open to the public, Amazon has launched a new dedicated cloud region to service the United States’ intelligence community (IC).

Titled ‘Secret Region’, the platform will allow the IC to run and manage web-based intelligence applications. The deal opens up Amazon’s 2013 Commercial Cloud Services (C2S) agreement to the rest of the IC; which was previously contracted between just AWS and the CIA.

As a result, AWS has become the first cloud provider to offer services at every level of US IC secrecy: unclassified, sensitive, secret and top secret.

The deal indicates that the IC is undeterred by the recent discovery of three misconfigured AWS buckets containing “dozens of terabytes” of social media posts and similar pages harvested by the US military for profiling purposes. The archives were found by Chris Vickery, a ‘security breach hunter’ for cyber-resilience platform UpGuard, who found them after a simple search when scanning Amazon-hosted data silos. One of the buckets alone contained 1.8 billion social media posts dating back over the past eight years, mostly originating from central Asia.

But Teresa Carlson, Vice-President of the AWS Worldwide Public Sector, has claimed that the Secret Region will better-enable collaboration between the IC’s numerous organisations. The United States’ intelligence community is composed of 16 distinct bodies, and includes the CIA, the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, and Intelligence Branch, a subsidiary of the FBI.

Carlson said: “The US intelligence community can now execute their missions with a common set of tools; a constant flow of the latest technology and the flexibility to rapidly scale with the mission. The AWS Top Secret Region was launched three years ago as the first air-gapped commercial cloud for customers across the U.S.

“[The] Intelligence community has made it a resounding success. Ultimately, this capability allows more agency collaboration, helps get critical information to decision makers faster and enables an increase in our nation’s security.”

Teresa Smetzer, Director of Digital Futures at the CIA, asserted yesterday at the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas that Secret Region has ‘stunning’ implications for the United States’ intelligence community. Smetzer said: “We now have for all 16 agencies the ability to interoperate across all levels of data classification from unclassified to sensitive to secret to top secret.”

“At the end of the day, that’s what CIA and the intelligence community is all about, is mission,” Smetzer said. “Cloud computing has greatly enhanced our efficiencies, our effectiveness, our ability to scale to meet demands, our ability to surge in ways we couldn’t even imagine before we had a cloud capability.”

The AWS Secret Region is also available to non-IC organisations, but they must be given clearance to access classified data.

The deal underscores Amazon’s continued leadership in the cloud market. Firstly, the retailer beat IBM to the original $600-million-valued C2S deal back in 2013. Meanwhile, Microsoft does provide services to ‘secret’ clearance levels, but not at the ‘top secret’ band, while Amazon now boasts both.

Andrew Hamilton

Andrew Hamilton

PR & Content Executive at Hutchinson Networks

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