Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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AWS Adds ‘Secret’ Region to CIA Cloud 

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Public cloud giant Amazon Web Services announced a new "secret region" this week designed to complete its portfolio of data classifications for U.S. government workloads.

AWS said Monday (Nov. 20) that 17 U.S. intelligence agencies and government contractors with "secret-level" network access could run analytics and other workloads in the CIA cloud. AWS won a $600 million Commercial Cloud Services contract in 2014 to handle "top secret" data. Also known as C2S, the blockbuster deal helped initiate the government's uneven migration to the cloud.

"The U.S. 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," Teresa Carlson, vice president of Amazon Web Services Worldwide Public Sector, noted in a statement.

The rollout of the AWS secret region was first reported by the web site Nextgov.

AWS launched a "top secret" region three years ago as the first "air-gapped" commercial cloud, that is, isolated from the public Internet. The "secret region" announced this week fills out the range of government data classifications from "top secret" and "secret" to "sensitive" to "unclassified," the cloud vendor (NASDAQ: AMZN) said.

"The AWS Secret Region is a key component of the [intelligence] community’s multi-fabric cloud strategy," John Edwards, CIO of the Central Intelligence Agency, added in a separate statement. "It will have the same material impact on the [intelligence agencies] at the Secret level that C2S has had at Top Secret."

The new cloud region brings "the same tools and workflows that are already available for Top Secret workloads to customers with Secret datasets and workloads," AWS added.

The new capability represents the latest expansion by AWS into the $8.5 billion federal cloud computing market. In September, the Defense Department granted the cloud vendor provisional authority to host the U.S. military's most sensitive, unclassified information. IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) also have gained DoD approval to host sensitive, unclassified data.

As it adds the final pieces of cloud infrastructure, the CIA also has been working with other vendors to analyze the intelligence haul from spy satellites and other assets. For example, it announced a partnership in 2015 to work with Cloudera (NYSE: CLDR) on a "pervasive analytics" capability running on the company's data hub platform. The analytics capability is intended to drive data insights from intelligence analysts to policy makers.

Speaking at an AWS event in June, the CIA's Edwards emphasized the risks involved in the original C2S contract and the agency's goal of adopting agile, commercial cloud technologies. "We named it 'Commercial Cloud Services,' or C2S, for a reason: It's because we want to be like commercial; we do not want to be like government. We want the speed of commercial, we want the speed of that innovation."

Edwards called the C2S contract "the most innovative thing we've even done."

 

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 25 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as Executive Editor for Electronic Engineering Times.

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