Amazon AWS algorithms watch for cloud-based hacks

Cloud involves trust, letting go of control

The hack of Sony's PlayStation Network in April this year was launched from the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing platform. But Amazon is keen to emphasise that it has procedures in place to reduce the likelihood of it happening again.

"We take the privacy of our customers extremely seriously. But at the same time usage of our service comes with terms of service, which basically mean that abuse and illegal activity is not allowed," Amazon's chief technology officer Dr Werner Vogels told CSO Online.

"Of course we do not run around looking continuously at what you do. But we do have a set of algorithms in place, and a set of monitors in place, to look for those particular patterns that are illegal," he said.

Amazon had become "very intelligent" at spotting suspicious behaviour, Vogel said. The company has a dedicated team watching for misuse, and customers are "vigilant" in reporting suspicious activity.

Vogels was in Sydney today to present the opening keynote address at the AWS Cloud Tour 2011 event. Both he and the AWS technology evangelist for Asia-Pacific, Simone Brunozzi, told attendees that security was Amazon's priority, with heavy investment in identity and access management.

However Vogels told CSO Online that cloud customers must understand that a certain level of trust and control has to be in place.

"A common request might be, 'Can we see your data centres?', and we explain to our customers that actually letting you walk through our data centres would be a security risk. You would not want other people walking through your data centres either," he said.

"When we take an airplane, we don't really examine the maintenance record of that airplane before we actually go on board."

Amazon will review a potential customer's existing security procedures for their own data centre, and explain how Amazon's procedures would match each line item.

"I have yet to encounter a situation where after that discussion the customer is not completely satisfied with the information that we give," Vogels said.

Vogels considers end-to-end security to be a core component of cloud applications, along with the ability for workload to be decomposed into individual instances and deployed automatically. Building a moat around your application is no longer sufficient, he told attendees. Security needs to be built-in throughout the application's architecture.

"We will forever have security and operational excellence as our number one investment area," Vogels said, promising that AWS would always provide "more fine-grained [security] controls than you've ever had in your own data centre".

Vogels refused to be drawn on recent media reports that Amazon intends to open an Australian data centre in the near future. "We do not comment on rumours," he said.

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