Amazon’s New ‘Secret Region’ Promises Easier Sharing of Classified Data
CIA info chief says the intelligence community has been eager for a way to put secret-level data in a secure cloud.
Amazon Web Services unveiled a cloud computing region for the CIA and other intelligence community agencies developed specifically to host secret classified data.
The AWS Secret Region will allow the 17 intelligence agencies to host, analyze and run applications on government data classified at the secret level through the company’s $600 million C2S contract, brokered several years ago with the CIA. AWS already provides a region for the intelligence community’s top secret data.
“Today we mark an important milestone as we launch the AWS Secret Region,” said Teresa Carlson, vice president of AWS Worldwide Public Sector. “AWS now provides the U.S. intelligence community a commercial cloud capability across all classification levels: unclassified, sensitive, secret and top secret. "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.”
The AWS Secret Region is essentially its own commercial data center air-gapped—or shut off—from the rest of the internet. CIA Chief Information Officer John Edwards views the new region as a key step in commercial cloud computing technology that has already changed the way the IC handles data and addresses cybersecurity.
In addition to hosting, storing, analyzing and allowing various applications to ingest classified data, AWS also stood up an IC Marketplace, which allows intelligence agencies to download, test and buy software from companies based in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. Cloud computing, Edwards said, is game-changing technology that provides a constant stream of innovation and is more secure than the CIA’s own internal data centers.
“The AWS Secret Region is a key component of the intel community's multi-fabric cloud strategy. It will have the same material impact on the IC at the Secret level that C2S has had at Top Secret,” Edwards said in a statement.
Establishing Cloud Dominance?
Amazon Web Services is the most profitable division of business giant Amazon, and it is recognized as the dominant private-sector commercial cloud services provider, serving major customers like Netflix. AWS further signaled its intent to corner the growing $8.5 billion federal cloud computing market in opening a new East Coast corporate headquarters in Fairfax County and unveiling a new computing region for government customers. The company also recently announced it can host the Defense Department’s most sensitive, unclassified data.
The AWS Secret Region strengthens AWS’ position as “a dominant player” in the federal cloud computing market, according to Katell Thielemann, research vice president at Gartner, Inc.
The Defense Department, which spends some $40 billion on IT each year, has the most unlocked potential in cloud computing spend, and AWS, Microsoft and IBM each have early contracts in place to serve military agencies.
The AWS Secret Region will also be available to non-intelligence community agencies with appropriate secret-level network access, like military agencies, according to an AWS official, but they would have to use their own contract vehicles and not the C2S contract.
Thielemann said the secret region is likely to entice new customers who favor speed to market and rapid innovation. It will also be attractive for agencies with large mixtures of both secret and top secret data.
“One of the big things is that AWS has had an impact with regard to the ability of organizations under the IC umbrella to better share information,” Thielemann said. “They have an ability to bring new tools into the environment that were very difficult to adopt previously—things like geospatial tools, advanced analytics and data dissemination. What is compelling about cloud environments and the reason why the rest of the world has ran to them is that once you’re in these more modern platforms, you’re no longer beholden to a hardware-centric view of the world.”