Business Technology

Thursday 18 April 2019

Amazon tech chief dispels cloud fears


Encryption key: Amazon Web Services CTO Werner Vogels says it encourages customers to make all data as secure as possible. Photo: Adrian Weckler
Encryption key: Amazon Web Services CTO Werner Vogels says it encourages customers to make all data as secure as possible. Photo: Adrian Weckler
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

The chief technology officer of Amazon Web Services says that encryption offers a way around European objections to sensitive data being hosted by US companies.

Speaking to the Irish Independent in Dublin, Werner Vogels responded to concerns voiced by Germany's federal commissioner for data protection that Amazon and other US-owned cloud hosting services are not suitable for storing German police data due to a risk of US snooping.

Mr Vogels said that the fear of a company's records being legally seized in another country shouldn't be a barrier to using cloud platforms for critical services.

"Absolutely not," he said.

"Obviously, we need to obey the laws in every country that we operate in, whether that's Germany, Ireland or the US. And if we get a subpoena in a country, we have to obey that. But we really do motivate our customers to encrypt all their data or, at a minimum, personally identifiable information or critical business data. If they do that, they're the only ones who can get access to it. It then becomes a conversation between law enforcement and the customer, not us."

Mr Vogels was speaking after Ulrich Kelber, Germany's federal commissioner for data protection and freedom of information, warned that US authorities could invoke the recently passed Cloud Act to demand access to data held by Amazon Web Services. This, the German official said, would create a risk for German government bodies that store data with them.

But Mr Vogels said that using modern encryption standards should avoid this issue occurring in the first place. He also drew comparisons between the adoption of encryption today and the push to make https a secure web standard a decade ago.

"Five to 10 years ago, 'https' was considered to be too expensive," he said. "Now every consumer service runs over https. In the same way, a few years ago it was much more difficult to achieve high levels of encryption. Today, those concerns should no longer be there."

Mr Vogels also said that AWS now has 'red flags' in place to avoid a repeat of last week's revelation that millions of Facebook records were left exposed on publicly-accessible AWS cloud storage facilities.

"We've now changed our tools over time to put up really big red flags, if [the data] is opened up by default for everyone teams," he said. "But remember that they are closed off by default and only become open if you actually take a deliberate action to do so. So this is a deliberate action by whoever owns that data."

Although the data consisted of Facebook records, the datasets exposed were held by two app developers, Mexico-based Cultura Colectiva and At The Pool.

In one instance, Cultura Colectiva openly stored 540 million records on Facebook users, including identification numbers, comments, reactions and account names. The records were accessible and downloadable for anyone who could find them online.

Mr Vogels said that the company's recently announced plan to build an unsubsidised 91-megawatt wind farm in Donegal was part of its effort to get become totally powered by renewable energy.

"It's hard to predict when we will get to 100pc," he said. "But it's definitely our goal. I hope that the wind farm here comes online before 2021, but that depends a bit on how fast our partner can build."

Mr Vogels was in Dublin to deliver a speech on security at the Dublin Tech Summit, held this week for two days at the RDS.

AWS is one of the world's biggest data-hosting companies, with dozens of large data centres around the world. It is the most profitable part of Amazon's overall corporate structure, taking in $26bn in revenue last year.

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