AWS Secret Region Debuts as a Cloud for U.S. Intelligence Community

The new cloud region expands availability for the U.S. Intelligence Community by providing access for secret-level clearance usage.


Amazon announced its newest cloud region on Nov. 20, with the public announcement of the AWS Secret Region.

As opposed to other Amazon Web Services (AWS) regions, which are available for anyone to use, the Secret Region is specifically for use by the U.S. Intelligence Community. The Secret Region is being made available to the U.S. Intelligence Community by way of the existing Commercial Cloud Services (C2S) contract with AWS.

"AWS now provides the U.S. Intelligence Community a commercial cloud capability across all classification levels: Unclassified, Sensitive, Secret, and Top Secret," Teresa Carlson, vice president of Amazon Web Services Worldwide Public Sector, wrote in a blog post. "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 new Secret Region complements the existing AWS Top Secret Region that was first made available in 2014. Carlson noted that the Top Secret Region is an air-gapped cloud, meaning it is physically separated from the public cloud.

"The AWS Secret Region is a key component of the Intel Community's multi-fabric cloud strategy," John Edwards, CIO of the CIA, wrote in a statement. "It will have the same material impact on the IC at the Secret level that C2S has had at Top Secret." 

The Secret Region meets multiple compliance requirements, including National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-53 Revision 4, which outlines security and privacy controls for federal information systems and organizations.

"The controls address a diverse set of security and privacy requirements across the federal government and critical infrastructure, derived from legislation, Executive Orders, policies, directives, regulations, standards, and/or mission/business needs," the NIST abstract states.

Public Cloud

While AWS now has regions just for use by the intelligence community, sometimes security information is still posted in the public cloud regions of AWS.

On Nov. 17, security firm UpGuard reported that it found publicly accessible S3 storage that included information from Department of Defense data collection activities conducted by CENTCOM. The archive included 1.8 billion posts of internet data from social media sites and web forums collected over an eight-year time period.

The discovery was first made on Sept. 6 by Chris Vickery, director of cyber-risk research at Upguard, who reported the issue to the DoD, which has since secured the data. The public disclosure of the Pentagon data was due to a misconfigured S3 storage bucket that was mistakenly set up to enable any AWS global authenticated user to access the data. 

Amazon has taken multiple steps in recent months to help users properly secure S3 storage buckets. On Aug. 14, Amazon announced improvements to the AWS Config service to more easily enable organizations to block public read and writes to S3 storage instances. On Nov. 8, Amazon further enhanced S3 controls with new default encryption and permission check capabilities.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.