Amazon opens up about its cloud security practices, joins CSA registry

Amazon Web Services has submitted an entry to the Cloud Security Alliance’s Security, Trust & Assurance Registry (STAR), a move that sheds some light into the security features of its IaaS cloud offering.

The CSA launched its STAR program last August as a forum for users to investigate the security practices of various cloud providers, but since then it’s been slow to catch on. About six months after it launched there were only three submissions to the registry. Microsoft Azure was the first major cloud provider to join the registry in April, while in the past few weeks infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) providers Amazon Web Services, Terremark and have all now joined, bringing the total entrants to a dozen.

AWS released an updated whitepaper outlining its security practices to become listed in the STAR program. The 42-page document runs through the various certifications and compliances AWS has for its cloud and provides answers to more than 190 questions from the CSA as part of the STAR program’s questionnaire. In the document, AWS says that its service has received SAS70 (Statement on Auditing Standards) Type II audits, as well as International Standards Organization (ISO) 27001 certification. AWS has a SOC1 (Service Organization Controls) report under SSAE16 (Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements), which is a financial certification by the Auditing Standards Board of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). AWS has Payment Card Industry Level 1 Service provider authority, and it is listed as at a “moderate” level for its Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) controls.

The questionnaire provides some additional insights into AWS’s security architecture. For example, AWS says it provides SOC Type II reports to customers to view under nondisclosure agreements. To prevent data leakage AWS uses virtualisation software that isolates customer data in multi-tenant environments and prevents customers from accessing information not assigned to them. When a virtual machine instance is no longer needed by the customer, the decommissioning process is taken from the National Institutes of Standards in Technology (NIST) guidelines for erasing customer data. If that is not able to be done, the device can be degaussed or physically destroyed, AWS says in answering the questions.

The company says customers dictate where in the AWS cloud data is stored across various regions. The company also notes, however, that “AWS will not move customers’ content from the selected Regions without notifying the customer unless required to comply with the law or requests of governmental entities.” AWS says it is up to the customers to use their own encryption mechanisms if they so choose, but the company does offer server-side encryption for its Simple Storage Service (S3) and virtual private cloud, which is a single-tenant offering.

As for testing of systems and whether the company conducts network or application-layer vulnerability assessments, AWS says that customers retain control of their guest operating systems, software and applications and therefore “are responsible for performing vulnerability scans and patching of their own systems,” and adds later that customers can request permission to conduct scans of the cloud infrastructure assigned to them, so long as it does not impact other users’ instances.

In addition to Amazon, Terremark — which is owned by Verizon — and each also submitted information for the STAR program.

The addition of the three cloud providers marks somewhat of a milestone for the program, as AWS is seen as a market-leading IaaS player in the cloud. CSA officials have said they expect additional providers to join the program in coming months. When the CSA announced STAR, it said big-name tech companies such as Google, Intel and McAfee had plans to join STAR, but they still have not.

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