Amazon enters $600M deal to develop CIA cloud

Federal Computer Weekly reports that Amazon is signing a 10-year, $600 million contract to build a cloud computing system for the CIA.

Larry Downing/Reuters/File
The CIA lobby in McLean, Virginia in a file photo. The CIA may have contracted

Amazon Web Services has worked with companies such as Netflix, Instagram, and Pinterest. But the cloud computing service may sign with a different kind of client: the Central Intelligence Agency.

Federal Computer Weekly reports that Amazon has entered a 10-year, $600 million contract with the CIA. FCW says it learned from anonymous sources that Amazon will build a cloud-computing contract for the agency.

Amazon Web Services will develop a private cloud infrastructure that would help the agency stay up to date with emerging technologies, according to FWC.

Amazon Web Services focuses on remote computing services for the company’s cloud computing platform. The service promotes its large computing capacity with the potential for several servers, in a more cost-effective manner than a traditional server.

A CIA spokesperson declined to comment on the matter when asked by FCW and said it does not publicly disclose details about contracts.

However, the article also notes that CIA Chief Information Officer Jeanne Tisinger said the CIA is seeking cost efficiencies in commodity IT and leveraging the commercial section’s innovation cycle as she spoke before the Northern Virginia Technology Council Board.

The FCW cites two unidentified audience members who said Tisinger mentioned the CIA was working with “companies like Amazon.” The article also pointed to statements from CIA chief technology officer Gus Hunt. He has spoken publicly about potential for leveraging public cloud infrastructure for non-classified information, and he was quoted by Reuters as saying “Think Amazon — that model really works,” in regards to the purchasing of software services on a “metered” basis.

FCW says Hunt did not respond to the publication’s questions about the contract.

Neither Amazon nor the CIA responded to e-mail and phone inquiries from The Christian Science Monitor Wednesday afternoon.

The CIA currently uses a system that involves several small-scale, specific clouds.

Rick Burgess of TechSpot writes that the CIA would benefit from an upgrade to its current cloud-based solution, which he said is part of a “fragmented hodge-podge of numerous, highly specific private clouds.”

He notes that while private clouds are often hosted on an organization’s own hardware or software, they can be hosted by a third party like Amazon’s S3 Web Services.

However, Julie Bort of Business Insider suggests that Amazon may not be interested in working in-house. In fact, Amazon Web Services has argued against private clouds in the past, instead using its “Virtual Private Cloud.” The service still uses hardware hosted by Amazon, but it increases security so that the system behaves more like a private data center.

The report of a deal comes a year after the CIA website was taken down by the hacker group Anonymous in a series of cyber attacks in early 2012. Dave Their wrote in Forbes that “even symbolic attacks like this continue to give the impression that Anonymous is running unchecked” in response to the hack. Still, the CIA probably doesn’t store much classified material on its website.

The CIA would not be the only American agency to upgrade its cyber-security system. The National Nuclear Security Administration is implementing a cloud computing solution called Yourcloud as a cost-effective way to boost security, according to the NNSA website.

Todd Plesco, director of information security for Chapman University, says that the contract would be a big positive for Amazon.

“It shows fiduciary responsibility, especially when you’re dealing with so much data and so much information,” he says. “There’s a lot of federal agencies that could probably benefit from standardization in a number of areas.”

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