AWS Security Profiles: Maritza Mills, Senior Product Manager, Perimeter Protection
In the weeks leading up to re:Invent 2019, we’ll share conversations we’e had with people at AWS who will be presenting at the event so you can learn more about them and some of the interesting work that they’re doing.
How long have you been at AWS, and what do you do in your current role?
How long have you been at AWS, and what do you do in your current role?
I’ve been at AWS almost two years. I’m a product manager for our Perimeter Protection team, which includes products like AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF), AWS Shield and AWS Firewall Manager. I spend a lot of my time talking with customers—primarily security specialists and network engineers—about how they can protect their web applications and how they can defend against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. My work is about deeply understanding the technical challenges customers are facing. I then use that information to inform what we need to build next, and then I work with our engineering team to figure out how we deliver it.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Deciding how to prioritize what we work on next. We have AWS customers with a lot of different needs, but we only have so much time in a day. My team has to balance the most pressing customer challenges along with the challenges we anticipate customers will face in the future, plus how quickly we’ll be able to deliver solutions to those challenges. I wish that we could do everything, all the time, but we have to make difficult choices about which things we’re going to do first.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Constantly learning something new from our customers. A big part of what I do involves listening to customers to understand their most difficult technical challenges, and every customer is different. A customer in healthcare will have different needs from a customer in finance versus one in gaming. It’s exciting to learn about the different problems each customer faces. Even at the same company, different teams may have different goals and approaches to security. Often, I might educate customers on the tools currently available to fit their needs, but there are also times when the solution a customer needs has not been invented yet, and that’s when things really get interesting.
What does cloud security mean to you on a personal level?
When I think about security in the cloud, it’s about security for individual people. If you store data in the cloud, part of “security” is protecting access to your personal information, like your messages and photos, or credit card numbers, or personal healthcare data.
But it’s not just about preventing unauthorized access. It’s also about making sure that peoples’ data are available for them when they need it. One of the big things that we focus on in Perimeter Protection—particularly in AWS Shield—is protecting applications from denial of service attacks so that the applications are always available. This means that when you need to access the money in your bank account, or say, when a hospital needs to access vital information about a patient, the apps are always up and available. When I think about security and what we’re doing at scale here at AWS, that’s what’s most important to me on a personal level.
What’s the most common misperception you encounter about cloud security?
Sometimes, customers might be tempted to use blanket protections without thinking about why their particular application or business is unique, and what different protections they should put in place as a result.
Cloud security is an ongoing discipline that requires continuously monitoring your applications and updating your controls as your applications change. At AWS, we have this concept of the shared responsibility model, where AWS handles security of the cloud itself and customers are responsible for securing the applications which they run on the cloud. We’ve designed several tools to help customers manage that responsibility and adapt and scale as quickly as their applications do. In Perimeter Protection specifically, services like AWS Firewall Manager are designed to give our customers central visibility of their security controls, such as Amazon VPC security groups, AWS WAF rules, and AWS Shield Advanced protections. Services like Firewall Manager also constantly monitor these configurations so that customers can be alerted when changes have occurred.
I encourage customers to think carefully about how their applications will change over time, and how to best monitor and adjust to those changes as they occur.
What challenges do you currently see in the application security space, and how do you think the field will evolve to meet those challenges?
One challenge that I currently see is the pace of change, and the fact that customers need ways to keep up with these changes.
In the past, many security controls have been static—you set them up, and they don’t change. But as our customers have migrated into AWS, they’re able to operate in a more dynamic way and to scale up or down more quickly than they could before. At the same time, we’ve seen the techniques used to gain unauthorized access or to launch DDoS attacks scale and become more sophisticated. Here at AWS, we’re constantly looking ahead to anticipate how customers will need to actively monitor and secure their applications, and then we build those capabilities into our services.
Today, services like AWS Shield can automatically detect and mitigate DDoS attacks and provide you with alarms and the ability to continuously monitor your network flows. AWS WAF gives you the ability to write custom rules so you can create granular protections for your specific environment. We also provide you with information regarding security best practices so you can proactively architect your applications in a way that allows you to quickly react to new and unique attack vectors. That’s part of what we’ll be addressing in our upcoming re:Invent talk, as well.
You and Paul Oremland are leading a re:Invent session called A defense-in-depth approach to building web applications. What can you tell us about the session that’s not described in the catalog?
In this session, we’ll start by reviewing common security vulnerabilities, and then provide detailed examples of how to mitigate them at each layer of their application. I expect attendees will gain a better sense of how those layers fit together and how to think creatively about their individual security needs based on how they’ve architected their system, or based on their specific business case. Finally, I want all customers, from startups to enterprise, to understand how those challenges change as they scale. We’ll be touching on all of that.
It’s a 400-level session, so it’s a technical deep dive. It’s going to have a lot of good information for security specialists and engineers who want to have hands-on examples that they can go back and use. But I also want to encourage people who are exploring or are newer to this space to join us because even if the hands-on portion is a little too advanced, I think the strategy and philosophy of how to think about application security is going to be very relevant even to those less familiar with the subject matter, and to the work that they might do in the future.
What are you hoping that your audience will do differently as a result of attending?
I want to motivate attendees to perform a review of their current architecture and consider the current controls that they have in place. Then, I’d like them to ask themselves, “Why did I put this control here?” and “Do I know exactly what risk each control is mitigating?” I’d also like them to consider whether there are protections they’ve opted not to use in the past, and whether that decision is still an acceptable risk.
How did you choose your topic?
We developed it based on numerous conversations we’ve had with customers when they’re exploring how to protect their applications at the edge. But, we usually find that the conversation expands into other parts of the stack that need protection as well. One goal of this session is to talk about these needs up front, so that customers can come into conversations with us already knowing how they’d like to protect their entire application.
Any advice for first-time attendees coming to re:Invent?
Make sure you have enough time to get to your next session. There’s a lot of different things going on at re:Invent, and they take place in a lot of different buildings. While I think we do a great job with the schedule and spacing, first-time attendees should be aware that they might have a session in one building and then need to immediately be in another building for their next session. Factor that into your commute plans.
You enjoy discussing song lyrics. Who have you enjoyed the most?
Rush is one of my favorite bands when it comes to lyricism. As a kid, the music was just interesting. But as I’ve gotten older, certain lines hit me differently.
In the song “Dreamline,” there’s a particular verse that says:
When we are young
Wandering the face of the earth
Wondering what our dreams might be worth
Learning that we’re only immortal
For a limited time
When I was younger, I really could relate to that feeling of immortality in a way, as if I was going to be around forever. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that life is very short and very precious, and I want to make the most of it. So I enjoy going back to that song every single time. It’s changed for me as I’ve grown.
And what song has created the lengthiest discussion for you?
I’ve had some great conversations about Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. The themes in that song are relatable to people in so many different ways, and at different times in their lives. One of the great things about song lyrics is that the way people interpret a song is influenced by their personal experiences in life, and this song in particular has always opened up meaningful conversations for me.
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