AWS Security Profile: CJ Moses, CISO of AWS
In the AWS Security Profile series, I interview the people who work in Amazon Web Services (AWS) Security and help keep our customers safe and secure. This interview is with CJ Moses—previously the AWS Deputy Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), he began his role as CISO of AWS in February of 2022.
How did you get started in security? What about it piqued your interest?
I was serving in the United States Air Force (USAF), attached to the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control (AWACS) Wing, when my father became ill. The USAF reassigned me to McGuire Air Force Base (AFB) in New Jersey so that I’d be closer to him in New York. Because I was an unplanned resource, they added me to the squadron responsible for base communications. I ended up being the Base CompuSec (Computer Security) Manager, who was essentially the person who had to figure out what a firewall was and how to install it. That role required me to have a lot of interaction with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), which led to me being recruited as a Computer Crime Investigator (CCI). Normally, when I’m asked what kind of plan I followed to get where I am today, I like to say, one modeled after Forrest Gump.
How has your time in the Air Force influenced your approach to cybersecurity?
It provided a strong foundation that I’ve built on with each and every experience since. My years as a CCI had me chasing hackers around the world on what was the “Wild West” of the internet. I’ve been kicked out of countries, asked (told) never to come back to others, but in the end the thing that stuck is that there is always a human on the other side of the connection. Keyboards don’t type for themselves, and therefore understanding your opponent and their intent will inform the measures you must put in place to deal with them. In the early days, we were investigating Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) long before anyone had created that acronym, or given the actors names or fancy number designators. I like to use that experience to humanize the threats we face.
You were recently promoted to CISO of AWS. What are you most excited about in your new role?
I’m most excited by the team we have at AWS, not only the security team I’m inheriting, but also across AWS. As a CISO, it’s a dream to have an organization that truly believes security is the top priority, which is what we have at AWS. This company has a strong culture of ownership, which allows the security team to partner with the service owners to enable their business, rather than being the office of, “no, you can’t do that.” I prefer my team to answer questions with “Yes, but” or “Yes, and,” and then talk about how they can do what they need in a more secure manner.
What’s the most challenging part of being CISO?
There’s a right balance I’m working to find between how much time I’m able to spend focusing on the details and doing security, and communicating with customers about what we do. I lean on our Office of the CISO (OCISO) team to make sure we keep up a high level of customer engagement. I strive to keep the right balance between involvement in details, leading our security efforts, and engaging with our customers.
What’s your short- and long-term vision for AWS Security?
In the short term, my vision is to continue on the strong path that Steve Schmidt, former CISO of AWS and current chief security officer of Amazon, provided. In the longer term, I intend to further mechanize, automate, and scale our abilities, while increasing visibility and access for our customers.
If you could give one piece of advice to all AWS customers at scale, what would it be?
My advice to customers is to take advantage of the robust security services and resources we offer. We have a lot of content that is available for little to no cost, and an informed customer is less likely to encounter challenging security situations. Enabling Amazon GuardDuty on a customer’s account can be done with only a few clicks, and the threat detection monitoring it offers will provide organization-wide visibility and alerting.
What’s been the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry?
The most dramatic change I’ve seen is the elevated visibility of risk to the C-suite. These challenges used to be delegated lower in the organization to someone, maybe the CISO, who reported to the chief information officer. In companies that have evolved, you’ll find that the CISO reports to the CEO, with regular visibility to the board of directors. This prioritization of information security ensures the right level of ownership throughout the company.
Tell me about your work with military veterans. What drives your passion for this cause?
I’ve aligned with an organization, Operation Motorsport, that uses motorsports to engage with ill, injured, and wounded service members and disabled veterans. We present them with educational and industry opportunities to aid in their recovery and rehabilitation. Over the past few years we’ve sponsored a number of service members across our race teams, and I’ve personally seen the physical, and even more importantly, mental improvements for the beneficiaries who have become part of our race teams. Having started my military career during Operation Desert Shield/Storm (the buildup to and the first Gulf War), I can connect with these vets and help them to find a path and a new team to be part of.
If you had to pick any other industry, what would you want to do?
Professional motorsports. There is an incredible and not often visible alignment between the two industries. The use of data analytics (metrics focus), the culture, leadership principles, and overall drive to succeed are in complete alignment, and I’ve applied lessons learned between the two interchangeably.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I am very fortunate to come from rather humble beginnings and I’m appreciative of all the opportunities provided for me. Through those opportunities, I’ve had the chance to serve my country and, since joining AWS, to serve many customers across disparate industries and geographies. The ability to help people is something I’m passionate about, and I’m lucky enough to align my personal abilities with roles that I can use to leave the world a better place than I found it.
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