AWS Security Blog

How the unique culture of security at AWS makes a difference

Our customers depend on Amazon Web Services (AWS) for their mission-critical applications and most sensitive data. Every day, the world’s fastest-growing startups, largest enterprises, and most trusted governmental organizations are choosing AWS as the place to run their technology infrastructure. They choose us because security has been our top priority from day one. We designed AWS from its foundation to be the most secure way for our customers to run their workloads, and we’ve built our internal culture around security as a business imperative.

While technical security measures are important, organizations are made up of people. A recent report from the Cyber Safety Review Board (CSRB) makes it clear that a deficient security culture can be a root cause for avoidable errors that allow intrusions to succeed and remain undetected.

Security is our top priority

Our security culture starts at the top, and it extends through every part of our organization. Over eight years ago, we made the decision for our security team to report directly to our CEO. This structural design redefined how we build security into the culture of AWS and informs everyone at the company that security is our top priority by providing direct visibility to senior leadership. We empower our service teams to fully own the security of their services and scale security best practices and programs so our customers have the confidence to innovate on AWS.

We believe that there are four key principles to building a strong culture of security:

  1. Security is built into our organizational structure

    At AWS, we view security as a core function of our business, deeply connected to our mission objectives. This goes beyond good intentions—it’s embedded directly into our organizational structure. At Amazon, we make an intentional choice for all our security teams to report directly to the CEO while also being deeply embedded in our respective business units. The goal is to build security into the structural fabric of how we make decisions. Every week, the AWS leadership team, led by our CEO, meets with my team to discuss security and ensure we’re making the right choices on tactical and strategic security issues and course-correcting when needed. We report internally on operational metrics that tie our security culture to the impact that it has on our customers, connecting data to business outcomes and providing an opportunity for leadership to engage and ask questions. This support for security from the top levels of executive leadership helps us reinforce the idea that security is accelerating our business outcomes and improving our customers’ experiences rather than acting as a roadblock.

  2. Security is everyone’s job

    AWS operates with a strong ownership model built around our culture of security. Ownership is one of our key Leadership Principles at Amazon. Employees in every role receive regular training and reinforcement of the message that security is everyone’s job. Every service and product team is fully responsible for the security of the service or capability that they deliver. Security is built into every product roadmap, engineering plan, and weekly stand-up meeting, just as much as capabilities, performance, cost, and other core responsibilities of the builder team. The best security is not something that can be “bolted on” at the end of a process or on the outside of a system; rather, security is integral and foundational.

    AWS business leaders prioritize building products and services that are designed to be secure. At the same time, they strive to create an environment that encourages employees to identify and escalate potential security concerns even when uncertain about whether there is an actual issue. Escalation is a normal part of how we work in AWS, and our practice of escalation provides a “security reporting safe space” to everyone. Our teams and individuals are encouraged to report and escalate any possible security issues or concerns with a high-priority ticket to the security team. We would much rather hear about a possible security concern and investigate it, regardless of whether it is unlikely or not. Our employees know that we welcome reports even for things that turn out to be nonissues.

  3. Distributing security expertise and ownership across AWS

    Our central AWS Security team provides a number of critical capabilities and services that support and enable our engineering and service teams to fulfill their security responsibilities effectively. Our central team provides training, consultation, threat-modeling tools, automated code-scanning frameworks and tools, design reviews, penetration testing, automated API test frameworks, and—in the end—a final security review of each new service or new feature. The security reviewer is empowered to make a go or no-go decision with respect to each and every release. If a service or feature does not pass the security review process in the first review, we dive deep to understand why so we can improve processes and catch issues earlier in development. But, releasing something that’s not ready would be an even bigger failure, so we err on the side of maintaining our high security bar and always trying to deliver to the high standards that our customers expect and rely on.

    One important mechanism to distribute security ownership that we’ve developed over the years is the Security Guardians program. The Security Guardians program trains, develops, and empowers service team developers in each two-pizza team to be security ambassadors, or Guardians, within the product teams. At a high level, Guardians are the “security conscience” of each team. They make sure that security considerations for a product are made earlier and more often, helping their peers build and ship their product faster, while working closely with the central security team to help ensure the security bar remains high at AWS. Security Guardians feel empowered by being part of a cross-organizational community while also playing a critical role for the team and for AWS as a whole.

  4. Scaling security through innovation

    Another way we scale security across our culture at AWS is through innovation. We innovate to build tools and processes to help all of our people be as effective as possible and maintain focus. We use artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate our secure software development process, as well as new generative AI–powered features in Amazon Inspector, Amazon Detective, AWS Config, and Amazon CodeWhisperer that complement the human skillset by helping people make better security decisions, using a broader collection of knowledge. This pattern of combining sophisticated tooling with skilled engineers is highly effective because it positions people to make the nuanced decisions required for effective security.

    For large organizations, it can take years to assess every scenario and prove systems are secure. Even then, their systems are constantly changing. Our automated reasoning tools use mathematical logic to answer critical questions about infrastructure to detect misconfigurations that could potentially expose data. This provable security provides higher assurance in the security of the cloud and in the cloud. We apply automated reasoning in key service areas such as storage, networking, virtualization, identity, and cryptography. Amazon scientists and engineers also use automated reasoning to prove the correctness of critical internal systems. We process over a billion mathematical queries per day that power AWS Identity and Access Management Access Analyzer, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) Block Public Access, and other security offerings. AWS is the first and only cloud provider to use automated reasoning at this scale.

Advancing the future of cloud security

At AWS, we care deeply about our culture of security. We’re consistently working backwards from our customers and investing in raising the bar on our security tools and capabilities. For example, AWS enables encryption of everything. AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS) is the first and only highly scalable, cloud-native key management system that is also FIPS 140-2 Level 3 certified. No one can retrieve customer plaintext keys, not even the most privileged admins within AWS. With the AWS Nitro System, which is the foundation of the AWS compute service Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), we designed and delivered first-of-a-kind and still unique in the industry innovation to maximize the security of customers’ workloads. The Nitro System provides industry-leading privacy and isolation for all their compute needs, including GPU-based computing for the latest generative AI systems. No one, not even the most privileged admins within AWS, can access a customer’s workloads or data in Nitro-based EC2 instances.

We continue to innovate on behalf of our customers so they can move quickly, securely, and with confidence to enable their businesses, and our track record in the area of cloud security is second to none. That said, cybersecurity challenges continue to evolve, and while we’re proud of our achievements to date, we’re committed to constant improvement as we innovate and advance our technologies and our culture of security.

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Chris Betz

Chris is CISO at AWS. He oversees security teams and leads the development and implementation of security policies with the aim of managing risk and aligning the company’s security posture with business objectives. Chris joined Amazon in August 2023 after holding CISO and security leadership roles at leading companies. He lives in Northern Virginia with his family.