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How The CIA Is Using Amazon Web Services

It has been less than a year after the U.S. Court of Federal Claims awarded AWS a cloud service contract with the CIA, a decision that brought an end to a highly publicized battle between IBM and Amazon Web Services. The new cloud architecture is meant to provide cloud-based computing, data analysis, storage and other services to 17 separate intelligence agencies, including the CIA, the NSA and more, via a contract worth as much as $600 million.

Despite the recent verdict, the concept of cloud technology isn't a new concept to IT officials within the CIA. In fact, framework for the IC cloud, as it is dubbed, was originally drawn up in 2011 by the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise. Pioneered by officials with both the CIA nad the NSA, the cloud's original purpose, at the time of inception, was to provide a cost-effective, innovative and accessible network for sharing information throughout the intelligence community.

A CIA spokesperson spoke candidly about the rollout of the IC cloud by saying in a recent interview: "Our goal is to make the IC cloud's commercial services available to customers beginning in summer 2014, and we are on target to meet it. These services will be available to all intelligence community agencies." Despite the announcement, neither the CIA nor Amazon has confirmed whether or not the IC cloud has already been made available.

Why Contract Services?

The reasoning behind the contracted IC cloud services is simple; it comes down to the cost. Using outsourced cloud services is much less costly than maintaining internal data centers, which many agencies in the intelligence community had been using. The new IC cloud lets agencies pay for only the services they need, and a centralized cloud architecture also facilitates easy sharing of classified information between authorized personnel.

Moreover, Amazon is already committed to making updates and improvements to the platform and its service offerings in the near future, thereby bolstering functionality of the IC cloud even further. In fact, AWS introduced 200 separate improvements and upgrades to their cloud computing platform in 2013 alone.

IT Security

Data security is always a major concern, and this is compounded even more when dealing with confidential or sensitive information. To this extent, IT officials with the CIA have gone on record stating that the IC cloud is just as safe, if not even more so, than the security protocols that are already being used to manage their internal data storage centers. Specific standards are being put into place regarding the governance, management and long-term storage of classified information, and every single intelligence agency involved in the process is able to participate in the security accreditation process.

According to a source with U.S. intelligence, "The IC always applies a rigorous process to determine the operational readiness of its IT systems and all of the intelligence agencies have an opportunity to participate in these procedures."

Additional Features

The $600-million contract for cloud computing services through AWS isn't the only new offering meant for the intelligence community. A shared desktop environment has been introduced, which pairs up officials with the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the implementation of a new app store meant specifically for use within the intelligence community.

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