AWS Security Profiles: Sam Koppes, Senior Product Manager

Amazon Spheres and author info

In the weeks leading up to re:Invent, we’ll share conversations we’ve 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?

I’ve been with AWS for a year, and I’m a Senior Product Manager for the AWS CloudTrail team. I’m responsible for product roadmap decisions, customer outreach, and for planning our engineering work.

How do you explain your job to non-tech friends?

I work on a technical product, and for any tech product, responsibility is split in half: We have product managers and engineering managers. Product managers are responsible for what the product does. They’re responsible for figuring out how it behaves, what needs it addresses, and why customers would want it. Engineering managers are responsible for figuring out how to make it. When you look to build a product, there’s always the how and the what. I’m responsible for the what.

What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?

The scale challenges that we’re facing today are extremely interesting. We’re allowing customers to build things at an absolutely unheard-of scale, and bringing security into that mix is a challenge. But it’s also one of the great opportunities for AWS — we can bring a lot of value to customers by making security as turnkey as possible so that it just comes with the additional scale and additional service areas. I want people to sleep easy at night knowing that we’ve got their backs.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

When I deliver a product, I love sending out the What’s New announcement. During our launch calls, I love collecting social media feedback to measure the impact of our products. But really, the best part is the post-launch investigation that we do, which allows us understand whether we hit the mark or not. My team usually does a really good job of making sure that we deliver the kinds of features that our customers need, so seeing the impact we’ve had is very gratifying. It’s a privilege to get to hear about the ways we’re changing people’s lives with the new features we’re building.

How did you choose your particular topic for re:Invent this year?

My session is called Augmenting Security Posture and Improving Operational Health with AWS CloudTrail. As a service, CloudTrail has been around a while. But I’ve found that customers face knowledge gaps in terms of what to do with it. There are a lot of people out there with an impressive depth of experience, but they sometimes lack an additional breadth that would be helpful. We also have a number of new customers who want more guidance. So I’m using the session to do a reboot: I’ll start from the beginning and go through what the service is and all the things it does for you, and then I’ll highlight some of the benefits of CloudTrail that might be a little less obvious. I built the session based on discussions with customers, who frequently tell me they start using the service — and only belatedly realize that they can do much more with it beyond, say, using it as a compliance tool. When you start using CloudTrail, you start amassing a huge pile of information that can be quite valuable. So I’ll spend some time showing customers how they can use this information to enhance their security posture, to increase their operational health, and to simplify their operational troubleshooting.

What are you hoping that your audience will take away from it?

I want people to walk away with two fistfuls of ideas for cool things they can do with CloudTrail. There are some new features we’re going to talk about, so even if you’re a power user, my hope is that you’ll return to work with three or four features you have a burning desire to try out.

What does cloud security mean to you, personally?

I’m very aware of the magnitude of the threats that exist today. It’s an evolving landscape. We have a lot of powerful tools and really smart people who are fighting this battle, but we have to think of it as an ongoing war. To me, the promise you should get from any provider is that of a safe haven — an eye in the storm, if you will — where you have relative calm in the midst of the chaos going on in the industry. Problems will constantly evolve. New penetration techniques will appear. But if we’re really delivering on our promise of security, our customers should feel good about the fact that they have a secure place that allows them to go about their business without spending much mental capacity worrying about it all. People should absolutely remain vigilant and focused, but they don’t have to spend all of their time and energy trying to stay abreast of what’s going on in the security landscape.

What’s the most common misperception you encounter about cloud security and compliance?

Many people think that security is a magic wand: You wave it, and it leads to a binary state of secure or not secure. And that’s just not true. A better way to think of security is as a chain that’s only as strong as its weakest link. You might find yourself in a situation where lots of people have worked very hard to build a very secure environment — but then one person comes in and builds on top of it without thinking about security, and the whole thing blows wide open. All it takes is one little hole somewhere. People need to understand that everyone has to participate in security.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge that people face as they move to the cloud?

At AWS, we follow this thing called the Shared Responsibility Model: AWS is responsible for securing everything from the virtualization layer down, and customers are responsible for building secure applications. One of the biggest challenges that people face lies in understanding what it means to be secure while doing application development. Companies like AWS have invested hugely in understanding different attack vectors and learning how to lock down our systems when it comes to the foundational service we offer. But when customers build on a platform that is fundamentally very secure, we still need to make sure that we’re educating them about the kinds of things that they need to do, or not do, to ensure that they stay within this secure footprint.

Five years from now, what changes do you think we’ll see across the security and compliance landscape?

I think we’ll see a tremendous amount of growth in the application of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Historically, we’ve approached security in a very binary way: rules-based security systems in which things are either okay or not okay. And we’ve built complex systems that define “okay” based on a number of criteria. But we’ve always lacked the ability to apply a pseudo-human level of intelligence to threat detection and remediation, and today, we’re seeing that start to change. I think we’re in the early stages of a world where machine learning and artificial intelligence become a foundational, indispensable part of an effective security perimeter. Right now, we’re in a world where we can build strong defenses against known threats, and we can build effective hedging strategies to intercept things we consider risky. Beyond that, we have no real way of dynamically detecting and adapting to threat vectors as they evolve — but that’s what we’ll start to see as machine learning and artificial intelligence enter the picture.

If you had to pick any other job, what would you want to do with your life?

I have a heavy engineering background, so I could see myself becoming a very vocal and customer-obsessed engineering manager. For a more drastic career change, I’d write novels—an ability that I’ve been developing in my free time.

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Author

Sam Koppes

Sam is a Senior Product Manager at Amazon Web Services. He currently works on AWS CloudTrail and has worked on AWS CloudFormation, as well. He has extensive experience in both the product management and engineering disciplines, and is passionate about making complex technical offerings easy to understand for customers.