In the weeks leading up to re:Inforce, 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.
You’ve worn a lot of hats at AWS. What do you do in your current role, and how is it different from previous roles?
I joined AWS as a Customer Support Engineer. Currently, I’m a Senior Consultant, Security Specialty, for Remote Consulting Services, which is part of the AWS Professional Services (ProServe) team.
In my current role, I work with ProServe agents and Solution Architects who might be out with customers onsite and who need stuff built. “Stuff” could be automation, like AWS Lambda functions or AWS CloudFormation templates, or even security best practices documentation… you name it. When they need it built, they come to my team. Right now, I’m working on an AWS Lambda function to pull AWS CloudTrail logs so that you can see if anyone is making policy changes to any of your AWS resources—and if so, have it written to an Amazon Aurora database. You can then check to see if it matches the security requirements that you have set up. It’s fun! It’s new. I’m developing new skills along the way.
In my previous Support role, my work involved putting out fires, walking customers through initial setup, and showing them how to best use resources within their existing environment and architecture. My position as a Senior Consultant is a little different—I get to work with the customer from the beginning of a project rather than engaging much later in the process.
What’s your favorite part of your job
Talking with customers! I love explaining how to use AWS services. A lot of people understand our individual services but don’t always understand how to use multiple services together. We launch so many features and services that it’s understandably hard to keep up. Getting to help someone understand, “Hey, this cool new service will do exactly what I want!” or showing them how it can be combined in a really cool way with this other new service—that’s the fun part.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Right now? Learning to code. I don’t have a programming background, so I’m learning Python on the fly with the help of some teammates. I’m a very graphic-oriented, visual learner, so writing lines of code is challenging. But I’m getting there.
What career advice would you offer to someone just starting out at AWS?
Find a thing that you’re passionate about, and go for it. When I first started, I was on the Support team in the Linux profile, but I loved figuring out permissions and firewall rules and encryption. I think AWS had about ten services at the time, and I kept pushing myself to learn as much as I could about AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM). I asked enough questions to turn myself into an expert in that field. So, my best advice is to find a passion and don’t let anything hold you back.
What inspires you about security? Why is it something you’re passionate about?
It’s a puzzle, and I love puzzles. We’re always trying to stay one step ahead, which means there’s always something new to learn. Every day, there are new developments. Working in Security means trying to figure out how this ever-growing set of puzzles and pieces can fit together—if one piece could potentially open a back door, how can you find a different piece that will close it? Figuring out how to solve these challenges, often while others in the security field are also working on them, is a lot of fun.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge facing cloud security right now?
There aren’t enough people focusing on cybersecurity. We’re in an era where people are migrating from on-prem to cloud, and it requires a huge shift in mindset to go from working with on-prem hardware to systems that you can no longer physically put your hands on. People are used to putting in physical security restraints, like making sure doors locks and badges are required for entry. When you move to the cloud, you have to start thinking not just about security group rules—like who’s allowed access to your data—but about all the other functions, features, and permissions that are a part of your cloud environment. How do you restrict those permissions? How do you restrict them for a certain team versus certain projects? How can you best separate job functions, projects, and teams in your organization? There’s so much more to cybersecurity than the stories of “hackers” you see on TV.
What’s the most common misperception you encounter about cloud security?
That it’s a one-and-done thing. I meet a lot of people who think, “Oh, I set it up” but who haven’t touched their environment in four years. The cloud is ever-changing, so your production environment and workloads are ever-changing. They’re going to grow; they’ll need to be audited in some fashion. It’s important to keep on top of that. You need to audit permissions, audit who’s accessing which systems, and make sure the systems are doing what they’re supposed to. You can’t just set it up and be finished.
How do you help educate customers about these types of misperceptions?
I go to AWS Pop-up Lofts periodically, plus conferences like re:Inforce and re:Invent, where I spend a lot of time helping people understand that security is a continuous thing. Writing blog posts also really helps, since it’s a way to show customers new ways of securing their environment using methods that they might not have considered. I can take edge cases that we might hear about from one or two customers, but which probably affect hundreds of other organizations, and reach out to them with some different setups.
You’re leading a re:Inforce builders session called “Automating password and secrets, and disaster recovery.” What’s a builders session?
Builders sessions are basically labs: There will be a very short introduction to the session, where you’re introduced to the concepts and services used in the lab. In this case, I’ll talk a little about how you can make sure your databases and resources are resilient and that you’ve set up disaster recovery scenarios.
After that, I walk around while people try out the services, hands-on, for themselves, and I see if anyone has questions. A lot of people learn better if they actually get a chance to play with things instead of just read about them. If people run into issues, like, “Why does the code say this for example?” or “Why does it create this folder over here in a different region?” I can answer those questions in the moment.
How did you arrive at your topic?
It’s based on a blog post that I wrote, called “How to automate replication of secrets in AWS Secrets Manager across AWS Regions.” It was a highly requested feature from customers that were already dealing with RDS databases. I actually wrote two posts–the second post focused on Windows passwords, and it demonstrated how you can have a secure password for Windows without having to share an SSH key across multiple entities in an organization. These two posts gave me the idea for the builders session topic: I want to show customers that you can use Secrets Manager to store sensitive information without needing to have a human manually read it in plain text.
A lot of customers are used to an on-premises access model, where everything is physical and things are written in a manual—but then you have to worry about safeguarding the manual so that only the appropriate people can read it. With the approach I’m sharing, you can have two or three people out of your entire organization who are in charge of creating the security aspects, like password policy, creation, rotation, and function. And then all other users can log in: The system pulls the passwords for them, inputs the passwords into the application, and the users do not see them in plain text. And because users have to be authenticated to access resources like the password, this approach prevents people from outside your organization from going to a webpage and trying to pull that secret and log in. They’re not going to have permissions to access it. It’s one more way for customers to lock down their sensitive data.
What are you hoping that your audience will do differently as a result of this session?
I hope they’ll begin migrating their sensitive data—whether that’s the keys they’re using to encrypt their client-side databases, or their passwords for Windows—because their data is safer in the cloud. I want people to realize that they have all of these different options available, and to start figuring ways to utilize these solutions in their own environment.
I also hope that people will think about the processes that they have in their own workflow, even if those processes don’t extend to the greater organization and it’s something that only affects their job. For example, how can they make changes so that someone can’t just walk into their office on any given day and see their password? Those are the kinds of things I hope people will start thinking about.
Is there anything else you want people to know about your session?
Security is changing so much and so quickly that nobody is 100% caught up, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. It can feel intimidating to have to figure out new security methods, so I like to remind people that they shouldn’t be afraid to reach out or ask questions. That’s how we all learn.
You love otters. What’s so great about them?
I’m obsessed with them—and otters and security actually go together! When otters are with their family group, they’re very dedicated to keeping outsiders away and not letting anybody or anything get into their den, into their home, or into their family. There are large Amazon river otters that will actually take on Cayman alligators, as a family group, to make sure the alligators don’t get anywhere near the nest and attack the pups. Otters also try to work smarter, not harder, which I’ve found to be a good motto. If you can accomplish your goal through a small task, and it’s efficient, and it works, and it’s secure, then go for it. That’s what otters do.
The AWS Security team is hiring! Want to find out more? Check out our career page.
Want more AWS Security how-to content, news, and feature announcements? Follow us on Twitter.