In the weeks leading up to AWS re:invent 2022, I’ll share conversations I’ve had with some of the humans who work in AWS Security who will be presenting at the conference, and get a sneak peek at their work and sessions. In this profile, I interviewed Reef D’Souza, Principal Solutions Architect.
How long have you been at AWS and what do you do in your current role?
I’ve been at AWS for about six and a half years. During my time here, I’ve worked in AWS Professional Services as a security consultant in New York and Los Angeles. I worked with customers in Financial Services, Healthcare, Telco, and Media & Entertainment to build security controls that align with the AWS Cloud Adoption Framework Security Epics (now Security Perspective) so that these customers could run highly regulated workloads on AWS. In the last two years, I’ve switched to a dual role of being a Solution Architect for Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and Digital Native Businesses (DNBs) in Canada while helping them with their security and privacy.
How did you get started in security?
I started out trying to make it as a software developer but realized I enjoy breaking things apart with my skepticism of security claims. While I was getting my master’s degree in Information Systems, I started to specialize in applying machine learning (ML) to anomaly detection systems and then went on to application security vulnerability management and testing while working at different security startups in New York. My customers were mostly in financial services, looking to threat model their apps, prioritize their risks, and take action.
How do you explain your job to non-technical friends and family?
I tell them that I work with companies who tell me what they’re worried about, which includes stolen credit card data or healthcare data, and then help those customers put technology in place to prevent or detect a security event. This often goes down the path of comparing me to the television show Mr. Robot or fictional espionage scenarios. When I say I work for Amazon, I often get asked whether I can track packages down for Thanksgiving and the holiday season.
What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?
I’ve been diving deep into the world of privacy engineering. As an SA for software companies in Canada, many of whom want to launch in Europe and other parts of the world that have strict privacy regulations, it’s a frequent topic. However, privacy discussions are often steeped in legal-speak. My customers’ technical stakeholders say that it all sounds like English but doesn’t make any sense. So my goal is to help them understand privacy risks and translate these risks to mechanisms that can be implemented in customers’ workloads. The last cool thing I worked on with AWS Privacy specialists on the ProServe SAS team was a workshop for AWS re:Inforce 2022 this past July.
You’re presenting at re:Invent this year. Can you give us a sneak peek of your session?
My session is Securing serverless workloads on AWS. It’s a chalk talk that walks the attendee through the shared responsibility model for serverless applications built with AWS Lambda. We then dive deeper into how to threat model for security risks and use AWS services to secure the application and test for vulnerabilities in the CI/CD pipeline. I cover classic risks like the OWASP Top 10 and how customers must think about verifying trusted third-party libraries with AWS CodeArtifact, deploying trusted code by using AWS Signer, and identifying vulnerabilities in their code with Amazon CodeGuru.
What do you hope attendees take away from your session?
Customers with vulnerability management programs must grasp a paradigm shift that there are no servers to scan anymore. Here is where the lines are blurred between traditional vulnerability management and application security. I hope attendees of my sessions leave with a better understanding of their responsibilities in terms of risks and where AWS services can help them build secure applications and do so earlier in the development lifecycle.
What’s your favorite Amazon Leadership Principle and why?
Insist on the Highest Standards. Shoddy craftsmanship based on planning for short-term wins, inefficiency, and wasteful spending are massive pet peeves of mine. This principle ties so closely with Customer Obsession, because the quality of our work impacts the long-term trust that others place in us. When there is an issue, it motivates us to find the root cause and shows up in our focus on operational excellence.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
After I got out of graduate school, I entered the world thinking I knew everything. My first manager gave me the advice to keep asking questions, though. Knowing things doesn’t necessarily mean that your knowledge applies to a problem. You have to think beyond just a technical solution. When I joined Amazon, this felt natural as part of our Working Backwards process.
What’s the thing you’re most proud of in your career?
I worked on a COVID contact-tracing data lake project in the early stages of the pandemic. With some of the best security and data engineers on the team, we were able to threat model for the various components of the analytics environment, which housed data subject to HIPAA, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the E.U. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and many other healthcare and general privacy regulations. We released a working analytics solution within five or so months after March 2020. At the time, building these types of environments usually took over a year.
If you had to pick an industry outside of security, what would you want to do?
Motorcycle travel writing. It combines my favorite activities of meeting new people, learning new languages and cultures, trying new cuisines (cooking and eating), and sharing the experience with others.
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