AWS Chief Technology Officer Allays Fears about Cloud Security and Talks about the Huge Potential of Alexa Voice Technology

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Amazon Web Services’ chief technology officer, Werner Vogels, has been dispelling security myths about cloud computing at the Dublin Tech Summit in Ireland this week.

Concerns have been raised about the security of data stored in the cloud, especially following the discovery that 540 million Facebook records had been exposed on AWS: One of several high-profile data breaches that have involved AWS-stored data in the past 12 months.

Fears About Compliance and the Cloud

Companies required to comply with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) must ensure that the personal data of EU citizens is secured and kept private and confidential. Since GDPR came into effect on May 25, 2018, the potential penalties for data exposures have increased significantly. It is therefore understandable that companies are concerned about storing data in the cloud rather than on-premise infrastructure that they feel better able to secure.

Germany’s federal commissioner, Ulrich Kelber, spoke before Vogels at the Tech Summit and voiced his concerns about American cloud storage providers, stating that they should not be used for hosting police data as there was a risk of snooping. The federal commissioner was particularly concerned about the passing of the Cloud Act in 2018, which could allow federal law enforcement to gain access to data stored by U.S. technology companies.

Many companies in the United States are also wary about using the cloud for storing sensitive data such as protected health information, and the potential for HIPAA violations. As is the case with GDPR, the penalties for data exposure can be severe and, for small healthcare organizations, potentially catastrophic.

Vogels explained that cloud security should not be a concern and storing data on AWS is perfectly secure. His advice to all AWS users is “encrypt everything,” but at a minimum, make sure that all personally identifiable information is encrypted.

By encrypting data, companies can meet the requirements of GDPR, HIPAA, and other federal and state regulations. As for the Cloud Act, if a technology company is issued with a warrant to release data, if the AWS customer has encrypted their data using modern encryption standards, and only they hold the key to decrypt the data, it is perfectly secure. Any conversation about data access is then between law enforcement and the customer. AWS will not be involved.

Vogels also explained that AWS has improved its controls to make it harder for data to be exposed. All customer information is now closed off by default. It takes a deliberate action to remove AWS protections and leave data accessible. Should that happen, major red flags are raised.

Vogels said that Amazon ensures that encryption is as easy to use as any other digital service building block, ensuring that companies will encrypt data without any effort. Encryption is offered through AWS to make securing sensitive data as easy as possible.

Voice Technology Has Huge Potential

Vogels also spoke about one potential big area for Amazon. Big even by Amazon’s standards. Vogels said Amazon is not looking to invest in technologies that will add $100 million to the balance sheet. Amazon is looking for billion-dollar plus opportunities. Alexa voice technology is a prime example.

Amazon Alexa is the leading voice technology and has already found uses in healthcare. HIPAA was something of a stumbling block as the regulations covering protected health information are strict, but Amazon has recently solved that problem. Amazon is offering business associate agreements to a select group of companies and has made sure that its voice tech can transfer data securely in a manner compliant with HIPAA Rules. Last week Amazon announced that six new healthcare skills had been launched that could be used in connection with PHI. The company will be collaborating further with healthcare organizations, although by invitation only at this stage.

Skills have also been developed by WebMD that allow users to ask questions about their symptoms using voice commands rather then entering information on a website. These skills are just the tip of the iceberg and the potential uses of voice technology in healthcare are huge. Alexa could even be used by people to gain access to healthcare information stored in their EHRs in the not too distant future.

Vogels certainly believes medical-related voice technology is the way forward and thinks voice commands will be the main way that people interact with digital systems in the future.

Author: HIPAA Journal

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