[Note: This item comes from friend David Rosenthal. DLH]
How Amazon.com moved into the business of U.S. elections
By Nandita Bose
Oct 15 2019
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc’s (AMZN.O) cloud computing arm is making an aggressive push into one of the most sensitive technology sectors: U.S. elections.
The expansion by Amazon Web Services into state and local elections has quietly gathered pace since the 2016 U.S. presidential vote. More than 40 states now use one or more of Amazon’s election offerings, according to a presentation given by an Amazon executive this year and seen by Reuters.
So do America’s two main political parties, the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and the U.S. federal body charged with administering and enforcing federal campaign finance laws.
While it does not handle voting on election day, AWS – along with a broad network of partners – now runs state and county election websites, stores voter registration rolls and ballot data, facilitates overseas voting by military personnel and helps provide live election-night results, according to company documents and interviews.
In the fullest public picture yet of Amazon’s strategic move into U.S. election infrastructure, Reuters reviewed previously unreported company presentations and documents, and conducted more than two dozen interviews with lawmakers, election administrators, and heads of election security and technology in nearly a dozen states and counties that use Amazon’s cloud.
Amazon pitches itself as a low-cost provider of secure election technology at a time when local officials and political campaigns are under intense pressure to prevent a repeat of 2016 presidential elections, which saw cyber-attacks on voting systems and election infrastructure.
“The fact that we have invested heavily in this area, it helps to attest to the fact that in over 40 states, the Amazon cloud is being trusted to power in some way, some aspect of elections,” Michael Jackson, leader, Public Health & U.S. Elections at AWS, told prospective government clients in February via a presentation on a webinar, which was viewed by Reuters.
The company’s efforts are welcomed by election administrators, who in interviews said they often struggle with keeping outdated systems up to date at the local level.
In Oregon, for example, the state’s in-house servers that support election services shut down every time there is a power outage – an often occurrence as Oregon updates its electric grid, according to Peter Threlkel, chief information officer at the Oregon Secretary of State. A move to the cloud fixes that problem, and Oregon ran a pilot with AWS to move its voter registration system to the cloud, he said.
Some security experts like David O’Berry, co-founder, Precog Security, said moving to AWS is “a good option for campaigns, who do not have the resources to protect themselves.”
Still, Amazon’s growing presence in the elections business could undermine what many officials view as a strength of the U.S. voting system: decentralization.
Most security experts Reuters spoke to said that while Amazon’s cloud is likely much harder to hack than systems it is replacing, putting data from many jurisdictions on a single system raises the prospect that a single major breach could prove damaging.
“It makes Amazon a bigger target” for hackers, “and also increases the challenge of dealing with an insider attack,” said Chris Vickery, director of cyber risk research at cybersecurity startup Upguard.
A recent hack into Capital One Financial Corp’s (COF.N) data stored on Amazon’s cloud service was perpetrated by a former Amazon employee. The breach affected more than 100 million customers, underscoring how rogue employees or untrained workers can create security risks even if the underlying systems are secure. [nL2N24U1LH]
Amazon says its systems are reliable. “Over time, states, counties, cities, and countries will leverage AWS services to ensure modernization of their elections for increased security, reliability, and analytics for an efficient and more effective use of taxpayer dollars,” an AWS spokesperson told Reuters.
Amazon’s push into the election business comes as the company faces criticism from politicians, labor unions and privacy advocates over its business practices and growing influence. President Donald Trump has accused the company of competing unfairly and repeatedly attacked the Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for alleged bias, a charge Bezos and the paper deny.