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UK spy agencies supercharge espionage efforts with AWS data deal

GCHQ, MI6, and MI5 will reportedly benefit from AWS' data analytics and AI features in landmark cloud deal

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has signed what is likely to be a lucrative data deal with the UK's top intelligence services to store and analyse information for the purposes of espionage.

GCHQ, MI5, and MI6 will store information using AWS' cloud services, according to the Financial Times, which reports that the deal has been made so the UK spy agencies can harness the data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) tools the AWS platform provides.

AWS will also reportedly equip the agencies with tools that enable easier data sharing between overseas field locations and rapid translation of audio recordings.

Other government departments such as the Ministry of Defence will also use the cloud service offering during joint operations, according to the FT's report.

GCHQ was leading the calls for a cloud security platform which could be used across the intelligence services, the report added. The deal was signed this year and all data will be stored in the UK, with Amazon's main e-commerce company having no access or oversight of the data at all.

IT Pro contacted GCHQ and AWS and both declined to comment on the matter.

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GCHQ's ambition to further embed AI into its intelligence practices was highlighted in a 2020 Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) report in which it claimed UK spies would need to use AI in order to stymie modern-day cyber attackers.

The report claimed there were three key areas in which AI would be able to benefit the GCHQ; analysis of intelligence, cyber security operations, and the automation of administrative tasks.

Echoing this claim, panellists including Moonpig's head of cyber Tash Norris said during a 2021 IT Pro Panel that the best AI applications for cyber security will be in detection and response tasks like SIEM, SOAR, and EDR. The sentiment is echoed in the Rusi report, which stated that AI will never replace strong human judgement. 

Commenting on an October 2021 claim made by the Pentagon's former chief software officer that China has won the AI battle with the US, Jeremy Fleming, director at GCHQ, said he doesn't subscribe to the idea, though he added that "China by more or less any measure is doing well in the development of AI capabilities".

Addressing delegates at The Cipher Brief Annual Threat Conference on Monday, Fleming also claimed the UK saw twice the number of ransomware attacks in 2021 compared to 2020. Attacks are proliferating "because it works; it just pays," he said.

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