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Microsoft launches Azure Government Secret cloud

Microsoft is helping government agencies to move toward digital transformation without sacrificing security with a new fortified cloud offering known as Azure Government Secret.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Microsoft is working to help drive digital transformation for federal, state and local governments by enabling them to adopt the attributes of a modern workplace without sacrificing security.

In that regard, Microsoft this week announced Azure Government Secret, a fortified cloud offering that supports secret-level classified information and workloads. Microsoft made this and a series of other announcements at its sixth annual Microsoft Government Cloud Forum.

Azure Government Secret for classified data

Microsoft said it will make Azure Government Secret  available to government agencies that have data classified as secret.

"Azure Government Secret will deliver multi-tenant cloud infrastructure and cloud capabilities to U.S. federal civilian, Department of Defense, intelligence community, and U.S. government partners working within secret enclaves," said Tom Keane, head of global infrastructure for Microsoft Azure, in a blog post. "Customers with secret requirements can expect to gain access to new technologies at scale, including services such as cognitive capabilities, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics."

Azure Security Center

Microsoft also said it is bringing Azure Security Center to Azure Government. Azure Security Center provides security management and threat protection for hybrid clouds.

In a blog post on integrating Azure Security Center with Azure Government, Sarah Fender, principal program manager for Azure cybersecurity, said Azure Security Center will help Azure Government customers do the following:

  • Monitor security across cloud and on-premises workloads;
  • Apply policy to ensure compliance with security standards;
  • Find and fix vulnerabilities before they can be exploited;
  • Block malicious activity by applying adaptive application and network access controls;
  • Use advanced analytics and threat intelligence to detect attacks; and
  • Simplify investigation for rapid threat response.
I think it's safe to say high-level security clearance has become table stakes for cloud players that intend to work with public-sector clients.
Charles Kingprincipal analyst at Pund-IT

In addition, Microsoft made new security and audit capabilities available in Azure Government.

"The Security & Audit solution within Azure Log Analytics features new threat detections, powered by Security Center analytics and Microsoft global threat intelligence, to identify inbound attacks, malicious activity that could indicate a breach, and attempts to exfiltrate data or mount additional attacks," Fender wrote.

"I think it's safe to say high-level security clearance has become table stakes for cloud players that intend to work with public-sector clients," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "It's particularly important for Microsoft, given the widespread use of its Office productivity tools and applications. In addition, the increasing targeting of government agencies by professional and politically connected cybercriminals makes it critical for their cloud providers to support robust cloud security capabilities."

Microsoft 365 coming in 2018

Meanwhile, Microsoft also announced that in the first half of 2018, it will make Microsoft 365 available for federal agencies. Microsoft 365 brings together Office 365, Windows 10 and Enterprise Mobility + Security into a cloud offering.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) uses Office 365 U.S. Government and will adopt Microsoft 365 to drive down costs of its mobility, security and collaboration tool sets, said Maria Roat, CIO of the SBA.

Roat's advice to other government agencies: "Burn the bridges behind you. We have shut stuff down, turned things off -- there is no going back to the changes we're implementing."

Among the drivers pushing SBA to the cloud was "getting out of our data centers," Roat said. Additionally, she said the SBA is using Microsoft engineers in supporting disasters. "We're doing a sprint right now," she said. "We have a lot of engineering support from Microsoft right now."

Dynamics and blockchain

Microsoft also said its Dynamics 365 Government is in the process of achieving FedRAMP High certification. The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP, is a governmentwide program that provides a standardized approach to security.

In addition, Microsoft is establishing Dynamics 365 capabilities for the Department of Defense to meet Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Impact Level 4. "In an Impact Level 4-compliant environment, our DOD and defense industry customers will have more options for sharing data and connecting teams and departments," said Gail Thomas, vice president of public sector at Microsoft, in a blog post.

Microsoft also launched a new blockchain initiative known as Blockchain for Azure Government. "At its core, a blockchain is a data structure that's used to create a digital transaction ledger that, instead of resting with a single provider, is shared among a distributed network of computers," Keane said in his post. "Blockchain technologies deployed on Azure are applicable to many complex problems facing government today, including distribution of funds after natural disasters, registration of property ownership, and other issues involving tracking ownership of funds or assets through multiple transactions."

Other moves Microsoft made at its cloud forum to help drive digital transformation included expanding the high-performance computing offering in Azure Government, helping government customers to move their virtual desktop infrastructure to the cloud and enhancing accessibility in a company's government cloud offerings.

Next Steps

Check out Azure network services

Study results on government IT security

The rise of Azure Security Center

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With security being addressed more aggressively by cloud providers, how likely are you to move more sensitive workloads to the cloud?
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I'm still not sure I would put the most sensitive information on the cloud - any cloud. Once that leaves your infrastructure, someone else is in control - of your data, availability, security, etc. And with any committed company or group, those things are more important to you than anyone else.

Cloud has its place for certain things, but it's not a cure all. There are many things I feel are better to have in house. Assuming you have the competent IT infrastructure to manage it - and these groups obviously do. There are some gains, but often it can be more expensive (depending on how efficient your internal group is) and introduces a whole different set of problems. It doesn't make problems go away. And if it doesn't save money, what's truly the point?

I can run internal infrastructure less expensively, more reliably, more securely, and knowing I'm committed to uptime and security, given I have adequate resources and a good team. I have to assume they (cloud provider) is on the ball with all these things, and they aren't always so. There are plenty of horror stories out there. And with these massive cloud providers, they're a huge target for attacks. And when something big happens that they're scrambling to fix, you're just a number. One of a large number of customers who must wait for them to fix it.

I'd rather take that control in my own hands, for anything critical or truly sensitive. Use cloud to augment our own in house infrastructure. Even for small businesses that don't have in-house IT to run their own infrastructure, cloud is often too expensive to be seriously considered.
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