Govt stance on China not reflected in cloud hosting as AWS gets tick – iTWire

Despite all the brouhaha over the alleged threat posed by China, the Federal Government does not seem overly concerned when it comes to cloud hosting of its sensitive data. Else, how does one account for the fact that the Digital Transformation Agency has given Amazon Web Services, a company that has links to a Chinese-owned data centre, the green light for hosting government data?

Full marks to InnovationAus for highlighting this fact in its report on the award of Strategic Hosting Provider certification under the Federal Government’s Hosting Certification Framework. iTWire’s report is here.

AWS did not disclose its level of compliance or any undertakings it has given in order to be among the first to obtain the certification – despite being the only one of four companies to send out a media statement about the certification. No mention was made of its hosting data at GlobalSwitch, a data centre whose parent company is Aldersgate Investments, now controlled by a Chinese company.

iTWire sent an email to the PR company that issued AWS’ media statement, asking: “Just like to check whether there were any areas of non-compliance on which the DTA offered advice to AWS.” No reply has been received.

Among the others, Vault Cloud sent a statement to iTWire, with the chief executive, Rupert Taylor-Price, being fully open about the two areas in which it had yet to achieve full compliance. Taylor-Price also spoke to iTWire on the phone to clarify any doubts at our end.

Neither AUCloud nor Sliced Tech, both of which were contacted by phone, responded to iTWire’s efforts to make contact, though officials at the latter firm may have been preoccupied with the process of being acquired by Deloitte, as the takeover was completed the same day.

Last year, when AWS was given the contract to host the government’s COVIDSafe app, a similar question — that of using a data centre fully owned by a Chinese company — was raised, with Labor MP Ed Husic bringing up the issue on ABC News’ afternoon briefing.

Aldersgate owns two data centres in Ultimo where it stores classified Australian Government material, including sensitive Defence and intelligence files. Both these data centres have secure gateways certified by the ASD and can be used for secure access by government offices.

But the ASD is no longer in the picture when it comes to certification, having bowed out in March 2020. The DTA and the Australian Cyber Security Agency are now the two bodies involved in certification.

The issues with Global Switch go back to 2016 when Aldersgate sold a 49% stake to the Chinese firm, Elegant Jubilee.

Investors in Aldersgate are said to have been brought together by Li Qiang who owns Daily Tech, a leading data centre company in China. The main investor was the Jiangsu Sha Steel Group, China’s largest private steel enterprise. Elegant Jubilee gained full ownership of Global Switch in August 2019.

Relations between Australia and China are at an all-time low, with the ignition point being when Foreign Minister Marise Payne said last year on national TV that Canberra was seeking a probe by the World Health Organisation to find out how the coronavirus outbreak began.

In response, Beijing has cut off Australia’s exports in several sectors and also hinted that the flow of students and tourists from the Middle Kingdom could be at risk.

In the US, the AWS cloud service offered to the government is air-gapped, has top-notch encryption, controlled metadata and only on-shore security-cleared personnel can operate the facility.

But in Australia, government agencies are offered the same commercial cloud service that AWS offers to every entity on the face of the earth.

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