In the AWS Security Profile series, we interview Amazon Web Services (AWS) experts who help keep our customers safe and secure. This interview features Valerie Lambert, Senior Software Development Engineer, Crypto Tools, and upcoming AWS re:Inforce 2023 speaker, who shares thoughts on data protection, cloud security, cryptography tools, and more.
What do you do in your current role and how long have you been at AWS?
I’m a Senior Software Development Engineer on the AWS Crypto Tools team in AWS Cryptography. My team focuses on building open source, client-side encryption solutions, such as the AWS Encryption SDK. I’ve been working in this space for the past four years.
How did you get started in cryptography? What about it piqued your interest?
When I started on this team back in 2019, I knew very little about the specifics of cryptography. I only knew its importance for securing our customers’ data and that security was our top priority at AWS. As a developer, I’ve always taken security and data protection very seriously, so when I learned about this particular team from one of my colleagues, I was immediately interested and wanted to learn more. It also helped that I’m a very math-oriented person. I find this domain endlessly interesting, and love that I have the opportunity to work with some truly amazing cryptography experts.
Why do cryptography tools matter today?
Customers need their data to be secured, and builders need to have tools they can rely on to help provide that security. It’s well known that no one should cobble together their own encryption scheme. However, even if you use well-vetted, industry-standard cryptographic primitives, there are still many considerations when applying those primitives correctly. By using tools that are simple to use and hard to misuse, builders can be confident in protecting their customers’ most sensitive data, without cryptographic expertise required.
What’s been the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the data protection and cryptography space?
In the past few years, I’ve seen more and more formal verification used to help prove various properties about complex systems, as well as build confidence in the correctness of our libraries. In particular, the AWS Crypto Tools team is using Dafny, a formal verification-aware programming language, to implement the business logic for some of our libraries. Given the high bar for correctness of cryptographic libraries, having formal verification as an additional tool in the toolbox has been invaluable. I look forward to how these tools mature in the next couple years.
You are speaking in Anaheim June 13-14 at AWS re:Inforce 2023 — what will your session focus on?
Our team has put together a workshop (DAP373) that will focus on strategies to use client-side encryption with Amazon DynamoDB, specifically focusing on solutions for effectively searching on data that has been encrypted on the client side. I hope that attendees will see that, with a bit of forethought put into their data access patterns, they can still protect their data on the client side.
Where do you see the cryptography tools space heading in the future?
More and more customers have been coming to us with use cases that involve client-side encryption with different database technologies. Although my team currently vends an out-of-the-box solution for DynamoDB, customers working with other database technologies have to build their own solutions to help keep their data safe. There are many, many considerations that come with encrypting data on the client side for use in a database, and it’s very expensive for customers to design, build, and maintain these solutions. The AWS Crypto Tools team is actively investigating this space—both how we can expand the usability of client-side encrypted data in DynamoDB, and how to bring our tools to more database technologies.
Is there something you wish customers would ask you about more often?
Customers shouldn’t need to understand the cryptographic details that underpin the security properties that our tools provide to protect their end users’ data. However, I love when our customers are curious and ask questions and are themselves interested in the nitty-gritty details of our solutions.
How about outside of work, any hobbies?
A couple years ago, I picked up aerial circus arts as a hobby. I’m still not very good, but it’s a lot of fun to play around on silks and trapeze. And it’s great exercise!
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