In the AWS Security Profile series, we interview AWS thought leaders who help keep our customers safe and secure. This interview features Jonathan “Koz” Kozolchyk, GM of Certificate Services, PKI Systems. Koz shares his insights on the current certificate landscape, his career at Amazon and within the security space, what he’s excited about for the upcoming AWS re:Invent 2022, his passion for home roasting coffee, and more.
How long have you been at AWS and what do you do in your current role?
I’ve been with Amazon for 21 years and in AWS for 6. I run our Certificate Services organization. This includes managing services such as AWS Certificate Manager (ACM), AWS Private Certificate Authority (AWS Private CA), AWS Signer, and managing certificates and trust stores at scale for Amazon. I’ve been in charge of the internal PKI (public key infrastructure, our mix of public and private certs) for Amazon for nearly 10 years. This has given me lots of insight into how certificates work at scale, and I’ve enjoyed applying those learnings to our customer offerings.
How did you get started in the certificate space? What about it piqued your interest?
Certificates were designed to solve two key problems: provide a secure identity and enable encryption in transit. These are both critical needs that are foundational to the operation of the internet. They also come with a lot of sharp edges. When a certificate expires, systems tend to fail. This can cause problems for Amazon and our customers. It’s a hard problem when you’re managing over a million certificates, and I enjoy the challenge that comes with that. I like turning hard problems into a delightful experience. I love the feedback we get from customers on how hands-free ACM is and how it just solves their problems.
How do you explain your job to your non-tech friends?
I tell them I do two things. I run the equivalent of a department of motor vehicles for the internet, where I validate the identity of websites and issue secure documentation to prove the websites’ validity to others (the certificate). I’m also a librarian. I keep track of all of the certificates we issue and ensure that they never expire and that the private keys are always safe.
What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?
I’m really excited about our AWS Private CA offering and the places we’re planning to grow the service. Running a certificate authority is hard—it requires careful planning and tight security controls. I love that AWS Private CA has turned this into a simple-to-use and secure system for customers. We’ve seen the number of customers expand over time as we’ve added more versatility for customers to customize certificates to meet a wide range of applications—including Kubernetes, Internet of Things, IAM Roles Anywhere (which provides a secure way for on-premises servers to obtain temporary AWS credentials and removes the need to create and manage long-term AWS credentials), and Matter, a new industry standard for connecting smart home devices. We’re also working on code signing and software supply chain security. Finally, we have some exciting features coming to ACM in the coming year that I think customers will really appreciate.
What’s been the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry?
The biggest change has been the way that certificate pricing and infrastructure as code has changed the way we think about certificates. It used to be that a company would have a handful of certificates that they tracked in spreadsheets and calendar invites. Issuance processes could take days and it was okay. Now, every individual host, every run of an integration test may be provisioning a new certificate. Certificate validity used to last three years, and now customers want one-day certificates. This brings a new element of scale to not only our underlying architecture, but also the ways that we have to interact with our customers in terms of management controls and visibility. We’re also at the beginning of a new push for increased PKI agility. In the old days, PKI was brittle and slow to change. We’re seeing the industry move towards the ability to rapidly change roots and intermediates. You can see we’re pushing some of this now with our dynamic intermediate certificate authorities.
What would you say is the coolest AWS service or feature in the PKI space?
Our customers love the way AWS Certificate Manager makes certificate management a hands-off automated affair. If you request a certificate with DNS validation, we’ll renew and deploy that certificate on AWS for as long as you’re using it and you’ll never lose sleep about that certificate.
Is there something you wish customers would ask you about more often?
I’m always happy to talk about PKI design and how to best plan your private CAs and design. We like to say that PKI is the land of one-way doors. It’s easy to make a decision that you can’t reverse, and it could be years before you realize you’ve made a mistake. Helping customers avoid those mistakes is something we like to do.
I understand you’ll be at re:Invent 2022. What are you most looking forward to?
Hands down it’s the customer meetings; we take customer feedback very seriously, and hearing what their needs are helps us define our solutions. We also have several talks in this space, including CON316 – Container Image Signing on AWS, SEC212 – Data Protection Grand Tour: Locks, Keys, Certs, and Sigs, and SEC213 – Understanding the evolution of cloud-based PKI. I encourage folks to check out these sessions as well as the re:Invent 2022 session catalog.
Do you have any tips for first-time re:Invent attendees?
Wear comfortable shoes! It’s amazing how many steps you’ll put in.
How about outside of work, any hobbies? I understand you’re passionate about home coffee roasting. How did you get started?
I do roast my own coffee—it’s a challenging hobby because you always have to be thinking 30 to 60 seconds ahead of what your data is showing you. You’re working off of sight and sound, listening to the beans and checking their color. When you make an adjustment to the roaster, you have to do it thinking where the beans will be in the future and not where they are now. I love the challenge that comes with it, and it gives me access to interesting coffee beans you wouldn’t normally see on store shelves. I got started with a used small home roaster because I thought I would enjoy it. I’ve since upgraded to a commercial “sample” roaster that lets me do larger batches.
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