Leaked memo shows Amazon is warning employees to 'be vigilant' around their safety as far-right threats to blow up data centers emerged after banning Parler

  • Amazon Web Services VP of infrastructure Chris Vondehaar urged his team to "be vigilant" and report any unusual activity in and around the company's data centers, according to an internal email obtained by Business Insider.
  • AWS also has made Monday and Tuesday a "Blocked Day" in some parts of the US, a designation that prevents any major updates on its service, likely in anticipation of potential cyber attacks or unexpected traffic spikes, according to internal communication seen by Business Insider.
  • The moves follow Amazon's decision to ban Parler, a social media app popular among radical right extremists, and shows the company's increased awareness of the potential threats — both physically and virtually — it might face going forward.
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Amazon warned its data center employees to be extra cautious about their safety after threats to attack the company emerged following its decision to ban Parler, the social media app popular among radical right supporters, from its cloud platform on Saturday.

The company also has implemented new service update restrictions at some data centers this week, reflecting the growing concern for a potential cyber attack or volatility in its service in the coming days, Business Insider has learned.

In an email titled, "Be safe. Be vigilant," sent out this past Saturday, Amazon Web Services VP of infrastructure operations Chris Vondehaar urged his team to report any unusual activity in and around the company's data centers, as Amazon "continues to closely monitor civil unrest in the United States." AWS has made a number of changes to "ensure the safety [of] our local teams and facilities, including our data centers," he added.

"We all need to [be] vigilant during this time to keep one another and our facilities safe," said the email, obtained by Business Insider. "If you see something, say something — no situation or concern is too small or insignificant."

Separately, AWS told some engineers that it's making Monday and Tuesday a "Blocked Day" in parts of the US, a designation that prevents employees from making any major updates or changes to the existing services without the approval of the company's most senior leaders, according to internal messages seen by Business Insider.

According to a screenshot of internal messages on Sunday, seen by Business Insider, AWS engineers were scrambling to figure out how to deal with the unscheduled Blocked Days, as they wouldn't be able to continue with some of their work. Internal guidelines, seen by Business Insider, say "extreme caution" is required around changes on Blocked Days, and all changes must be approved by one of the 14 executives that report directly to AWS CEO Andy Jassy. Blocked Days are usually only reserved for days when huge spikes in traffic are expected, like Black Friday or Election Day. Amazon changed its name from "Black Days" last year, as part of its new policy to ban "non-inclusive" language.

In the email on Saturday, Vondehaar told AWS infrastructure employees to quickly escalate any life-threatening or dangerous situations at work, and immediately notify the company for other serious incidents. It also came with a media guideline on how to treat members of the press, telling employees to report to Amazon's public relations team if a reporter approaches them on-site.

"Please remember that in the coming weeks your work remains vital to our customers," Vondehaar wrote in the email.

The moves reflect Amazon's heightened awareness of the potential threat — both physically and virtually — facing the company, following its decision to sever ties with Parler, which effectively shut down the social media app widely used by radical right extremists. After Amazon announced it would pull the plug on Parler on Saturday, some users shared ideas of even bombing Amazon's data centers. The location of Amazon's data centers are closely guarded due to security reasons.

As Buzzfeed editor John Paczkowski (@JohnPaczkowski) noted via Twitter on Sunday:

Meanwhile, over on Parler they're talking about blowing up AWS data centers

Amazon's spokesperson didn't respond to a request for comment.

'Very real risk to public safety'

Parler became popular in recent months among supporters of President Donald Trump and members of the far right as an alternative to the more liberal users of Twitter and Facebook. Top conservative figures recently moved to Parler and encouraged others to do the same, especially after Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook last week.

But Parler has faced criticism for its weak content moderation, which made hate speech and violent content, including those posted by neo-Nazi supporters, to thrive on its platform. On Saturday, Amazon said it's booting Parler from its AWS cloud-hosting service because it is "unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others," following similar decisions made by Apple and Google.

"Because Parler cannot comply with our terms of service and poses a very real risk to public safety, we plan to suspend Parler's account effective Sunday, January 10th, at 11:59PM PST," the email said.


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