Author: Aghasaf NAJAFOV
Azerbaijani authorities continue reforms to develop and to protect the country's digital space. Among other things, these include the creation of government cloud (G-cloud), as well as the provision of cloud services to public, private and, in the long term, foreign entities through large data centres. At the same time, the intensification of global network wars between the world powers since the conflict in Ukraine prompts Baku to take additional measures to protect its cyberspace.
The concept of G-cloud in Azerbaijan has been initially introduced in the action plan of the Strategic Roadmap for Development of Telecommunications and Information Technologies in Azerbaijan. This was followed by the June 3, 2019 presidential decree, which approved the establishment of G-cloud in Azerbaijan, and the implementation of a series of measures to provide cloud services.
The purpose of the centralised G-cloud system is to improve the efficiency of the development, storage, maintenance and integration of state information systems and reserves and to organise common standards.
The latter is crucial, because according to international experience, it is possible to achieve the level of cloud service efficiency and database security only if data centres are established and set up in accordance with the international Uptime Institute certificate of TIER III, ISO-20000 and ISO 27001 standards for the provision and management of IT services and information security. All equipment used in data centres will be managed according to the N+ principle aimed at ensuring continuity of services with an additional back-up base in case of technical problems or preventive maintenance.
In fact, this principle was the foundation upon which the entire architecture of state server structures in Azerbaijan has been built in recent years. There are data centres in Baku and Yevlakh that meet the necessary requirements. Moreover, they host cache-servers for Facebook, Google, and ensure content delivery to Georgia, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the share of local data centres in the transit and export of data, as well as service provision to the international market is still insignificant.
Unfortunately, some public and private entities in Azerbaijan have opted for individual server structures instead of using cloud storage centres. Such duplication of functions leads to unnecessary waste of funds and complicates operational processes, forcing to maintain a large staff of system administrators and cybersecurity officers in each government agency or private company. But even this has not always prevented the websites and server databases from massive hacker attacks.
Recently, however, amid increasing global cyber threats, the situation is changing fundamentally. There is an understanding that with the G-cloud project, the centralisation of government information resources under a single platform and common database, the government agencies will be able to reduce management costs. The uniqueness of cloud technology makes it possible to save resources and manage the IT infrastructure more efficiently from a single platform based on the so-called pool principle. The international practice shows that the states switching to centralised cloud technology save 25-30% on IT costs. At the same time, their protection against cyber-attacks is simplified and made cheaper, while the coordination between government organisations is improved, including e-services provided through the e-government.
The development of the G-cloud platform is nearing completion. According to AzInTelecom LLC, a subdivision of the Ministry of Digital Development and Transport, which supervises the G-cloud project, Azerbaijan uses the experience of advanced countries to form cloud services. A long-term strategy for development of G-cloud concept meeting modern standards, as well as transfer of information systems of state structures to the cloud is also in the works. For these purposes, the government of Azerbaijan allocated ₼17m and another ₼9m in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Among other things, it is planned to create an operational coordination centre and monitoring service to operate 24/7 within the project.
G-cloud will play an instrumental role in protecting public and eventually private information resources from cyber-attacks, which have multiplied with the outset of the war in Ukraine. In fact, a real cyber war is unfolding in the world between the intelligence services of the conflicting parties, while the organised hacker attacks now affect the increasing number of states not directly involved in conflicts.
Azerbaijan has taken a number of important steps to protect its network space. These include the adoption of a new cyber security strategy for 2022-2027 and amendments to legislation on network security.
Azerbaijan’s major data centres are making a significant contribution to the protection of the network resources of state bodies, including the effective mechanisms for protecting sensitive information of the banking sector and payment systems promoted since April 2022 by the Central Bank of Azerbaijan. One of the newly implemented mechanisms is Information Security Management Procedure in Banks. Structural changes on digital processes, including controls, risk management tools and implementation of monitoring systems, are being implemented in this regard.
Recently, the Mortgage and Loan Guarantee Fund has also entrusted the reservation and storage of information to AzInTelecom LLC's Yevlakh Data Centre.
In April, the Association of Cyber Security Organisations of Azerbaijan (AKTA) was established to improve network literacy and public security through education and information. AKTA specialists will popularise services of more secure cloud services. The association is also responsible for protecting national interests and information resources and combating misinformation on the web.
It is therefore necessary to increase the level of training of specialised IT-specialists. A new project with Israel's renowned Technion University will help Azerbaijan train qualified cybersecurity specialists. With its support, Azerbaijani Cyber Security Center will be established in Baku, which will train more than a thousand cyber security specialists, as well as local trainers within the next three years.
In short, given the realities of our world, Azerbaijan is trying to protect itself from threats on the web, tackling the issue in a consistent and comprehensive manner. After all, cyber security has long become a component of the national security in any country.