Amazon Loss of Executive to Microsoft Sets Up Potential Clash

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(Bloomberg) -- Microsoft Corp. said it has hired a former Amazon.com Inc. cloud executive to run its cybersecurity operations, potentially setting in motion a legal battle between the two tech giants.

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Charlie Bell, who long reported to former Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy and oversaw the engineering teams working on AWS’s main software services, will become an executive vice president reporting to Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella.

“Cybersecurity is one of the most challenging issues of our time – for every person and organization on the planet – and it is core to our mission,” Nadella wrote in an email to employees obtained by Bloomberg. Securing customers’ digital technology platforms, devices, and clouds “is a bold ambition we are going after and is what attracted Charlie to Microsoft.”

The last 10 months have seen a spate of damaging hacks and ransomware attacks impacting products from Microsoft and other companies. For the past few years, Microsoft has been adding security features to products including Windows and its Azure cloud services to protect individual machines and detect attacks on networks. The company has also acquired several security firms and added personnel who probe Microsoft’s own products for vulnerabilities, help clients clean up after a cyberattack and run a lab called the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center that closely tracks nation-state hackers.

Bell’s departure to a direct rival is a major blow for Amazon, and Microsoft said it’s committed to continuing “constructive discussions” with the cloud leader about Bell’s role. “We’re sensitive to the importance of working through these issues together, as we’ve done when five recent Microsoft executives moved across town to work for Amazon,” Microsoft said in a statement. Amazon, which has a history of seeking to enforce non-compete agreements vigorously, didn’t immediately comment on the move.

Bell will officially start his role once “a resolution is reached with his former employer,” Nadella wrote in the email.

After working on software for NASA’s space shuttle program early in his career, Bell joined Amazon in 1998 when the company acquired his e-commerce software startup. Bell said he was drawn to the position at Microsoft as a way to combat the rising tide of serious cyberattacks he feels is imperiling people’s safety.

“This has been weighing on my mind,” Bell wrote in a LinkedIn post announcing his move, “and the best way I can think to describe it is ‘digital medievalism,’ where organizations and individuals each depend on the walls of their castles and the strength of their citizens against bad actors who can simply retreat to their own castle with the spoils of an attack.”

Microsoft executives Harv Bhela, Joy Chik, Bharat Shah, who oversee various Microsoft security products and services will report to Bell, as will Chief Information Security Officer Bret Arsenault.

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