Amazon Web Services Security: using the built-in features

Do your part to make the most of Amazon Web Services security

While Amazon designed their cloud platform infrastructure to be highly available and scalable, Amazon Web Services security features also comply with industry standards. AWS Data centers are built like fortresses and staffed 24×7, and remote access is permitted strictly according to the principle of least privileged.

AWS infrastructure is designed and managed in full compliance with security best practices and a wide range of IT security standards, including SOC 1/SSAE 16/ISAE 3402 (formerly SAS 70 Type II), SOC2, SOC3, FISMA, DIACAP, FedRAMP, PCI DSS Level 1, ISO 27001, ITAR, HIPPA, and Cloud Security Alliance.

So Amazon has done their part to ensure that Amazon Web Services security is up to the challenge. But you’ve got to do your part, too. We’re going to focus on how you can leverage some of AWS’s built-in security features to meet specific business requirements and protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your data in the cloud.

Shared Security Responsibility

When you host your application in the cloud, you agree to share responsibilities with AWS. It’s the job of Amazon Web Services Security to take care of host operating systems, visualization layer, network and physical Security.  But it’s up to you to secure anything you deploy on the top host operation systems.

Amazon Web Services Security

Amazon Web Services Security built-in features

You have a responsibility to become familiar with each security-related AWS service. Here’s a quick run down.

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

Using IAM, you can create users, groups, and roles, and use permissions to allow and deny their access to AWS resources such as EC2, RDS, and VPC. IAM enables you to grant unique credentials to every user within your AWS Account, allowing individual access only to the AWS services and resources required.

With IAM Mutifactor Authentication enabled, a user trying to access an AWS resource will be prompted for normal authentication (user name and password), but also for an authentication code available only through their MFA-configured device.

IAM can be used to grant your employees and applications access to the AWS Management Console and AWS service APIs. IAM is also compatible with your existing Active Directory.

Virtual Private Clouds (VPCs)

Amazon’s VPCs allow you to provision compute resources, like EC2 instances and RDS deployments, inside isolated virtual networks. VPCs give you complete control over all inbound and outbound network traffic. You can (and should) use VPCs to secure your application by restricting, where appropriate, access to and from the Internet. Using Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections, you can connect on-premise servers directly to your cloud-based VPC, bypassing public networks.

Security Groups and Network  ACL’s

Using Security Groups, you can create firewall rules controlling incoming and outgoing traffic at the instance level. You can restrict traffic by protocol type (TCP, UDP, ICMP), IP address, and port.

Access Control Lists (ACLs) work at the network subnet level. Network ACLs can be especially useful in the prevention of DDOS attacks, when you have a particular need to blacklist traffic from specific IP addresses.

Data Encryption 

AWS provides Data encryption for EBS volumes, S3 buckets, and Relational Database Service (RDS) and Glacier data stores.

When you create an encrypted EBS volume and attach it to an instance, data on the volume, disk I/O, and snapshots created from the volume, are all encrypted. When so configured, AWS encrypts each S3 object with a unique key. Amazon S3 server-side encryption uses one of the strongest block ciphers available – 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-256).

RDS generates an SSL certificate for each DB Instance. Once an encrypted connection is established, data transferred between the DB Instance and your application will be encrypted during transfer.

Direct Connect

You can use AWS Direct Connect to establish a private virtual interface between your on-premise network and your Amazon Virtual Private Cloud. Direct Connect provides a private and secure high-bandwidth network connection.

AWS Cloud Trail

CloudTrail provides you with a history of all API calls made against your account resources, including API calls made via the AWS Management Console, SDKs, and command line tools.

Trusted Advisor

AWS Trusted Advisor inspects your AWS environment and makes recommendations for saving money, improving system performance and reliability, or closing security gaps.

Even without upgrading to a paid support plan, Trusted Advisor will warn you about weaknesses like security groups allowing unrestricted access ( to specific ports or S3 buckets with open access permissions. Trusted Advisor can provide a highly effective summary of your overall Amazon Web Services security profile.

Amazon Web Services Security: the next step

Besides the built-in Amazon Web Services security services, there are many open source and commercial software packages available through the AWS MarketPlace. But all these powerful tools will have no value if you don’t take the time to learn how to use them properly to  protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your cloud data.

Written by

Nitheesh Poojary

My professional IT career began nine years back when I was just out of my college. I worked with a great team as an infrastructure management engineer, managing hundreds of enterprise application servers. I found my passion when I got the opportunity to work with Cloud technologies: I'm addicted to AWS Cloud Services, DevOps engineering, and all the cloud tools and technologies that make engineers' lives easier. Currently, I am working as a Solution Architect in SixNines IT. We are an experienced team of engineers that have helped hundreds of customers move to the cloud responsibly. I have achieved 5 AWS certifications, happily helping fellow engineers across the globe through my blogs and answering questions in various forums.

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