AWS Control Tower & VPC Traffic Mirroring

AWS re:Inforce 2019 is a two-day conference for security, identity, and compliance learning and community building. This year’s keynote, presented by AWS Vice President and CIO, Stephen Schmidt, announced the general availability of AWS Control Tower and the new VPC Traffic Mirroring feature. These two announcements resonated with me, and I wanted to expand upon them to help you gain valuable insights into how Amazon Web Services (AWS) manages security at scale.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at each of these topics. To dive deeper and train on the leading security tools and best practices in the cloud, test your skills, and keep your cloud environment secure and compliant, check out Cloud Academy’s Security Training Library

AWS Control Tower

Migrating to AWS can be a big challenge for organizations. Any help with infrastructure, account design, security, and implementing operational controls would be welcomed by many.  This is where AWS Control Tower can help. It has been designed to help create and outline a multi-account AWS environment that conforms to best practices defined within the AWS Well-Architected Framework, including security and key operational services as a landing zone.  

AWS Control Tower helps ensure that your AWS accounts meet standards required and stipulated by specific compliance controls. It includes the option to adopt and implement AWS Config Rules as a part of the deployment, ensuring specific controls are being met. AWS Config Rules provide a great method to help you enforce specific compliance controls and checks across your resources and allows for you to adopt an ‘ideal’ deployment specification for each of your resource types. Each rule is simply a Lambda function. When called upon, it evaluates the resource and carries out some simple logic to determine the compliance result with the rule.  AWS Control Tower will also provide a summary of each AWS account to show its compliance with your policies to show if there is a violation against any AWS Config Rules.

Guardrails

Control Tower also uses a feature known as guardrails within your AWS Organizations organizational unit (OU). These guardrails can be both mandatory and optional to help enforce security compliance and governance across your accounts. Examples of mandatory guardrails include controls such as:

  • Disallowing changes to IAM roles set up for AWS Control Tower
  • Disallowing public read access to log archive
  • Disallowing policy changes to log archive

In addition to these mandatory guardrails, there are also numerous recommended guardrails that you can enable or disable, such as disallowing public write access to Amazon S3 buckets. As well as being either mandatory or optional, these guardrails fall into two categories: preventive and detective. Preventive guardrails stop actions that fail to comply with your policies, and detective guardrails identify non-compliance within your accounts.  

AWS Control Tower automatically and efficiently implements new accounts. This can be configured to use other management tools,  such as AWS Organizations and AWS Service Catalog, to help you maintain greater control over your AWS environment. 

Blueprints

Much of this configuration is simplified in an automated setup through the use of Control Tower blueprints. These best-practice blueprints provide a template configuration centered around AWS security and management services. This helps to deploy your infrastructure using key features, such as federation, logging, audit control, enhanced network design, and workflows to help provision accounts.

Here are a number of examples of what the different blueprints can assist you with:

  • Configure AWS Organizations to create a multi-account environment
  • Provide identity management using AWS SSO Users and Groups 
  • Federate access using AWS single sign-on
  • Centralize logging using AWS CloudTrail and AWS Config
  • Enable cross-account security audits using AWS IAM
  • Implement network design using Amazon VPC
  • Define workflows for provisioning accounts using AWS Service Catalog

As a part of the overall management of your multi-account environment, AWS Control Tower allows you to view your infrastructure from a top-level summary via a dashboard which provides information such as:

  • Number of accounts provisioned
  • Number of policies enabled across all of your accounts
  • Compliance status of your accounts

Summary

In short, AWS Control Tower is a powerful new addition to the ever-expanding security, identity & compliance category of AWS services to govern and secure multiple AWS accounts. For more information on AWS Config and AWS Organizations, check out the following links:

VPC Traffic Mirroring

Within any organization, security analysts strive to understand what traffic is being generated by resources across the network to discover potential security threats and weaknesses and to troubleshoot incidents. By using AWS virtual private clouds (VPCs), one method of capturing this traffic is to deploy agents across your resources to track and capture network traffic from your EC2 instances. As your environments grow and you deploy more and more VPCs, this approach of agent-based deployments can become very cumbersome and difficult to maintain and manage.

I am pleased to report that AWS has now developed and designed a new solution to resolve this problem. VPC Traffic Mirroring is a new feature within the VPC service, allowing you to duplicate network traffic generated from your resources within your VPC. This traffic can then be sent to another instance or appliance for further analysis and inspection without the use of any third party agents installed on your resources, simplifying management and control of traffic capturing. VPC Traffic Mirroring is only available on sources running Nitro-based instances

Bandwidth

As this process duplicates traffic, this additional load counts towards your bandwidth associated with the source instance. If your bandwidth limit reaches capacity, causing congestion, then AWS will first drop your mirrored traffic used by VPC Traffic Mirroring to help alleviate the congestion. 

Design

Per design best practices, it’s recommended that you forward your duplicated network traffic to a Network Load Balancer (NLB), which then forwards the traffic to a fleet of appliances sitting behind it via a UDP listener. If required, you can simply forward the traffic to a single instance or appliance, but you should design with high availability in mind.

The great thing about VPC Traffic Mirroring is that the instances or appliance that performs the traffic analysis can be in a different VPC than that of the source generating the traffic. This allows you to achieve a hub and spoke design, drawing in traffic collated from multiple different VPCs all being directed from a single VPC dedicated for security analysis and detecting network anomalies. Again, this design helps with management and control of your resources.

Mirror filter

With added configurational parameters, its possible to implement mirror filtering to allow you to specify which network packets you are interested in capturing. For example if you want to analyze all traffic using a specific port and protocol, such as SSH, then this could be configured via a mirror filter.  

VPC Mirror Filter

Any traffic that matches the mirror filter criteria would be captured, and any that didn’t would be dropped at the source. This prevents your appliances and instances from having to analyze ALL traffic generated by a resource when you may only be interested in a specific subset of the traffic.

Components

The components used within VPC Traffic Mirroring are easy to define. Firstly, we need a source.  This can be any resource within your VPC which uses an Elastic Network Interface (ENI), such as an EC2 instance.  

You must also have a mirror target as well, which is where the traffic will be sent. As I explained earlier, this would generally be a network load balancer, but you can specify an ENI of another instance or appliance as required. This target can even be in a different VPC as the source.

To restrict which traffic is captured at your source, you can set and configure your mirror filters which are created as rules, based on protocols, ranges, and CIDR blocks. These rules are then read in order and the appropriate action is taken as soon as a match is found, much like a network access control list (NACL).

The final component is a mirror session. This essentially defines the logical connection between a source and a target and it’s associated mirror filters. You can create more than one mirror session for a source. For example, as shown in the diagram below, you can create a mirror session (Mirror session 1) that captures all TCP traffic from Source A to Target A. Then another mirror session (Mirror session 2) captures all UDP traffic from Source A (again) but to a different Target: Target B.  

VPC Mirroring Traffic

This might be helpful if you have different tools on each target that you will use to analyze different types of traffic. However, be aware there is a limit of three mirror sessions per ENI.

Summary

Being able to monitor network traffic across multiple VPCs without having to implement agents on monitored resources simplifies network analysis for incident identification and resolution, security anomalies, and compliance. The ability to couple this configuration with existing security tools obtained from the AWS Marketplace makes this a very powerful tool in the security of VPCs.

Avatar

Written by

Stuart Scott

Stuart is the AWS content lead at Cloud Academy where he has created over 40 courses reaching tens of thousands of students. His content focuses heavily on cloud security and compliance, specifically on how to implement and configure AWS services to protect, monitor and secure customer data and their AWS environment.

Related Posts

Avatar
Jeremy Cook
— September 17, 2019

Cloud Migration Risks & Benefits

If you’re like most businesses, you already have at least one workload running in the cloud. However, that doesn’t mean that cloud migration is right for everyone. While cloud environments are generally scalable, reliable, and highly available, those won’t be the only considerations dri...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Cloud Migration
Joe Nemer
Joe Nemer
— September 12, 2019

Real-Time Application Monitoring with Amazon Kinesis

Amazon Kinesis is a real-time data streaming service that makes it easy to collect, process, and analyze data so you can get quick insights and react as fast as possible to new information.  With Amazon Kinesis you can ingest real-time data such as application logs, website clickstre...

Read more
  • amazon kinesis
  • AWS
  • Stream Analytics
  • Streaming data
Joe Nemer
Joe Nemer
— September 6, 2019

Google Cloud Functions vs. AWS Lambda: The Fight for Serverless Cloud Domination

Serverless computing: What is it and why is it important? A quick background The general concept of serverless computing was introduced to the market by Amazon Web Services (AWS) around 2014 with the release of AWS Lambda. As we know, cloud computing has made it possible for users to ...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud Platform
Joe Nemer
Joe Nemer
— September 3, 2019

Google Vision vs. Amazon Rekognition: A Vendor-Neutral Comparison

Google Cloud Vision and Amazon Rekognition offer a broad spectrum of solutions, some of which are comparable in terms of functional details, quality, performance, and costs. This post is a fact-based comparative analysis on Google Vision vs. Amazon Rekognition and will focus on the tech...

Read more
  • Amazon Rekognition
  • AWS
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Google Vision
Alisha Reyes
Alisha Reyes
— August 30, 2019

New on Cloud Academy: CISSP, AWS, Azure, & DevOps Labs, Python for Beginners, and more…

As Hurricane Dorian intensifies, it looks like Floridians across the entire state might have to hunker down for another big one. If you've gone through a hurricane, you know that preparing for one is no joke. You'll need a survival kit with plenty of water, flashlights, batteries, and n...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • New content
  • Product Feature
  • Python programming
Joe Nemer
Joe Nemer
— August 27, 2019

Amazon Route 53: Why You Should Consider DNS Migration

What Amazon Route 53 brings to the DNS table Amazon Route 53 is a highly available and scalable Domain Name System (DNS) service offered by AWS. It is named by the TCP or UDP port 53, which is where DNS server requests are addressed. Like any DNS service, Route 53 handles domain regist...

Read more
  • Amazon
  • AWS
  • Cloud Migration
  • DNS
  • Route 53
Alisha Reyes
Alisha Reyes
— August 22, 2019

How to Unlock Complimentary Access to Cloud Academy

Are you looking to get trained or certified on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform, DevOps, Cloud Security, Python, Java, or another technical skill? Then you'll want to mark your calendars for August 23, 2019. Starting Friday at 12:00 a.m. PDT (3:00 a.m. EDT), Cloud Academy is offering c...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • cloud academy content
  • complimentary access
  • GCP
  • on the house
Avatar
Michael Sheehy
— August 19, 2019

What Exactly Is a Cloud Architect and How Do You Become One?

One of the buzzwords surrounding the cloud that I'm sure you've heard is "Cloud Architect." In this article, I will outline my understanding of what a cloud architect does and I'll analyze the skills and certifications necessary to become one. I will also list some of the types of jobs ...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Cloud Computing
Avatar
Nitheesh Poojary
— August 19, 2019

Boto: Using Python to Automate AWS Services

Boto allows you to write scripts to automate things like starting AWS EC2 instances Boto is a Python package that provides programmatic connectivity to Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS offers a range of services for dynamically scaling servers including the core compute service, Elastic...

Read more
  • Automated AWS Services
  • AWS
  • Boto
  • Python
Avatar
Andrew Larkin
— August 13, 2019

Content Roadmap: AZ-500, ITIL 4, MS-100, Google Cloud Associate Engineer, and More

Last month, Cloud Academy joined forces with QA, the UK’s largest B2B skills provider, and it put us in an excellent position to solve a massive skills gap problem. As a result of this collaboration, you will see our training library grow with additions from QA’s massive catalog of 500+...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • content roadmap
  • Google Cloud Platform
Avatar
Adam Hawkins
— August 9, 2019

DevSecOps: How to Secure DevOps Environments

Security has been a friction point when discussing DevOps. This stems from the assumption that DevOps teams move too fast to handle security concerns. This makes sense if Information Security (InfoSec) is separate from the DevOps value stream, or if development velocity exceeds the band...

Read more
  • AWS
  • cloud security
  • DevOps
  • DevSecOps
  • Security
Avatar
Stefano Giacone
— August 8, 2019

Test Your Cloud Knowledge on AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud Platform

Cloud skills are in demand | In today's digital era, employers are constantly seeking skilled professionals with working knowledge of AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. According to the 2019 Trends in Cloud Transformation report by 451 Research: Business and IT transformations re...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Cloud skills
  • Google Cloud
  • Microsoft Azure