Skip to main content

AWS Security – tightening up your Amazon deployments

We’ve talked about AWS security before – what tools AWS has created for us and some common mistakes people make – but you never can really cover the whole thing. So I’ve put together a checklist of some key best practices that’s guaranteed to mess with your next night’s sleep.
Thinking of launching an EC2 instance as a testbed? Not sure whether it’ll still be up a month from now? Don’t stop reading…now’s the time to think about AWS security!

Avoid using the default AWS security group

Everyone loves a default setting because it can help you avoid thinking for yourself…and who has time for that? Sure, you can always keep adding new policies to a single AWS security group so it will work with all your nodes, but try not to.
Instead, create separate security groups for each network traffic profile you plan to use and use them only when the fit is perfect. Besides the risk of introducing vulnerabilities, overusing default configurations can lead to bad architecture design and practices. Also, if you force yourself to create new security groups for each project, you’ll actually end up thinking a whole lot more about your larger design, which will probably improve it.

Open only those ports that are absolutely necessary

If the only access you will need is SSH, then make sure that’s all you leave open. Afraid you may need POP3 or MySQL access some time over the next six months? Wait until you actually need it.

Restrict access to sessions originating on your IP

When you set up a security group in AWS and open a certain port, you can also choose the Source. This controls which traffic will be allowed to reach your instance. Rather than leaving it wide open (, specify a single IP address or an IP address range in CIDR notation (for example,
Even better: if you select “My IP” for “source”, AWS should automatically populate your public IP.

Use meaningful names

You may not think it is possible, but twelve months from now, you may be looking after a huge AWS infrastructure with 50 or more security groups. Which of these AWS security group names do you think would work best?

  1. security_group1
  2. my-sg
  3. ssh_access_port22_only_WordPress_server
  4. jimmies_best_security_group_ever

Hopefully you guessed (2) ssh_access_port22_only because it tells us exactly what it does and what it’s meant for. You get the idea.
If you look at the screenshot below, I’m in the middle of configuring the launch of an EC2 instance. In Step 6: Configure Security Group, I chose:

  • A meaningful security group name.
  • A description that explains it even better.
  • SSH access only
  • Only my IP
AWS Security

Remove (or don’t even generate) a Root Account Access Key

One of the best ways to protect your account is to not have an access key for your root account. Unless there’s some reason that you absolutely must have a root access key (which is very rare), it is best not to generate one. Instead, the recommended best practice is to create one or more AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) users, give them the necessary permissions, and use IAM users for everyday interaction with AWS.

If you already have an access key for your account, AWS recommends that you find all the applications currently relying on it key, replace the root access key with an IAM user access key, and then disable and remove the root access key.

AWS security: summary

Security is important – and nowhere more so than in the cloud. From my experience, you need to get the basics in place first and the rest of your security should build out naturally. So, to review, I would suggest focusing on these points for your AWS security plan:

  • Avoid using the default security group.
  • Only open ports that need to be open.
  • Use names that are meaningful for your Security Group
  • Choose to access from your IP only unless wider access is needed (eg:HTTP)
  • Remove (or don’t generate) a Root Account Access Key

Written by

Michael Sheehy

I have been UNIX/Linux System Administrator for the past 15 years and am slowly moving those skills into the AWS Cloud arena. I am passionate about AWS and Cloud Technologies and the exciting future that it promises to bring.

Related Posts

— February 11, 2019

WaitCondition Controls the Pace of AWS CloudFormation Templates

AWS's WaitCondition can be used with CloudFormation templates to ensure required resources are running.As you may already be aware, AWS CloudFormation is used for infrastructure automation by allowing you to write JSON templates to automatically install, configure, and bootstrap your ...

Read more
  • AWS
— January 24, 2019

The 9 AWS Certifications: Which is Right for You and Your Team?

As companies increasingly shift workloads to the public cloud, cloud computing has moved from a nice-to-have to a core competency in the enterprise. This shift requires a new set of skills to design, deploy, and manage applications in the cloud.As the market leader and most mature p...

Read more
  • AWS
  • AWS certifications
— November 28, 2018

Two New EC2 Instance Types Announced at AWS re:Invent 2018 – Monday Night Live

The announcements at re:Invent just keep on coming! Let’s look at what benefits these two new EC2 instance types offer and how these two new instances could be of benefit to you. If you're not too familiar with Amazon EC2, you might want to familiarize yourself by creating your first Am...

Read more
  • AWS
  • EC2
  • re:Invent 2018
— November 21, 2018

Google Cloud Certification: Preparation and Prerequisites

Google Cloud Platform (GCP) has evolved from being a niche player to a serious competitor to Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. In 2018, research firm Gartner placed Google in the Leaders quadrant in its Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service for the first time. In t...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud
Khash Nakhostin
— November 13, 2018

Understanding AWS VPC Egress Filtering Methods

In order to understand AWS VPC egress filtering methods, you first need to understand that security on AWS is governed by a shared responsibility model where both vendor and subscriber have various operational responsibilities. AWS assumes responsibility for the underlying infrastructur...

Read more
  • Aviatrix
  • AWS
  • VPC
— November 10, 2018

S3 FTP: Build a Reliable and Inexpensive FTP Server Using Amazon’s S3

Is it possible to create an S3 FTP file backup/transfer solution, minimizing associated file storage and capacity planning administration headache?FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is a fast and convenient way to transfer large files over the Internet. You might, at some point, have conf...

Read more
  • Amazon S3
  • AWS
— October 18, 2018

Microservices Architecture: Advantages and Drawbacks

Microservices are a way of breaking large software projects into loosely coupled modules, which communicate with each other through simple Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).Microservices have become increasingly popular over the past few years. The modular architectural style,...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Microservices
— October 2, 2018

What Are Best Practices for Tagging AWS Resources?

There are many use cases for tags, but what are the best practices for tagging AWS resources? In order for your organization to effectively manage resources (and your monthly AWS bill), you need to implement and adopt a thoughtful tagging strategy that makes sense for your business. The...

Read more
  • AWS
  • cost optimization
— September 26, 2018

How to Optimize Amazon S3 Performance

Amazon S3 is the most common storage options for many organizations, being object storage it is used for a wide variety of data types, from the smallest objects to huge datasets. All in all, Amazon S3 is a great service to store a wide scope of data types in a highly available and resil...

Read more
  • Amazon S3
  • AWS
— September 18, 2018

How to Optimize Cloud Costs with Spot Instances: New on Cloud Academy

One of the main promises of cloud computing is access to nearly endless capacity. However, it doesn’t come cheap. With the introduction of Spot Instances for Amazon Web Services’ Elastic Compute Cloud (AWS EC2) in 2009, spot instances have been a way for major cloud providers to sell sp...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud
  • SpotInst
— August 23, 2018

What are the Benefits of Machine Learning in the Cloud?

A Comparison of Machine Learning Services on AWS, Azure, and Google CloudArtificial intelligence and machine learning are steadily making their way into enterprise applications in areas such as customer support, fraud detection, and business intelligence. There is every reason to beli...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud
  • Machine Learning
— August 17, 2018

How to Use AWS CLI

The AWS Command Line Interface (CLI) is for managing your AWS services from a terminal session on your own client, allowing you to control and configure multiple AWS services.So you’ve been using AWS for awhile and finally feel comfortable clicking your way through all the services....

Read more
  • AWS