Access Control
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2h 45m

This course covers the core learning objective to meet the requirements of the 'Designing secure solutions in AWS - Level 2' skill

Learning Objectives:

  • Analyze the available options to secure credentials using features of AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM)
  • Evaluate the appropriate routing mechanism to securely access AWS service endpoints or internet-based resources from an Amazon VPC
  • Evaluate the appropriate encryption options available for data in transit and when at rest across AWS services
  • Evaluate the most appropriate key management service and options based on business requirements and governance controls



Hello and welcome to this lecture where I want to highlight how you can access AWS CloudHSM.  

More often than not in AWS, access to resources can be controlled by IAM controls, however, CloudHSM is slightly different.  Instead of using IAM users, the service has its own users and security held on the HSMs themselves utilizing a role-based access control method.  Do bear in mind, however, you will still need permissions from within IAM to use the CloudHSM service.   As you might expect, there are different types of users with different levels of controls as to what actions they can perform on the module.  So let’s take a look.  

The types of users available on the HSM are as follows:

  • Precrypto Office (PRECO).
  • Crypto Office (CO).
  • Crypto User (CU).
  • Appliance User (AU).

After you have created your HSM cluster, the first HSM you connect to will be provisioned with the Precrypto Office (PRECO) user with a default username and password.  This is a temporary user with temporary credentials of read-only access to the cluster.  Using the PRECO user you must activate your cluster. As a part of the activation process of your cluster you will need to change the PRECO password, and by doing so your PRECO user will then become the Crypto Office (CO) user.  

The Crypto Office (CO) user contains a more advanced permission set than that of the PRECO user.  The CO has the ability to carry out user management tasks, such as the creation and deletion of users, in addition to changing users' passwords.  It can also perform some administrative level operations as well, including:

  • The ability to zeroise data on the HSM, which will delete certificated, keys and any other data on the HSM.
  • Obtain HSM details such as the different HSM IP address in the cluster, the models, and serial numbers.
  • View and determine the synchronization status across your cluster.

A Crypto User (CU) is used predominantly to perform the cryptographic operations and key management functions with your CloudHSM cluster, these include: 

  • Create, delete, import/export, and share cryptographic keys.
  • Perform encryption and decryption, plus signing and verifying.

Also, much like the CO, CUs are also able to zeroise data and basic cluster information such as IP address and serial number and retrieve cluster synchronization status.

The Appliance User (AU) performs cloning and synchronization across your cluster and it exists on all HSMs.  The CloudHSM calls upon the AU to ensure the synchronization of your HSMs within your cluster is maintained.  

Here is a summary of the different user types used on the HSMs. (Image source:

The hardware security modules are designed with physical tamper detection and response processes.  This means that if the HSM detected any kind of physical breach or tampering of the device, it would begin key deletion across the hardware. 

In addition to this, the HSMs are also designed with protection against brute force login attacks.  This means that if you were to incorrectly enter the wrong passwords for a Crypto User, then that HSM would lock out that user, and would have to be unlocked by a Crypto Officer.

About the Author
Learning Paths

Stuart has been working within the IT industry for two decades covering a huge range of topic areas and technologies, from data center and network infrastructure design, to cloud architecture and implementation.

To date, Stuart has created 150+ courses relating to Cloud reaching over 180,000 students, mostly within the AWS category and with a heavy focus on security and compliance.

Stuart is a member of the AWS Community Builders Program for his contributions towards AWS.

He is AWS certified and accredited in addition to being a published author covering topics across the AWS landscape.

In January 2016 Stuart was awarded ‘Expert of the Year Award 2015’ from Experts Exchange for his knowledge share within cloud services to the community.

Stuart enjoys writing about cloud technologies and you will find many of his articles within our blog pages.