For enterprises, getting up to speed with cloud deployments, migrations, and protecting their cloud infrastructure in time and cost-efficient ways is more important now more than ever. With AWS, enterprises gain a significant level of visibility and confidence in providing the most efficient cloud computing environment available. They also have peace of mind knowing their data is protected through core security and compliance requirements.
However, as hybrid cloud adoption continues to increase and the number of Americans working from home is expected to grow by 87% in 2025, security continues to become a roadblock. With that said, AWS is designed for enterprises to secure and develop high-functioning infrastructure for business applications properly. Although implementing the proper security protocols within your AWS environment can seem like a heavy load to bear, there are various tips to keep in mind that can effectively secure your AWS environment.
1. Define user permissions & identities
In order to set up a smooth AWS adoption strategy, users would be wise to set up an IAM that determines what a user is allowed to do in the account. As such, the IAM entity authenticates the person or application that is trying to access AWS.
Setting this up early on determines the activities that different principal entities can perform once your AWS environment is up and running. Additionally, users should consider being very conservative with accessibility and permissions. Some users and teams will need access to specific components of AWS, but that doesn’t mean they should have access to the entirety of AWS.
Therefore, users who are just starting on AWS need to understand the different tasks teams will need to perform and then define how much access they should receive based on those tasks.
2. Identify assets
Whether it be an enterprise or a federal agency, chances are the assets these entities possess will be vast and diverse. By identifying the assets you need to protect, you’ll be able to satisfy AWS best security practices. In addition, it will also give you a better idea of figuring out the most efficient approach to protect these assets from internal & external threats.
It’s recommended that these assets be placed into one of two categories. The first is essential information assets that typically come in the form of business-related information and internal specific processes. The second category consists of the components that support those critical information assets such as hardware infrastructure.
Once these assets are properly defined, you’ll have the visibility needed to determine what data needs to be protected and how it should be protected.
3. Keep track of your AWS credentials
How a user accesses AWS will determine the different types of security credentials that will are needed. For starters, consider a strong username and password for accessing AWS Management Console. Additionally, keep in mind that access keys are required to make programmatic calls to AWS and access AWS Command Line Interface.
AWS does not allow users to recover lost or stolen credentials and for a good reason. Why? Well, consider this: According to Verizon, 42% of data breaches result from stolen credentials. Therefore, if you are the root user, your AWS account ID, password, access keys, and the email address associated with your account must be in a secure location. As we mentioned in the first tip, setting up an IAM user with administrator permissions allows the root user to perform everyday AWS tasks confidently, knowing that these tasks are restricted to everyone but the root user.
Additionally, if you have multiple AWS accounts, then that means you’ll have multiple AWS credentials. This would require extra precaution on the root user’s side to ensure those credentials are appropriately secure and kept away from third parties.
4. Understand the impact incident response has on corporate goals
Given that the security of your cloud environment is more important than ever, users should have peace of mind knowing that AWS provides automated incident response & recovery to not only respond to security incidents but analyze the root cause of those incidents as well. With that said, AWS Cloud has an established shared responsibility model for its users.
This means that although AWS manages the security of the cloud, users are expected to manage the security in the cloud. However, it also means that enterprises and entities alike can implement a security strategy that best fits their organization and deploy the right cloud workload protection platform that suits their needs and satisfies the AWS shared responsibility model. Additionally, AWS provides a bevy of tools, controls, and services to help you meet your specific security needs and establish your security baseline.
With a plan like this in place, you’ll surely have more visibility into the impact incident response will have on your corporate goals. However, any deviation from that baseline, even if it’s just a misconfiguration, will usually require an immediate investigation. In order for this to happen successfully, it’s essential to understand and comprehend the rudimentary concepts of incident response to prepare teams accordingly. Security and legal will need to work holistically and be knowledgeable on these concepts to leverage various AWS capabilities and establish the proper incident response mechanisms needed to iterate from and improve upon.
5. Establish a diverse team
While we briefly mentioned the importance of teams working holistically in the previous tip, it’s also important to note the value of establishing a diverse group within your AWS environment. Unfortunately, homogeneous teams that operate in silos can render blind spots. While automation processes can be very effective tools for increasing security within your AWS environment (more on that later), having diverse teams that offer different systems of thought and unique cultural perspectives is key to tackling complex security issues.
Diverse teams are not only better equipped to identify blindspots, they can also have a tremendous impact on specific tasks such as correlating events, establishing response procedures, and performing the necessary research. Additionally, diverse teams are in a better position to adopt a culture of innovation and think with an agile mindset. Given the new normal organizations have been thrust into, it cannot be understated.
6. Utilize automation tools
Expanding more on the benefits of automation tools as they related to cloud security, automation processes go far beyond enabling humans within an organization to tackle complex issues. For example, a properly secured root account should have a multifactor authentication process in place.
However, if unauthorized access occurs, having the right automation tools in place can assist security teams by providing alerts that immediately bring potential theft and other developments to their attention. For disaster recovery solutions, automation plays a crucial role in backup contingency plans.
Many of these vendors provide a high level of automation in ways in-house automation skills miss the mark. With automation embedded into various cloud technologies, organizations will find that the expenses typically involved with on-premise recovery strategies are significantly reduced.
7. Security strategies should come before controls & tools
When starting with AWS, it’s a good idea to prioritize your security strategy over the controls and tools you wish to implement. Indeed, your specific plan should determine the rules and tools your organization uses and not the other way around.
This is because your security strategy is all-encompassing and therefore has more impact on your teams and organization as a whole in ways that individual tools and controls do not. And by prioritizing your security strategy, you’ll be in a better position to integrate security into all business processes and determine how they’ll affect team workflows, especially for operations and development teams.
Additionally, by having your security strategy in place before deploying tools, it will be easier to implement security monitoring for them.
8. Choose your admins wisely
Data stored in S3 buckets should have as limited access as possible. In fact, only root users and trusted administrators should have access to this data, but even then, not every admin should have the same level of accessibility. With that said, it’s best to err on the side of caution and take the time to determine who should be an admin.
An admin failing to establish comprehensive policies typically results in those policies losing their effectiveness and ends up increasing your organization’s attack surface. For example, while it may make sense to trust developers with admin rights to perform specific tasks, it also increases the possibility of stolen credentials, configuration errors, etc.
The same caution should be applied to terminate users who at one point were trusted with admin rights as ex-employees can be a potentially significant insider threat. Although it’s unfortunate, not all threats are external, so being cautious with admin rights is essential to securing your AWS environment.
9. Implement a VPC
For organizations that rely on multiple servers within their server infrastructure, implementing a VPC (Virtual Private Cloud) to separate public and private infrastructure is necessary. While having a VPC is quite similar to the concept of IAM’s, the key difference is that IAM policies are applied to internal entities such as users with various levels of authentication. VPC’s on the other hand focus on the traffic that is coming into your network.
For organizations that want to establish networked resources within AWS, a VPC needs to be designed first. Essentially, a VPC separates what your organization does and does not want on the public internet. For example, no organization wants their databases to be accessed from the public internet, and therefore databases belong in the private category, as well as any subnet that contains infrastructure with private IP’s. Alternatively, subnets with public or elastic IP’s belong in the public category. When a VPC is built within your AWS environment, it will become possible to run applications in a secure atmosphere.
10. Set up your security groups for VPC
Although having a VPC setup is essential to protecting your infrastructure from external threats, it’s not a set-and-forget system. Admins must cautiously maintain their VPC for it to remain secure. Because while a VPC or a VPN can fend off hackers, it needs to be appropriately monitored like any tool.
Therefore, it’s essential to get up to speed with AWS security group basics to comprehend their characteristics and understand how a virtual firewall allows users to lock down their networks and defend their resources from unauthorized access.