Lock it down: Dealing with the most common AWS security issues

Cloud computing now commands an important place in almost every field. Cloud services enable organizations and companies of all shapes and sizes to provision, maintain, and support their businesses with improved collaboration and add features at reduced costs. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the most popular and largest cloud provider in the world, and it is the global market leader in offering Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) cloud solutions.

AWS is well-known for its wide range of features, reliability, and security. However, AWS isn’t foolproof. Problems, especially those related to security, can still occur in AWS, and these problems could have a catastrophic impact on your business. While the issues and problems related to AWS security vary from company to company, there are a set of common issues that are common to almost every AWS user. Here are some of most common AWS security issues and their fixes:

Granting undue access rights and user privileges

Managing user access and privileges at an organizational level is very important. Therefore, roles and responsibilities of the users and resources in AWS must be managed properly. To aid this process, AWS comes with a dedicated identity and access management (IAM) web service, which helps its users to securely control and allocate accesses to AWS resources. It enables AWS users to control access to their account by creating and managing the AWS user’s permissions.

AWS Security

In addition to that, AWS users need to be very cautious in providing permissions to its users to access the S3 data buckets. AWS’ Simple Storage Service (S3) allows its users to store data objects in buckets. Once a data object is created and stored, Amazon S3 maintains durability by handling and securing these data objects. By default, AWS console allows its users to assign a wide range of permissions to the users based on the roles to access these S3 data buckets and objects. Unnecessary higher user privilege allocation must be avoided because higher privileges will possibly allow users to perform a wide variety of malicious actions, from data misuse to completely disrupting the entire system.

Essential security measures to control user privileges in an AWS system:

  • Lock your AWS account’s ROOT access keys.
  • Grant just the required least privileges to the users.
  • Rotate credentials regularly.
  • Filter down unnecessary and inactive user credentials.
  • Regularly monitor the activities in AWS.
  • Use groups to assign permissions to IAM users.

Lack of security visibility

Today, companies use a very large number of cloud-based applications on top of AWS. With the varying applications, their logins, controls, and resources used by these applications also vary. And it becomes very difficult to know and monitor who is accessing what and from where. However, to secure your confidential data and to ensure that your business runs smoothly, it is very important to monitor the logs. The lack of security visibility could be a serious threat to any organization, especially if any of these activities on AWS are malicious or anomalous.

AWS Security

Having visibility is a very basic yet often overlooked security measure in any cloud-based service including AWS. To secure or protect anything, you first need to see it. You can’t secure what you can’t see.

To gain a better visibility on AWS, an inside-out perspective can be built to show specific malicious events or actions over time on specific servers, such that we get a better insight into the actions performed. In addition to that, logs can provide a very valuable information in identifying any threat or attack on the AWS system. However, relying on logs alone is not sufficient as logs just narrow down your search for a vulnerability. Understanding and implementing intrusion-detection systems can be very helpful in gaining a better visibility about what’s going on with AWS.

Security group misconfigurations

AWS offer a variety of networking security controls to ease the process of isolating and segmenting the EC2 instances running on the cloud. A security group in AWS acts as a virtual firewall that controls the flow and traffic for one or more instances. When you launch an instance, you associate that instance with one or more security groups. Security group assignments and configurations are very important as they isolate EC2 instances from the public Internet to make sure the internal resources are not accessible to the outside world. It also helps in isolating instances, departments, and applications from one another.

Managing these security groups becomes more complex especially in the cases where a single instance is assigned to multiple security groups. In addition to that, not configuring your security groups properly can land you into multiple issues such as timeouts, app or service unavailability, and more.

To avoid these issues, make sure you open the port and local firewall in the EC2 security group along to make the instances always available. Moreover, assigning a security specialist or using a software solution to analyze and regularly monitor the AWS console ensures correct AWS security group configuration.

Lack of data protection

No matter where the data is stored, locally or on the cloud, data protection and security is of paramount importance. In the case of AWS, it is very important to protect the data at rest as well as the data in transit. AWS’s services such as S3, EBS, and RDS provides a number of security features for protecting the data at rest. These features if utilized properly can safeguard your data from almost all forms of data breaches and intruders. AWS comes with a long list of security features based on permissions, versioning, replication, encryption, data integrity authentication, and backup.

AWS Security

Cloud-based services and applications often communicate over various public links on the Internet. Often, sensitive data such as credentials, user information, and customer-related data gets transferred online from the cloud. Therefore, it is very important to protect the data in transit by securing network traffic between the clients and the server. Encrypting the data in transit using IPSec ESP and/or SSL/TLS is advisable. Implementing multifactor authentication using IPSec with pre-shared keys or using X.509 certificates can also safeguard the data in transit to a large extent.

Although AWS provides a wide-range of mechanisms to safeguard its clients, it’s the duty of every IT admin to set and enforce proper security measures to ensure a smooth flow in their businesses. AWS can be a little tricky to manage and handle. But when everything is done in a right way, it isn’t hard to understand why AWS is one of the strongest cloud partners to many of today’s fastest, biggest, and most innovative companies. Being aware of your responsibilities, and creating backup plans to manage risks, will make AWS a safer and more secure cloud environment for your business.

Photo credit: Flickr / DennisM2

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