21 Best Practices for AWS Cloud Security

Amazon web services or AWS cloud security is a crucial subject in today’s cybersecurity environment. More businesses are adopting cloud services and shifting to AWS. Given the current landscape, there’s no doubt that Amazon Web Services (AWS) is offering the best security features to AWS users to completely secure their infrastructures.

But security is the shared responsibility of AWS as well as the users. You may have implemented the basic AWS security practices. However, since a large volume of resources is launched and modified in your AWS cloud infrastructure regularly, it is possible that you might have missed some AWS cloud security best practices.

What is AWS?

Amazon web services (AWS) is a widely adopted comprehensive and secured cloud platform that offers fully-featured services such as compute power, content delivery, database storage, and other functionalities to help businesses globally. AWS offers many solutions and tools for software developers and enterprises to help them scale their work and grow.

AWS is divided into different services and each service can be configured as per the user’s needs. It allows users to host dynamic websites by running web and application servers in the cloud; use managed databases such as Oracle, MySQL, or SQL Server to store information; and securely store files on the cloud so they can access them from anywhere.

With the ample benefits that AWS offers, comes the responsibility for maintaining security to ensure your data is safe in the cloud.

Let’s explore more about AWS cloud security best practices and how you can implement them to ensure enhanced security.

Best Practices for AWS Cloud Security

1. Put your strategy first and determine if it supports various tools and controls.

There’s a lot of debate around whether you should put tools and controls in place first, or set up the security strategy. While it might seem like an underlying discussion, the answer is more complex. Usually, it is recommended to establish the security strategy first, so that when you access a tool or control, you can evaluate whether or not and how well it supports your strategy.

Moreover, it allows you to bake security into all organizational functions including those relying on AWS. Putting a security strategy in place first is also of great help with continuous deployment.

For instance, if your company uses configuration management tools such as Ansible, Chef, etc to automate software patches and updates, then having a strong security strategy in place will help you implement security monitoring throughout all the tools from day one.

2. Enforce clear, consistent cloud security controls and procedures.

Most of the recent S3 attacks are related to S3 bucket breaches that contained sensitive information and that were set to “public.” However, S3 buckets are by default set to “private,” meaning only specific users with privileges can access these buckets.

To ensure the safety of data in S3 buckets, or in the cloud, create a set of clearly written and consistent security controls and procedures. These should define the type of data that can be stored in the cloud, build a hierarchy to categorize sensitive data, and determine who should have access to them.

3. Apply security to all layers.

Ensure that you apply security to all layers. Having just one firewall in the infrastructure isn’t enough. Rather, have virtual firewalls on all your virtual networks to control and monitor network traffic to secure your infrastructure and the operating system it is running on. You can easily install these firewalls from the AWS Marketplace.

4. Leverage native cloud security resources.

By deploying tools like Amazon CloudFront in your application, you can protect your web applications hosted anywhere in the world. There is an array of native AWS security tools such as AWS Shield, Guard Duty, and Cloud Watch readily available that can help you secure your cloud environment.

Additionally, standard compliance frameworks such as Amazon Machine Images (AMIs), and ISO/IEC 27000 series that are preconfigured with various compliance elements built-in can offer significant front-end work already done for you.

5. Develop a security culture.

Maintaining security should be a top-to-bottom effort with every member of the organization taking responsibility for it. Especially in today’s time when there's a lack of cybersecurity professionals and it’s hard to find individuals who are skilled in the latest technologies and tools.

Whether you have a dedicated security team or no infosec employees at all, ensure that you train all your employees about the importance of security and how they can contribute to strengthening the overall security of the organization.

6. Monitor user access for your database.

It is important that you monitor user access for your database and determine their purpose. For instance, map out all administrative tasks to ensure that granular or least privilege access controls are implemented after moving into the cloud.

Further, if your application uses external data sources, consider using controls such as data integrity validation and data-in-motion encryption to maintain data integrity and confidentiality.

7. Configure a password policy.

Password cracking, brute force attacks, and credential stuffing are some of the most common security attacks that cybercriminals use to target organizations and their users. Having a strong password policy in place is critical to the security of your organization as it can significantly reduce the chances of a security breach.

Consider creating a password policy that describes a set of conditions for password creation, modification, and deletion. For instance, implement multi-factor authentication, automated lockout after multiple failed login attempts, or a password renewal policy after a certain period of time (for example 60 days).

8. Use password generator tools to create complex, secure passwords.

Once you have a strong password policy in place, use password generators to create complex secure passwords that are less likely to be cracked by an attacker.

AWS allows you to enforce the policy of complex passwords in the IAM password policy section. Having a mix of upper and lower cases, numeric, and special characters will help you create a relatively more secure password as compared to your birthdate or your name.

9. Encrypt sensitive information.

Encrypting your sensitive information can go a long way in securing your data. It is quite easy and simple to enable encryption in AWS, especially if you have chosen their native encryption, which provides HTTPS and end-to-end SSL/TLS for APIs and AWS Service.

How can you encrypt sensitive data?

You can also use scalable key management to create, define, rotate, and audit your encryption keys in one place. For client-side encryption, use AWS encryption with EBS, RDS, and S3 or Azure Secure Server Encryption (SSW) with files and blobs. Ensure that data stored on S3 via SSL has encrypted endpoints to protect data in transit as well.

10. Don’t use expired certificates.

Keep your SSL/TLS certificates updated as the older version may not be compatible with AWS services, which may lead to errors for custom applications or ELB, impacting the overall security and productivity of your company.

11. Backup your data regularly.

Every organization must create regular backups of their data. In AWS, your backup strategy depends on your existing IT setup, the nature of your data, and industry requirements.

How can you backup your data in AWS?

AWS offers flexible backup and restore solutions to protect your data against cyber thefts and security breaches. You can use AWS Backup, which provides a centralized console to manage and automate backups across AWS services.

It integrates Amazon RDS, Amazon EFS, Amazon DynamoDB, AWS Storage Gateway, and Amazon EBS to enable regular backups of key data stores, such as databases, filesystems, and storage volumes.

12. Use EBS encryption.

Amazon EBS encryption provides a simple encryption solution that doesn't require you to build, maintain, and secure your own key management infrastructure for your EBS resources.

The encryption takes place on the servers hosting EC2 instances and ensures the security of both data-in-transit and data-in-rest and its attached EBS storage. With Amazon EBS encryption, you can encrypt both the data volumes and boot of an EC2 instance.

13. Lockdown your root account credentials.

Root account credentials enable users with full access to the resources in the system, however, this makes the system vulnerable to security breaches.

Instead of having root account access keys, implement an Identity and Access Management (IAM) admin user which defines and manages the access privileges and roles of individual network users. Additionally, use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to enhance security as it adds an extra layer of protection.

14. Keep your AWS policies and practices up to date.

An important way to secure your AWS cloud infrastructure is to create consistent security policies that every individual can follow. By implementing clear and concise security practices, you can protect your AWS cloud environment from distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, unauthorized use/access, malware, hackers, and other risks.

Ensure that you document all of your AWS policies and processes and store them in a common place like a shared drive on the internal network where every individual can access them. Keep updating this document regularly with the latest cloud security approach to ensure that all your employees, third-party vendors, trading partners, and stakeholders remain on the same page.

15. Use vulnerability reporting.

With the rising number of cybersecurity attacks, it is critical for businesses now to assess their infrastructure and determine vulnerabilities that could put their data to risk. In AWS, users are advised to avoid entering passwords, clicking on links, or downloading attachments through email that look suspicious.

What if users detect suspicious activity or emails?

Users can directly report suspicious emails to Amazon's system. Not only does this alert AWS regarding potential cloud security breaches against your organization, but it also builds a culture of security and generates awareness among users.

You can also report potential hacking and phishing scams to the authorities like the FBI local office, the Internet Crime Complaint Center or the U.S. Secret Service.

16. Ensure all of your servers are patched.

Make sure that you patch all your AWS cloud servers, even if they are not publicly accessible. There are many tools available that can help you automate and manage the process of patching your AWS cloud servers.

For instance, AWS Systems Manager Patch Manager enables you to automate and manage instances related to both AWS security and other types of updates. With Patch Manager, you can apply patches to an array of Amazon EC2 instances, virtual machines (VMs), and your on-premises servers as well.

17. Use key policies to control access to CMKs.

Each CMK in the AWS KMS has a key policy associated with it that determines the use and management of the key permissions. The default key policy allows the user to define principals, and enable the root user in the account to define IAM policies.

To ensure the best AWS security practices, modify the default key policy according to your company's requirements. Also, implement least privilege access which limits the access of users to only those resources that they absolutely require access to in order to perform legitimate business functions.

18. Implement strong network security protocols and policies.

Often, people have a presiding notion that because AWS offers enterprise-class infrastructure, security is taken care of. While the AWS network provides significant security controls and enables organizations to configure settings such as firewall ports and access controls, that alone isn’t sufficient to protect your network completely.

Advanced malware can target your AWS through SQL injection attacks, network traffic, botnets, and cross-site scripting. Further, if one virtual server of AWS is compromised, it might impact other vulnerable servers operating in the same environment.

How can you protect your AWS from cyber attacks?

To ensure better security, integrate a “Shared responsibility model” which defines your responsibility apart from Amazon's security. For instance, implement data integrity authentication, both server-side and client-side encryption, network traffic validation, authentication, and encryption.

Bring your security team in early during the process to ensure security is taken care of from day one. Don’t presume that AWS cloud security will interfere with the agility of your organization.

19. Choose regions to manage network latency and regulatory compliance.

AWS provides information about the state and country where each region resides. Make sure that you manage network latency and regulatory compliance according to the regions.

20. Monitor user access for the AWS management console.

The AWS Management Console is like the advanced dashboard on a site, from where you can completely control and manage all your AWS resources and instances. Some of the key features that AWS Management console offers is creating new virtual machines, removing any current virtual machines, or modifying other AWS services.

Having access to this console is similar to having the keys to a kingdom. Make sure that you monitor user access to the AWS management console and detect unauthorized access.

21. Use AMIs for platform components.

Instead of configuring a Linux Server or a WordPress machine from scratch, use Amazon machine images (AMIs) to launch an instance. A single AMI can help you launch multiple instances with the same configuration.

You can also use different AMIs to launch instances with different configurations. Using an AMI will help you save the time and effort required to set up AWS security configuration work and also reduce risks.

Final Thoughts

As you shift to an AWS cloud infrastructure or grow your existing AWS, you will need to take a deeper look into the security of your AWS infrastructure. Users also need to be updated about the latest changes to adopt better, more comprehensive security measures. These were just a few AWS security best practices that you can implement to maintain strong security for your AWS ecosystem.

About

Cypress Data Defense was founded in 2013 and is headquartered in Denver, Colorado with offices across the United States. Our goal is to help organizations secure their IT development and operations using a pragmatic, risk-based approach. The diverse background of our founders allows us to apply security controls to governance, networks, and applications across the enterprise.

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