7 Common AWS Misconfigurations & How to Prevent Them

5 mins to read

Amazon Web Services (AWS) stands out as a powerful platform that empowers businesses to scale, innovate, and achieve their goals efficiently. However, cloud computing requires a strong foundation of security best practices. Proper controls and configurations can provide that foundation of platform support, but sometimes the wrong controls can leave your environment at risk. In this blog post, we’ll delve into seven common AWS misconfigurations and explore how to prevent them, ensuring the integrity of your cloud environment.

What Is an AWS Misconfiguration?

The typical AWS cloud consists of resources and services to help enterprises build and operate. Those services require various controls and configurations. It is possible for these controls to be improperly managed or for default settings to persist and leave environments open to risk – this is referred to as a misconfiguration.

aws misconfiguration

7 Common AWS Misconfigurations

1. Not Securing Root Account Access

Your AWS root account is the gateway to your cloud kingdom and must be protected. Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) and limit the use of root credentials to essential tasks. Use IAM users and roles for daily operations to follow best practices and minimize root account usage.

2. Overly Permissive Security Groups

Security groups define traffic rules for workloads within a VPC. Avoid overly permissive inbound rules that can expose EC2 instances to threats. Follow the principle of least privilege, regularly review and update security group rules, and use Network Access Control Lists (NACLs) in conjunction with security groups for enhanced security.

3. Inadequate Identity and Access Management (IAM) Policies

Misconfigured IAM policies can lead to unauthorized access, data breaches, and data loss. An extremely common IAM misconfiguration is overprivileging cloud identities. This is offering identities more permissions than they need to do their job and it increases exploitable attack surface. Create granularly-defined IAM policies, utilize groups and roles to manage permissions efficiently, and follow cloud IAM best practices to ensure that only the right people or services have access to your AWS resources.

4. S3 Bucket Misconfigurations

Improperly configured Amazon S3 buckets are often the source of data breaches. Ensure proper authentication, limit permissions, and encrypt S3 buckets. Regularly audit and review S3 configurations and identity entitlements to prevent data exposure.

5. Neglecting Encryption and Public Settings

Enable encryption for data in transit and at rest. Ensure resources are not publicly accessible, as default settings may not be the most secure option.

6. Poorly Managed Key Management Service (KMS)

Effective key management is vital for data confidentiality. Implement key rotation, secure key storage, and restrict access to KMS resources, especially for root accounts. Lost or forgotten keys pose significant risks to organizations, so proper management is essential.

Find best practices on securing aws access keys here.

7. Improper Logging

Enable AWS CloudTrail and Config Rules to monitor and respond to configuration changes. Neglecting logging leaves you vulnerable to malicious activity. Continuous monitoring is crucial in the dynamic cloud environment, where access is short-lived. Use these services to proactively manage your AWS environment.

How Can I Identify If My AWS Environment Is Misconfigured?

Using AWS Provided Tools

Amazon provides several tools to help you identify and rectify misconfigurations:

  • AWS GuardDuty: Detects suspicious activities and threats.
  • AWS Config: Provides a detailed view of your resource inventory and configuration changes.
  • AWS Trusted Advisor: Offers real-time guidance to optimize your AWS resources.
  • Amazon Inspector: Automates security assessments.
  • AWS Security Hub: Aggregates and prioritizes security findings.

Leveraging Third-Party Tools

In addition to AWS tools, you can enhance your security posture with third-party solutions. Cloud Security Posture Management tools are the leading horse in managing cloud platform security. They help to detect cloud drift, maintain compliance, and remediate misconfigurations – before there’s an incident. 

CSPM tools are further enhanced when working alongside a Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM) tool. CIEM inventories every cloud identity, computes their effective permissions, and detects and remediates the toxic permission-chains creating unintended access. CSPMs are enhanced with the insight of how risks tie back to sensitive data access from a CIEM.

Learn more about how Sonrai’s CSPM leverages critical identity and access insight.

aws misconfiguration breach

Preventing AWS Misconfigurations

Mitigate AWS misconfigurations by implementing these best practices:

  • Implement Least Privilege Access: Grant minimal permissions to users, groups, or roles.
  • Utilize Infrastructure as Code (IaC): Define and deploy infrastructure consistently with tools like AWS CloudFormation.
  • Regularly Review Security Groups and NACLs: Keep security rules up-to-date.
  • Enable AWS Config and AWS CloudTrail: Monitor and record changes to AWS resources.
  • Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Enhance security with multiple verification methods.
  • Conduct Regular Security Audits and Training: Continuously assess your AWS environment and provide security training.
  • Prioritize Identity Management: Focus on managing identities and access control in your AWS 

AWS Misconfigurations Real-Life Examples

One notable example of an AWS cloud breach caused by a security misconfiguration is the Capital One data breach that occurred in 2019. In this incident, an insider threat exploited a misconfigured firewall to gain unauthorized access to Capital One’s AWS-hosted data.

Here’s a breakdown of the key points:

The breach was made possible due to a misconfigured web application firewall (WAF) in the AWS infrastructure. The misconfiguration allowed the attacker to execute a Server-Side Request Forgery (SSRF) attack, which enabled access to sensitive data stored in Capital One’s AWS S3 buckets.

Once inside the AWS environment, the attacker had a vast opportunity for lateral movement. They gained unauthorized access to sensitive customer data, including credit card application data, Social Security numbers, and bank account numbers

The breach affected approximately 100 million individuals in the United States and 6 million in Canada, making it one of the most significant data breaches in recent history. Capital One faced both financial and reputational damage as a result.

Capital One took immediate steps to address the security misconfiguration and strengthen its security posture in AWS. They also cooperated with authorities in the investigation and legal proceedings against the attacker.

This breach serves as a prominent example of the critical importance of properly configuring security settings in cloud environments, especially when dealing with sensitive customer data. It highlights the need for continuous monitoring and auditing of cloud infrastructure to prevent, detect, and respond to security misconfigurations effectively.

Sonrai’s CSPM with Identity and Access Insights

Sonrai Security offers advanced Cloud Security Posture Management to continuously monitor your environment for proper configurations and prevent drift out of compliance. Sonrai’s CSPM is enhanced by the patented identity and permission analytic insight that reveals every connection point creating attack paths to enterprise data. This insight helps contextualize CSPM alerts and prioritize what should be remediated first.

To learn more about how Sonrai prevents and detects AWS misconfigurations explore the solution.

aws misconfiguration breach


What’s an AWS misconfiguration?

An AWS misconfiguration refers to the improper setup of Amazon Web Services resources, leading to vulnerabilities, data breaches, or operational issues. Examples: AWS Cognito misconfiguration; AWS S3 misconfiguration.

Why is an AWS misconfiguration a significant concern?

AWS misconfigurations can result in data exposure, unauthorized access, security breaches, and operational downtime, potentially causing substantial financial and reputational damage.

How can I check if my AWS resources are misconfigured?

You can use AWS-provided tools like AWS Config, AWS Trusted Advisor, and third-party solutions like Sonrai Security to identify and remediate misconfigurations.

How can I prevent AWS misconfigurations in my cloud environment?

To prevent an AWS misconfiguration breach, follow best practices, regularly review and update your configurations, implement security controls, and consider using tools and services specifically designed for cloud posture management, like Sonrai Security.