11 Important AWS Cloud Security Best Practices for 2023

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AWS cloud security best practices help you protect your workloads and data. But with so many options, it can be tough to know where to start. AWS security best practices are critical for every customer.

To help customers secure their AWS environments, AWS has published twelve essential AWS Cloud Security best practices for 2023. These best practices cover various topics, including identity and access management, data security, incident response, and compliance. We’ve added a few best practices to the AWS list to help in identities, data, workloads, and platform security. By following these best practices, organizations can help ensure that their AWS environments are secure. 

The Importance of Securing AWS

As more enterprises look to the cloud as the future of business, cloud security is an absolute necessity. Making sure you’re working in a secure environment should be a top priority, as just simply ‘being in the cloud’ does not inherently make things secure. IBM’s annual Cost of a Data Breach 2022 report, found that 45% all cyberbreaches today are cloud-based. With cloud adoption only growing, and cloud breaches growing alongside it, securing AWS, the most popular CSP, is a must.

How Does AWS Cloud Security Work?

AWS operates under a shared responsibility model. AWS takes care of the security ‘of’ the cloud while AWS customers are responsible for security ‘in’ the cloud. AWS is focused on the security of AWS infrastructure, including protecting its computing, storage, networking, and database services against intrusions, and of course caring for their physical servers located across the globe.

The customer responsibility begins with the secure usage of AWS. For example, AWS has offered multifactor authentication as a service, but it is the customer who is responsible for actually turning MFA on. So any unmanaged service or resource, the customer must take on securing. For a more complete list of customer responsibility see our blog:

The Biggest Challenges in AWS Cloud Security

Understanding Responsibilities

AWS defines a Shared Responsibility Model that outlines which security responsibilities belong to them, which belong to the cloud customer, and which can be shared between them. New AWS customers, or even current ones, may not be aware of this model, and it can create the potential for security gaps which can expose the organization and its data to vulnerabilities. Organizations must recognize the AWS Shared Responsibility Model and develop proactive strategies for fulfilling their end of the deal.

Maintaining Visibility

Many AWS organizations have multiple cloud deployments and often suffer from a lack of visibility. This can include things like not knowing where employees set up cloud deployments or understanding what data exists in those environments. This ignorance makes it difficult for IT teams to determine the where, what, and how of monitoring these environments.

In AWS, organizations do not have control over their underlying infrastructure; AWS does. This shift in managing the environment means traditional approaches to maintaining security (accessing log files, using endpoint security solutions, etc.) are no longer effective. This change forces organizations to rely upon solutions provided by their cloud services provider, which differ from provider to provider, making it a challenge to maintain consistent visibility into all of their resources, identities, data, and workloads. Most companies need to utilize security solutions outside of the CSPs’ cloud-native tooling to provide continuous visibility into all of an organization’s resources, assets, and data.

Meeting Compliance Requirements

Most organizations are subject to internal and external regulations that dictate how sensitive data should be stored and protected against unauthorized access and data exposure. In the cloud, where a company does not have visibility over its underlying infrastructure, achieving, maintaining, and reporting compliance can be more convoluted. Organizations must determine the regulatory requirements for their infrastructure, ensure that their selected cloud services meet the needs of applicable regulations, and ensure that their cloud workloads and assets meet these requirements.

Enforcing Consistent Security Policies

Most organizations use multiple clouds, each with its own security configurations. With each CSP having different configurations, this makes enforcing consistent security policies across all cloud environments more difficult for security personnel. Each security team must individually configure and maintain settings for each unintegrated CSP environment. Enforcement of consistent security policies requires deploying a comprehensive identity and data security platform capable of managing all of an organization’s multi-cloud deployments.

Identity-Focused AWS Cloud Security Best Practices

Due Diligence of Administrator Credentials

To avoid the risk of anomalies, AWS orgs should strictly control and monitor their administrator accounts. For best results, users must only use necessary functions with limited access rights daily while discouraging excessive usage because it can be dangerous if not used correctly..

Enterprises must protect the robust set of permissions linked with administrator credentials. As an extra step, AWS admins should consider implementing additional security measures, like separate account logins and encryption, to minimize risks from malicious infiltration; this will help ensure that your company’s data stays safe.

Categorize Identity Management

Identity and identity entitlement management is complicated. AWS teams can manage compute and human resources by sorting identities into groups and roles according to their identities and linked permissions. Through grouped categorization, AWS admins can effectively manage similar permissions, roles, and privileges without manually sorting through individual accounts. However, it is good to have complete visibility into all permissions, roles, and privileges for all users and machine identities. Without this visibility, any identity may receive more access than needed leaving your organization open to unnecessary risks. This sort of visibility comes only from a third-party cloud security provider.

MFA Activation. 

If you want to keep your AWS environment safe, Multifactor authentication is a must. As the name suggests, MFA requires more than just remembering some passwords – it involves having both physical devices and personal knowledge for an individual’s identity to be confirmed. Fundamental access controls can prevent intrusions by most bad actors. These controls verify the valid identity, then monitor the user’s usage to ensure they remain within the mandated security parameters and permissions. As a general security best practice, activate MFA for all of your accounts.

Use Temporary Credentials

Use temporary credentials whenever and wherever possible as a general best practice. Access keys provide long-lived access, which can create more unnecessary risk as opposed to logging in via the console using a user/password combo. 

Enforce Password Hygiene

To maintain optimal security, experts recommend enforcing password hygiene, which eliminates weak authentications. If you need help with password hygiene, the NIST SP 800-63-3 Policy provides a comprehensive list of password guidelines. This will ensure you do not have compromised AWS accounts, and you can help prevent bad actors from entering your environment. 

Rotate Access Tokens

Rotating access tokens is a good idea to minimize the risk that bad actors could compromise your AWS account. You will need new ones each time you switch applications and delete old ones, like passwords.

Centralize IAM with CIEM

Centralizing Identity and Access Management (IAM) provides your organization with a single point of control for all identities, giving you an easier time enforcing policies and governing access. Leveraging a CIEM solution ensures that any toxic permissions creating paths to your data are revealed so you can prevent breach and keep policies like least privilege in check. CIEM will keep your entitlements in check and continuously monitor your environment so they stay in place.

Enforce Least Privilege

The Principle of Least Privilege ensures that identities receive the minimum permissions required to fulfill their roles. Through least privilege, AWS organizations can reduce the impact of a data breach by restricting threats to the account’s specific permissions. An AWS best practice is giving individual identities, whether they are people or pieces of compute, the exact amount of privileges they need to get their job done and removes the privileges when no longer needed.

Discover and Inventory All Identities

You can only protect or manage accounts, identities, roles, and assets that you can see. It can be challenging to discover, and inventory machine and human identities and their entitlements with scripts and automation layered all over the toolchain. Some identities embed in runtimes or are hard-coded into compiled executables making visibility a challenge, but it’s a necessary evil. Organizations need to get visibility into precisely what automation tools are executing and into what privileges are assigned to the tools. CIEM can help discover and inventory all identities – human and machine.

Read ’11 Best AWS Security Tools and Services for 2023′.

Manage Shared Secrets and Hard-Coded Password

Application development moves fast, and for expedience, hard-coded passwords and account sharing is created. Unfortunately, even meticulous teams can leave behind hard-coded passwords and shared secrets in their finished applications or within the IT infrastructure. Hard-coding passwords and shared secrets are frequent mistakes organizations make to get the automation working and keep it working with stability. The problem becomes more severe as it is difficult to trace or audit activity within the affected environment.

Best practices for shared secrets are to monitor identities continuously and manage risks associated with critical systems and data. All potential access paths to your data, workloads, containers, and identities are uncovered and categorized by privilege.

Read ‘Best Practices: AWS S3 Bucket Security Tips’.

Protect more than AWS Workloads

Organizations are increasingly implementing cloud services using serverless and containerized deployments in today’s world. The CSPs’ unique architectures require security tailored to their needs – such as cloud workload protection. More importantly, your organization needs to look beyond the workloads and understand how to secure the data and identities associated with these services.

Achieve AWS Security Best Practices with Sonrai

Built on a sophisticated graph that identifies and monitors every possible relationship between identities and data across AWS, Sonrai provides real-time and continuous audit-based monitoring giving comprehensive visibility and control over the security posture of every deployed resource.

Sonrai’s Cloud Infrastructure Entitlements Management (CIEM) solution is specifically designed to tightly and consistently manage privilege in complex cloud environments. The Toxic Permission Analyzer reveals all dangerous permissions creating paths to your data and so you can prevent breach and enforce policies like least privilege.

Data sovereignty, data movement, and identity relationships are all monitored and reported through Sonrai’s Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) platform to ensure conformance to CIS benchmarks, GDPR, HIPAA, and other compliance mandates.

Managing data in and across cloud environments is exceptionally complex. Distributed teams are rapidly innovating and using many data stores, and they must have a way to find these stores and confirm what is in them. Sonrai’s Cloud Data Loss Prevention (Cloud DLP) sees all of these data stores and verifies their rights. Not just what is accessing it, but everything that could potentially access it. This is our Cloud Access Intelligence.

Beyond monitoring and remediation, Sonrai provides you with a roadmap to improve your security posture over time. Set security goals for each AWS environment based on contextual factors, and monitor your progress towards greater compliance with critical frameworks and security principles. With Sonrai, you can quantify the value of security efforts over time and help other AWS stakeholders understand the impact and importance of your Amazon Wed Services security initiatives.

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