With the increasing rates of data breaches and cyber-attacks, organizations are more than ever willing to implement cloud services. Maintaining data security over cloud networks begins with the cloud service providers and infrastructure. AWS (Amazon Web Services) is a cloud service provider that enables organizations to build and scale applications securely and quickly. AWS Cloud also allows you to scale and innovate as you maintain a secure environment.

In this topic, we dive into the aspects of cloud security in AWS to understand why it is the highest priority to secure your workloads and applications in the cloud.

What is AWS Cloud Security

AWS (Amazon Web Services) is the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud service provider, offering cost-effective scalable cloud computing solutions with over 200 fully featured services from data centres worldwide. AWS maintains and manages hardware and infrastructure, saving companies and individuals the complexity and cost of purchasing and running resources on site

AWS cloud security is standard-built to protect the cloud infrastructure and the data stored and transmitted by it. It includes all processes and technologies that ensure an organization’s cloud infrastructure, data and identities is protected from external and internal cybersecurity threats.

How AWS Cloud Security Works

AWS operates on a shared security responsibility model. This model provides the agility and flexibility necessary to implement security controls that meet your business’s requirements. AWS is responsible for the security of its cloud infrastructure, including the hardware, virtualization technology, and physical security of data centers. Conversely, customers are responsible for the security of workloads they use in AWS’s platform. For instance, customers can limit access to their sensitive data or put loose controls on data meant for public use.

Elements of AWS Security

Many people expect AWS to provide higher cloud security compared to a traditional on-premise setup. Here’s a detailed look at some of the features that make AWS a more secure platform:

1. AWS Security Infrastructure

With security protocols built into the cloud infrastructure, AWS has an advantage over the traditional setup. AWS has tools for controlling network access and increasing privacy, such as firewalls, DDoS mitigation, and connectivity options. It also has automatic encryption for all data flowing across its global network.

In addition, customers can enjoy this security at no extra cost. Customers only pay for the resources they use, that is, paying for used storage space and computing time while taking advantage of AWS’ built-in security features.

2. AWS Identity Governance and Access Control

Services like AWS Identity and Access Management allow individuals to manage user accounts and permissions. AWS also offers services such as AWS Multi-Factor Authentication and AWS SSO (Single Sign-On) that aid access control.

3. AWS Monitoring and Logging Tools

AWS provides tools that allow individuals to view what is happening inside the AWS environment. This enables you to detect issues before they affect your business. These tools include Amazon CloudWatch, AWS CloudTrail, and Amazon GuardDuty.

4. AWS Security Compliance

AWS boasts third-party validation for multiple cloud compliance requirements and regulations. It also provides reporting tools showing data compliance with regulators. Even though AWS share security compliance responsibilities with its customers, it is up to every business to ensure that it meets all applicable compliance requirements.

5. A Wide Selection of AWS Security Products and Tools

AWS partners with many companies that offer products and tools that benefit AWS customers. For instance, a digital catalog known as the AWS Marketplace enables customers to find, test, buy and deploy software compatible with the AWS from independent suppliers. Other security resources include AWS Account Teams, AWS Trusted Advisor, AWS Enterprise Support, AWS Professional Services, and AWS Partner Network.

Security tools for AWS Accounts and Applications

AWS provides varying security tools to help customers keep their AWS accounts and applications secure.

a) AWS Account Security Tools

i) AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM)

AWS IAM is crucial for controlling access to AWS resources. It enables you to create roles and users with permissions to specific resources in the AWS environment. Assigning least-privilege permissions to the users and roles minimizes the impact of a breach where attackers have gained access. Also, AWS IAM has multi-factor authentication (MFA) and supports SSO access to further secure and centralize user access.

ii) Amazon GuardDuty

Amazon GuardDuty uses artificial intelligence to look for malicious activity in AWS environments. It combines the Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) Flow Logs, CloudTrail event logs, Single Storage Service (S3) event logs, and Domain Name System (DNS) logs to monitor and analyze all activity continuously. GuardDuty identifies issues such as exposed credentials, privilege escalation, and communication with malicious IP addresses and domains. It can also detect when EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) instances are mining bitcoin or serving malware.

In addition, GuardDuty can detect irregularities in your access patterns, such as API calls in new regions.

III) Amazon Macie

Amazon Macie discovers and protects sensitive data stored in AWS S3 buckets. It first identifies sensitive data in your buckets, such as personal health information or personally identifiable information, through discovery jobs. You can schedule the discovery jobs to monitor new data added to your buckets. After that, Macie continuously evaluates the buckets and alerts you when a bucket is publicly accessible, unencrypted, or shared with AWS accounts outside your company.

IV) AWS Config

AWS Config records and continuously assesses AWS resource configuration. This includes keeping a record of all resource changes, which is useful for compliance with legal requirements and your company’s policies. AWS Config evaluates new and existing resources against rules that validate certain configurations. For instance, if all EC2 volumes should be encrypted, AWS Config can detect unencrypted volumes and send a notification. It can also execute remediation actions like encrypting the volume or deleting it.

 V) AWS CloudTrail

AWS CloudTrail tracks all activity in the AWS environment. It records all user activities in all AWS API calls and the AWS console as events. You can view these events to identify unusual or unexpected requests in the AWS environment.

CloudTrail is enabled by default in all AWS accounts. Also, if you use AWS Organizations to manage multiple accounts, you can enable CloudTrail on all existing accounts within the organization.

vi) Security Hub

AWS Security Hub combines information from IAM, CloudTrail, Config, Macie and GuardDuty services in a central, unified view. It collects data from security services from multiple AWS accounts and regions, making getting a complete view of the AWS security posture easier. Additionally, Security Hub supports the collection of data from third-party security products.

A key feature of Security Hub is its support for industry-recognized security standards. You should combine Security Hub with AWS Organizations for the easiest way to get a comprehensive security overview of all your AWS accounts. It is essential to providing security teams with all the information they need.

b) AWS Application Security Tools

i) Amazon Inspector

This is a security assessment service for applications used on EC2. These assessments include (CVEs) common vulnerabilities and exposures, network access, Center for Internet Security (CIS) benchmarks, and common best practices like validating system directory permissions and disabling root login for Secure Shell (SSH) on the EC2 instances.

Depending on data provided on an agent application you install on the EC2 VMs, Amazon Inspector will generate a report with a detailed list of security findings ranked by severity. Run Inspector as part of a gated check in your deployment pipeline to evaluate your applications’ security before deploying to production.

ii) AWS Shield

AWS Shield is a fully-managed DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) protection service. It is automatically enabled as a free standard service with protection against common DDoS attacks against the AWS environment. 

Shield Advanced integrates AWS WAF (Web Application Firewall) to prevent a wide variety of malicious traffic from getting to your websites and applications. It can cover several accounts under an organization to ensure that all organization’s internet-facing endpoints are protected from threats.

iii) AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF)

AWS WAF monitors and protects APIs and applications built on services such as API Gateway, CloudFront, and AppSync. You can block access to your endpoints depending on different criteria, such as the request’s origin country, source IP address, and values in headers and bodies. You can also enable rate limiting, allowing a certain number of requests per IP.

IV) AWS Secrets Manager

AWS Secrets Manager is a managed service which enables you to store and retrieve sensitive information such as certificates, database credentials, and tokens. You should use fine-grained permissions to specify the actions an entity can perform on the secrets, such as updating, creating, deleting, or retrieving secrets. 

In addition, Secrets Manager supports automatic rotation for AWS services like Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS).

AWS Cloud Security Best Practices

1. Data encryption

Data encryption is important in keeping the data stored and transmitted in the cloud secure from malicious attacks. It is also a security obligation for some regulatory standards failure to which there could be an issue of non-compliance. 

AWS provides service-managed keys for free, but this offers server-side encryption only. It also offers a paid-for option, the key management service (KMS), which gives you centralized control over the encryption keys. Data encryption ensures that there’s an effective security barrier in place against attackers. 

2. Data backup

Backing up data and systems is another important feature because if any unmitigated breach or disaster occurs, organizations can get up and running again with a short recovery period due to the data backups in place. 

AWS Backup is an easy automated way to back up and secures your data from unanticipated acts that could be artificial or natural. Adding multi-factor authentication to this system enhances security by limiting the number of people who can access and modify the stored data.

You should back up your cloud data and systems following the 3-2-1 rule (3 copies, 2 locations, and 1 on a separate physical location, different region or service). Ensure that one of the two backups is on a non-AWS cloud service.

3. Secure Access

Securing access to your organization’s systems and data with AWS cloud security is essential to maintaining safety. This AWS security best practice can be achieved by implementing authorization and authentication measures such as multifaceted authentication and the implementation of role-based access control. 

Amazon IAM also allows you to accord users varying levels of access to cloud resources and APIs. You should not create policies per user but per role, using the principle of least privilege. Other measures that can help secure access to confidential data within the cloud environment include using strong passwords, which should be changed often and deleting access for inactive accounts. Define password policies that prevent the use of weak and recycled passwords.

4. Limit AWS Security teams

Network managers should provide access through security teams; only required ports should remain open. With so many best practices to secure AWS, expecting everyone to remember them is unreasonable. Use AWS Firewall Manager and AWS Config to automate Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) security team configuration. Also, the Network Reachability rules package, provided with the Amazon Inspector, allows you to determine which networks your VPC networks can access.

5. Native Cloud Security

Opt for cloud-based security solutions rather than traditional ones because they aren’t entirely equipped to deal with a cloud model. When choosing an AWS security solution for your organization’s systems and data, ensure they can be seamlessly integrated into your organization’s development pipeline. 

Your chosen AWS security solution should also have experience providing cloud security solutions to cloud-based companies like yours and be able to detect external threats and vulnerabilities to the applications and sensitive data on the cloud. 

6. Centralize CloudTrail Logs

In AWS, most logs are captured using CloudTrail. This service automatically captures and stores AWS API activity as Management Events in the AWS account. CloudTrail captures multiple events, including critical security information such as logins and configuration changes to AWS services.

CloudTrail logs should be written and encrypted to an S3 bucket for long-term storage. You should integrate your logs with SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) solutions or other AWS services that can allow centralized analysis.

Here are some best practices for setting up CloudTrail in your AWS account:

i) Create a trail for all regions

You should create a trail in CloudTrail to send all your logs to an S3 bucket. This will allow you to store your logs indefinitely. Ensure the ‘Apply trail to all regions’ option is enabled when creating your trail. This allows your trail to show activity from every AWS region.

It is important to capture data from all regions to have visibility in case something suspicious happens in a region you don’t usually use. You can also use one bucket to store logs for all your accounts if you’re using multiple AWS accounts.

II) Protect the S3 bucket holding your logs

Your logs are a key part of detecting and remediating an attack, thus, the S3 bucket where you store the logs is a prime target for an attacker. You should ensure the bucket is not publicly accessible and restrict access to only users who need it. The s3 log bucket should only be accessible by users who can’t access the cloudTrail log bucket. Also, you can consider requiring MFA to delete your log buckets.

III) Encrypt log files with SSE-KMS

Even though CloudTrail logs are encrypted by default, you can add an additional level of defense to enable server-side encryption with AWS Key Management Service (KMS). This option enables users to need permission to access the S3 bucket holding log files and access to a CMK (Customer Master Key) for file decryption. Log file encryption is a great way to ensure only a select few can access your logs.

IV) Use log validation

CloudTrail can automatically create validation files to detect when a CloudTrail log has been tampered with. Manipulating log files is a great way for attackers to cover their tracks. Therefore, you should ensure log validation is enabled for your trail.

Importance of AWS Cloud Security

AWS security is important for the same reasons cybersecurity is important. For many organizations, the importance of having strong AWS security is increasing as they move more valuable workloads and more sensitive data to the cloud.

1. Protects the Organization’s Reputation

AWS security protects the reputational damage that can happen due to an avoidable attack. If customers learn that a company was compromised because of an easily avoidable error, it could interfere with their confidence and might result in them moving their businesses to other companies.

2. Keep Data Safe 

The AWS infrastructure puts strong safeguards in place to help protect your organization and customers from malicious attacks. Data is stored in extremely secure AWS data centers, and access is controlled. AWS ensures the right resources have the right access at all times.

3. Meet Compliance Requirements 

AWS manages multiple compliance programs in its infrastructure. It receives third-party evaluations ensuring it meets global compliance requirements, and continuously monitors regulatory requirements to enable customers to meet security and compliance standards.

4. Save money

The AWS data centers enable you to maintain the highest security standard without managing your own facility. AWS Cloud allows customers to scale and innovate while maintaining a secure environment and paying for only the services they use.

5. Reduce Human Configuration Errors

AWS automates security tasks. This gives you more time to focus on critical tasks, such as scaling and innovating the business.

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