Amazon Web Services (AWS) Security 101

Cloud computing. Or as I like to call it, “computing.”

Who are we fooling, folks? It doesn’t matter if it’s sitting in our data center, in someone else’s data center, or under a desk in our basement: a computer is a computer is a computer. Whether or not the data on that computer is secure, however… that depends pretty heavily on whose job it is to secure it.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has established themselves as a leader in the “computer in someone else’s data center” market. Despite a few high profile outages every now and then, the fact remains that companies aren’t shying away from moving business critical apps to Amazon’s cloud.

But who’s responsible for securing that infrastructure?

If you answered, “Amazon, of course. Isn’t that what we’re paying them for?” then you’d only be partially correct. Scratch that. You’d be wrong. Just plain wrong.

While cloud security is “job zero” at AWS (their words, not mine), the truth of the matter is that “AWS and its partners offer hundreds of tools and features to help you meet your security objectives around visibility, auditability, controllability and agility,” (again, their words, not mine).

Hundreds. Let that sink in for a sec.

It’s easy to get distracted all those bright, shiny tools, so easy that you might overlook that fact that someone has to spend time CONFIGURING those tools properly.

That someone, dear reader, is you.

To be fair, some (most?) of the tools come with some basic security features enabled out of the gate. Still, anyone with sec ops experience can tell you that properly configuring, tuning, and maintaining one security tool can take considerable effort.

So how much effort would it take to manage hundreds of security tools?

My best estimate to date is one metric $#!%-ton, but your mileage may vary.

If you have any… ANY business critical processes that rely on AWS, then it would be in your best interest (and your customers’… and your shareholders’…) if you were to familiarize yourself with some basic AWS security do’s and don’ts.

The good news is that Amazon has gone out of their way to make sure you have the info you need.

First and foremost, I strongly recommend that you register for and attend Amazon’s AWS Security Fundamentals online course. Three hours of training, straight from the source, split into five modules:

  • Introduction to Cloud Computing and AWS Security
  • Access Control and Management
  • AWS Security – Governance, Logging, and Encryption
  • Compliance and Risk Management
  • Auditing Your AWS Security Architecture

 

Did I mention that this particular training is free? Because it is. That’s a tough deal to beat.

If you want to go all in, there’s also the three day Security Operations on AWScourse. This one is not free (sorry), but holy criminy, it covers EVERYTHING. If you’ve got a significant investment in your AWS cloud infrastructure, then you should seriously consider setting aside some training dollars for this course.

If you’d rather do a little light reading, AWS has plenty of whitepapers on the topic. The three that I recommend you bump to the top of your list:

 

If conferences are more your thing, you could always hit up the Amazon Web Services YouTube channel. There, you can watch the 29 videos in their Security & Compliance | AWS re:Invent 2015 playlist. Pick your poison, plug in your headphones, and absorb some critical security knowledge at your leisure in one-hour snippets.

Amazon has a considerable amount of additional training materials available, including self-paced labs and professional certifications, but these options are pay-to-play. Make sure you’re being honest with yourself about the ROI.

Finally, I recommend that you spend a little time on the AWS Security Services page, reading up on those hundreds of tools that Amazon touts (both free and paid). Start with these seven tools:

  • Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) – Enables you to build and restrict access to your own private cloud (hence the incredibly appropriate name).
  • AWS Trusted Advisor – Includes 40 checks to make sure your AWS deployment is properly configured, focusing on cost optimization, security, fault tolerance, and performance improvement.
  • Amazon Inspector – A more in-depth AWS security controls assessment tool (still in preview, as of February 2016).
  • Scout2 – Okay, so I lied. This isn’t one of Amazon’s tools, but while their Inspector tool is still in preview, you might find this alternative pretty handy.
  • S2N – An AWS implementation of SSL/TLS. Encrypt all the things!
  • AWS Key Management Services (KMS) – Their encryption key management solution. Again, encrypt all the things!
  • Security Monkey – Another lie. You caught me. This one’s a Netflix tool, but given Netflix’s investment in AWS, it should come as no surprise that theyroll their own tools.

 

If your budget won’t allow for the hands-on labs, you could always sign up for theAWS Free Tier and create your own labs. The free tier will give you twelve months of access at no cost (hence the name), and it includes access to KMS and Trusted Advisor.

I know I’ve just scratched the surface here, but I’m gonna go ahead and wrap it up before your brain explodes.

AWS security can be big and scary and ridiculously complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Break it down into bite-sized chunks, start eating that elephant one bite at a time, and… voila: you’re on your way to a secure AWS implementation.

Good luck!

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