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To succeed in today’s professional landscape, companies must be nimble and ready. They must be responsive in the face of constantly evolving technology and changing consumer preferences. To achieve this, many organizations turn to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

AWS enables companies to rapidly deploy and scale technology to meet their growing (or shrinking) demand without having to invest in expensive IT infrastructure. It’s an efficient and cost-effective solution that makes it easier for businesses of all sizes to drive innovation.

By now, most organizations are aware of the value AWS delivers –– but many of those same organizations have an alarmingly low awareness of cloud security. Let’s look at the challenges organizations face when working with AWS and similar cloud services, and how they can protect important data from attacks.

The Biggest Challenges of Working With AWS

Despite all of its undeniable benefits, there are two common challenges organizations face when building on AWS:

  • Understanding their cybersecurity role
  • Maintaining cloud visibility

Did you know that roughly 99% of cloud security issues are the customers’ fault?

A large portion of these incidents can be prevented by simply understanding the AWS Shared Responsibility Model. This model states that AWS will ensure the security of the cloud infrastructure, and the customer is responsible for ensuring the security within the cloud.

Unfortunately, there’s this misconception that AWS is responsible for other aspects of security, such as access management, safeguarding customer data, and protecting network traffic. These are all responsibilities of the customer. Understanding that your cybersecurity is a shared responsibility is important for knowing the role you play in running a safe AWS environment.

The other challenge organizations commonly have is with maintaining visibility within AWS. Visibility is an essential component of a good cloud security strategy –– because you can’t secure what you don’t know about. What’s more, the techniques used for on-premises security (like endpoint security solutions) aren’t always effective with cloud infrastructure.

In order to keep your cloud environment protected against threats, you must update your security policies to your AWS cloud services. This will help you increase visibility and keep your cloud systems protected against the evolving threat landscape. In this post, we’re going to look at 9 AWS security best practices to help you with that.

9 AWS Security Best Practices

1. Become Acquainted with the AWS Well-Architected Framework

While AWS isn’t responsible for the security in your cloud environment, they do offer ample resources to help you protect your AWS workloads.

If you’re new to building on AWS, one of the first things you should read is the Well-Architected Framework. This will help you learn how to get the most out of your cloud services. The Security Pillar is especially important, as this section of the framework covers a wide range of AWS security best practices to keep you protected from cloud security threats.

[Related: What is the AWS WAR (Well-Architected Review)?]

2. Plan Your Cybersecurity Strategy

Having an AWS cloud security strategy is important. If this is your first cloud migration, traditional security solutions won’t offer you the protection you need to safeguard your cloud assets. So, you need to develop an up-to-date cloud migration security strategy that allows for consistent protection.

If you’re already building on AWS, designing a clear-cut cloud security strategy will help keep your organization protected in the fast-paced world of Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD).

You want to make sure everyone within your organization is briefed on your AWS cloud security strategy and trained accordingly. This approach lets you bake cloud security into all stages of your development process. This will help you maintain compliance and be more proactive with preventing attacks. When your cybersecurity strategy comes first, every action you take will be determined by your security positioning.

3. Implement and Enforce Cloud Security Controls

Remember, it’s you who bears the responsibility of protecting your cloud workloads––not AWS. This means it’s up to you to have measures in place to ensure customer and company data is protected from malicious attacks. Below are some clouds security controls and procedures that will help you minimize the risk of a data breach:

  • Clearly define user roles: Don’t grant users extensive privileges beyond what’s needed –– only grant them the necessary privileges required for them to complete their tasks
  • Conduct privilege audits: Revoke privileges once users no longer need them. You can do this by conducting scheduled privilege audits that compare your employees’ privileges with their ongoing assignments
  • Implement a strong password policy: Your password policy shouldn’t only require using strong passwords, it should also include password expiration. That way, users have to change passwords every couple of weeks or every month
  • Use Multi-factor authentication (MFA) and permission time-outs: MFA and session time-outs add an extra layer of security by making it harder for malicious parties to access accounts within your AWS environment

Implementing these cloud security controls will help minimize some risk due to poor security hygiene, making it harder for unwanted parties to access your data. But these steps will only work if you’re consistent with your enforcement and make sure these controls are being followed throughout your organization.

Also, avoid granting root access to users unless it’s absolutely essential. And make sure you protect your AWS account root user access keys. Keep them in an inaccessible location that only you know about.

4. Make Your AWS Security Policies Accessible

The secret to implementing a good cybersecurity strategy is making sure everyone is on the same page. Create a document with your security policies and controls and share it on an internal drive where everyone within your organization can access it –– including stakeholders, external collaborators, and third-party vendors.

You also want to treat your security strategy as a living document ­­–– meaning it’s updated when needed. Technology is constantly changing, and your policies need to reflect that.

5. Always Use Encryption

Encryption is important. Not only are certain types of sensitive data required to be encrypted for regulatory compliance, encryption also acts as another safety barrier that strengthens your security positioning.

Ideally, you should encrypt all of your data –– even if you’re not required to for compliance reasons. This means using encryption for data in transit and data stored on S3.

AWS makes it easy to encrypt data within their cloud environment. Simply enable their native encryption feature that protects data stored on S3. It’s also a good idea to use client-side encryption to protect your data before it goes to the cloud. That way, you’re getting extra protection by using server-side and client-side encryption.

AWS offers a Key Management Service (AWS KMS) that gives you centralized control over your encryption keys. If you’re using client-side encryption in conjunction with server-side encryption, this will make managing your keys much easier.

[Related: Data Security Best Practices]

6. Backup Your Data

You never know if you’re going to need to restore data after a breach, so back up your data regularly. You can do this by using AWS Backup. This app makes it easy to automate backups across your AWS environment, so you never have to worry about losing important information.

Also, consider enabling multi-factor authentication delete. This will require users to include two forms of authentication before they delete or modify the versioning state of a bucket in S3.

7. Keep Your AWS Systems Up to Date

It’s imperative for you to keep your AWS cloud servers patched at all times –– even servers that aren’t publicly accessible. Working with outdated cloud infrastructure could leave you open to a wide range of security vulnerabilities. And those vulnerabilities could lead to a cybersecurity incident that costs your organization millions of dollars.

There are a number of third-party tools you can use to patch your AWS servers. Or you can use AWS Systems Manager Patch Manager, which makes it easy for you to automate patches for your cloud systems.

8. Create a Prevention and Response Strategy

This may sound counterintuitive, but part of keeping your cloud systems protected is accepting the reality that you will be attacked at some point. Of all the AWS security best practices we’ve covered, this is one of the most important to remember.

More often than not, cybersecurity strategies focus almost exclusively on prevention. While that’s undeniably important, it’s impossible to keep yourself 100% protected from attacks. The threat landscape is constantly evolving and attackers are always looking for new ways to bypass your security measures –– and there may come a time when someone succeeds.

Here’s the problem: When your strategy doesn’t account for what happens in the event of a successful attack, you’re not equipped to deal with those attacks. You may not even notice you’ve been breached until weeks or months later. That’s why you should assume you’ll be breached and plan how to respond accordingly.

The quicker you respond to a successful attack, the easier it is to reduce the damage. You can identify where and why the breach occurred, what your security vulnerabilities are, and how you can solve the problem before it gets worse.

9. Adopt a Cloud-Native Security Solution

Traditional security solutions weren’t designed to deal with the complexities of the cloud, making them ineffective at securing your cloud assets. You should trust your AWS cloud security with a native cloud solution that:

  • Offers extensive security that supports continuous delivery
  • Is capable of protecting your AWS workloads against external threats
  • Provides greater visibility into your cloud infrastructure

What’s more, many effective native cloud security solutions are designed to help you meet various compliance requirements. This strengthens your security posture and makes it easier to follow the AWS best practices we’ve covered in this post.

A Better Way to Secure Your AWS Environment

If you’re used to securing on-premises environments, cloud security feels like a whole different ballgame. These 9 AWS security best practices will help you keep up with the fast-paced nature of building on the cloud, but you still need a native solution capable of protecting your AWS deployments against malicious parties.

That’s where Alert Logic MDR for AWS can help. Our security solution was developed specifically for AWS and operates seamlessly within the AWS ecosystem. This means you’re given around-the-clock protection from cyberattacks, rapid alerts and responses to incidents and suspicious activity, and security compliance controls for a variety of regulations.

Request a demo today and see for yourself how Alert Logic’s MDR for AWS can help you take your cloud security to new heights.

Koby Thibault
About the Author
Koby Thibault
Koby Thibault is the Global Cloud Alliance Lead at Alert Logic, advising customers and partners on building with AWS. With 10 years’ experience in technology and cybersecurity, Koby has worked through many unique customer security challenges. Prior to Alert Logic, Koby spent time at Sophos assisting customers and partners to navigate the security challenges of the Public Cloud.

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