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Securing Your AWS Workloads

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud platform, offering over 200 fully featured services from data centers globally. Millions of customers—including the fastest-growing startups, largest enterprises, and leading government agencies—are using AWS to lower costs, become more agile, and innovate faster.

Cloud security at AWS is the highest priority. AWS operates under a shared security responsibility model — AWS manages security of the cloud infrastructure while AWS customers are responsible for security of their solutions in the cloud.

Use this checklist as a guide to the activities and references you need to start building a secure foundation for the customer responsibilities in your cloud workloads.

As the leader in the public cloud market, Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers a broad range of services that help organizations move faster, lower IT costs, and scale applications.

Like most cloud providers, AWS operates under a shared responsibility model — AWS manages security of the cloud while their customers are responsible for security in the cloud.

Threats to your workloads running in AWS can take many forms, including:

  • Compromise of the AWS account
  • Data leakage or system compromise through insecure configurations
  • Breaches through publicly presented applications that are not thoroughly assessed or monitored

This guide can help you start building a secure foundation for your workloads or assess existing setups.

Start with a Solid Foundation

Ensure Internal Alignment

It’s critical to identify your internal stakeholders, their expectations and requirements, as well as meet with individuals who will be impacted by the project:

  • Engage security stakeholders during requirements gathering.
  • Include IT security staff throughout the project delivery processes.
  • Consider creating a cloud center of excellence (COE) that includes a stakeholder from each appropriate business unit.

Become Familiar with AWS Guidance

The AWS Shared Responsibility Model

AWS provides clear guidance on where responsibilities lie between their customers and them as it relates to security. Ensure you fully understand your responsibilities.
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The AWS Well-Architected Framework

The AWS Well-Architected Framework helps you weigh the pros and cons of decisions while building systems on AWS. By using the framework, you will learn architectural best practices for designing and operating reliable, secure, efficient, and cost-effective systems in the cloud.

Architect For Security

Map security boundaries using AWS controls.

Inventory and categorize workloads, segmenting environments based on your organization’s and your data’s security. Consider the following:

  •  Environment type
  • Regulatory scope
  • Change control requirements
  • Application and infrastructure tiers

Use a strategic security framework to understand risks and identify areas for gap analysis.

For example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) framework is a useful tool to assess and improve your ability to prevent, detect, and respond to cyberattacks.

Plan to automate security best practices.

  • Standardize on the least access and privilege security controls.
  • Define and enforce base standards and controls for reusable system components.
  • Standardize a tagging strategy, AMI, database instance, and service configurations used to build applications.
  • Define organizations and roles that secure and control those components.
  • Implement these as orchestration code for environment builds.

Prepare for security incidents.

  • Leverage infrastructure-as-code methodologies to enable rapid response in the event of a security incident.


Leverage the AWS Organization’s service and use separate AWS accounts based on development, testing and production. Where compliance requirements differ, these environments often have very different access requirements and data sensitivity.
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Many of the benefits infrastructure-as-code brings to application availability, stability, and scalability can be leveraged for security response.
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Adopt Assessment Standards

Use a standard set of assessment criteria to identify drift away from best practices in your environment.

  • Use third-party assessment criteria as well as a set of your own internal checks which align to your unique standards. A good example of third-party assessments is the CIS Benchmarks.

Adopt a third-party assessment tool to understand risks in your environments.

  • To reduce workload and drive a consistent approach, identify solutions that allow you to understand your risk and prioritize changes to improve security posture.


Alert Logic provides automated checks against the CIS Benchmarks as well as our Threat Risk Index which assesses your system and application vulnerabilities based on our proprietary algorithm

Define Access Standards

Protect the root account.

  • This account has ultimate control over your AWS environment — its security is paramount. Leaked root account access keys are the source of many AWS account breaches.

Use IAM policies, groups, and roles that have:

  • Unique accounts for all individuals
  • Multifactor authentication turned on as the default
  • Strict password policies
  • User permissions configured at group and role level
  • Different configurations for AWS Console, AWS API, and service or application permissions
  • Identify where IAM roles can be leveraged in place of IAM users.
  • Consider federation and single-sign-on options for access management.
  • Terminate unused access keys.
  • Disable access for inactive or unused IAM users.
  • Remove unused IAM policy privileges.
  • Remove unused IAM access keys.

Protect systems from network threats:

  • Disallow unrestricted ingress access on uncommon ports.
  • Restrict access to well-known ports such as CIFS, FTP, ICMP, SMTP, SSH, and remote desktop.
  • Restrict outbound access.

Protect Data

Encrypt data wherever possible to mitigate lateral spread in the event of compromise:

  • Enable EBS encryption by default
  • Use the AWS:SecureTransport condition for S3 bucket policies
  • Enable S3 Block Public Access for all accounts and buckets you do not want publicly accessible
  • Use AWS IAM user policies to specify who and what can access specific S3 buckets and objects
  • Enable MFA delete for S3
  • Set up MFA-protected API access for S3

Visibility and Threat Detection

Enable logging and auditing through CloudTrail:

  • Turn on CloudTrail log file validation
  • Enable CloudTrail multi-region logging
  • Enable access logging for CloudTrail S3 buckets
  • Disallow deletion of CloudTrail buckets
  • Ensure CloudTrail logs are encrypted at rest

Turn on AWS Security Services:

  • AWS Config
  • Amazon GuardDuty
  • AWS IAM Access Analyzer
  • AWS Inspector
  • AWS Security Hub

Employ security tooling and services that automatically assess changes and discover new assets:

  • Asset discovery
  • Configuration monitoring

Implement security monitoring for your workloads that enables rapid response to security incidents and provides coverage for your architectures:

  • Covers all supporting services, from EC2 to AWS container services
  • Integrates with AWS services for complete visibility (e.g., AWS CloudTrail)
  • Provides 24/7 response capabilities
  • Incorporates the latest threat intelligence to protect from new and emerging threats

While listing every security measure and configuration that may be required for the myriad of ways customers use AWS services is impossible, this guide provides the fundamentals that can lead to a secure foundation.

With services that integrate tightly with AWS, providing security posture assessment and 24/7 security detection and response built on a platform providing comprehensive coverage for your workloads, Fortra’s Alert Logic MDR® is the industry standard for securing AWS. Learn more by visiting our AWS Security Services page. 


The easiest way to protect your root account is not to use it. Set a very strong password, enable multi- factor authentication and lock it away
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