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The DevOps Guide to Applying the Principle of Least Privilege in AWS

The DevOps Guide to Applying the Principle of Least Privilege in AWS

Blog Article Published: 03/17/2023

Originally published by Britive.

Applying the principle of least privilege in AWS is vital to securing your DevOps workflows on the platform. Least privilege is a best practice that restricts access rights for users and entities to the minimum necessary to perform their tasks. When you implement least privilege, you reduce their attack surface. In this article, we’ll explore why least privilege plays such a critical role the DevOps process and how to apply it in AWS. We’ll then share three additional access control safeguards that will make your cloud infrastructure more secure.

The Importance of Least Privilege in the DevOps Process

With so many moving pieces in DevOps, adequately addressing security concerns with the cloud infrastructure that supports it can be challenging. The principle of least privilege is one of the keystone concepts of modern cloud security that can help DevOps teams operate in a secure manner without slowing the pace of innovation.

Most DevOps processes involve many human and synthetic users spread across multiple cloud providers and services. This complexity is compounded by the need for speed and the diverse collection of open-source automation tools DevOps teams rely on, which may introduce security concerns of their own. Enforcing the principle of least privilege on AWS involves restricting access rights to particular resources for every user, application, and system, with a specific need for access. This has the immediate effect of reducing the opportunities available for malicious entities to gain access via static user credentials.

Applying the Principle of Least Privilege in AWS

AWS contains a number of built-in security tools and settings that can help DevOps teams implement the principle of least privilege. Here are four simple ways to begin securing your DevOps pipelines with native AWS capabilities.

Grant least privilege permissions

AWS allows you to set permissions using IAM policies. These policies can be used to specify the actions that can be taken on specific resources and under what conditions those actions can occur. Adherence to least privilege requires permissions to be set at the bare minimum required for a user or entity to complete a task. However, manually fine-tuning these permissions use-case-by-use-case can be a time-consuming process of trial and error.

Migrate towards least privilege using AWS managed policies

AWS managed policies are useful for helping DevOps teams transition to more robust least privilege enforcement. These prepackaged policies grant permissions aimed at addressing common use cases and aren’t intended to address the specific needs of individual businesses. Although this one-size-fits-all approach won’t be a perfect fit, it can serve as a starting point that can be improved upon later.

Use IAM Access Analyzer to fine-tune access policies

AWS allows admins to narrow down the permissions required to complete specific tasks by viewing user activity logged in AWS CloudTrail. The IAM Access Analyzer tool analyzes the services and actions each IAM role uses and generates an individualized access policy that can be tested and applied.

Frequently review and remove unused users, roles, permissions, policies, and credentials

Inactive users, roles, permissions, policies, and credentials present an unnecessary risk since they serve as unneeded access points. Using AWS IAM, admins can view recently accessed information, making it easier to spot permissioned access instances that still exist but have not yet been removed.

Adopting a Modern Approach to Least Privilege

When DevOps teams integrate the principle of least privilege into their operations, they improve security considerably. But relying solely on the native security tools and settings available in AWS isn’t ideal due to their complexity and difficulty of use. Additionally, for organizations using a multi-cloud strategy, using native controls in each cloud environment is impractical.

Privileged access management (PAM) platforms are a simpler and more effective solution for controlling access, and they make it easier to apply least privilege practices across the organization’s entire suite of cloud platforms and services. Here are a few examples of how PAM solutions improve cloud security without compromising productivity.

Eliminating standing privileges

In complex, multi-cloud environments, identifying users with excessive permissions and right-sizing those permissions can significantly reduce underlying security risks. The more privileges a user has, the greater risk their credentials pose during a breach. Zero standing privilege (ZSP) does away with always-on access, creating a no-access default for all users. In addition, a PAM platform provides a unified view of user permissions, making it easier to discover and eliminate excess privileges.

Deeper visibility into privileged access instances

Modern PAM platforms streamline the process of analyzing changes in access and policy drift, making it easier for security teams to enforce cloud security best practices. With a consolidated view across all cloud environments, teams can proactively identify and correct risky user behavior and conduct quick and thorough security investigations of identity-based incidents. In addition, a PAM platform facilitates a comprehensive, coordinated approach to the management of human and machine IDs, providing security teams with a single tool for analyzing access changes and policy drift.

Dynamic permissioning with Just-In-Time (JIT) access

Just-in-time access provides human and synthetic users with permissions on an as-needed, time-limited basis with permissions expiring automatically at the end of each session. Using a PAM designed for multi-cloud environments, security teams can implement JIT across the diverse collection of cloud resources used in DevOps processes. With automated, dynamic granting of secrets for human and machine processes, sensitive resources such as DevOps platforms and containers remain secure.

Moving Beyond the Basics of Least Privilege in AWS

Enforcing the principle of least privilege in AWS helps DevOps teams secure a critical part of the cloud infrastructure they rely on to develop and support business-critical software and apps. But the tools and settings in AWS IAM only address operations in one platform. Securing the highly distributed, multi-cloud environment that many DevOps teams use requires a single solution that applies least privilege and other modern security standards across the entire operation. A modern PAM platform offers an ideal solution, allowing DevOps teams to control, monitor, and log resource access throughout their entire workflow.


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