Breaking Down AWS Security Best Practices

December 22, 2022 • 210 Views • 14 min read

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Tetiana Stoyko

CTO & Co-Founder

It is almost impossible not to know about the existence of Amazon Web Services when it comes to the software development industry. In fact, AWS provides developers with multiple useful tools, which can be used in various cases. Yet, the multitool nature of this software is not the only argument to use it. For instance, Amazon is one of the leaders in the cloud computing market trends at the moment. Moreover, if you will ask any software developer about the security level of Amazon Web Services, most likely, they will answer positively. But what are the reasons for such positive feedback?

AWS Security Best Practices Explained

One of the major benefits of using AWS, apart from the full stack software development instrumentary, is their cloud security policies. For example, when you deploy any of the AWS services, Amazon ensures security on its side. To make it simple, they take responsibility for the protection of provided cloud computing services. Yet, apart from simplifying the developers’ lives, they can also cause some issues, as well as have their own demands on the developers. As a result, in any case, developers will have to take part in security measures improvement.

One of the best illustrations of Amazon’s impacts on the other side is the fact, that software updates are obligatory. Clearly, it is not mandatory to update the software as soon as the update was published. Instead, it is recommended to do so as soon as possible. However, if it takes you too long, or you simply skipped some updates, AWS will update themselves. In this case, some processes or settings may, and most likely, will become invalid or start working wrong. Still, this action is important to keep the high level of implemented AWS services security. In other words, sometimes Amazon won’t care how an unplanned update can impact your project. Instead, they prioritize the overall safety of their side.

Hence, on the one hand, Amazon with their AWS security and compliance policies fully ensure the safety of their side. On the flip side, for this reason, they can directly affect your development side. The easiest way to avoid such unpleasant situations, try not to skip the updates and plan how to implement them as soon as possible. As a result, you will manage to improve security and avoid last-minute changes.

Also, such a policy means, that security threats or vulnerabilities are mainly possible on the side of your application. Additionally, AWS has its own bots, which are checking your application for various spread security exposures like OWASP list.

Nevertheless, it does not mean, that all security options are available only to Amazon. In accordance with the AWS security best practices policy, developers are able to implement other additional safety steps, including various options proposed by Amazon as well.

AWS Identity and Access Management

One such option is AWS Identity and Access Management. To make a long story short, AWS IAM is a centralized solution, which allows you to better manage the access level within the organization. To rephrase it, with the use of AWS IAM, system administrators can effectively and rapidly grant and revoke access to users(developers) in one click. Consequently, if one of the authorized accounts was hacked, or third parties managed to gain extra permissions, they can be easily stopped.

AWS IAM can be considered an advanced user management system, which proposes some extra opportunities for the owner. For instance, apart from basic password policies and requirements, AWS identity and access management provide its users with password reset and rotation features. So, whether you lost control, or are willing to improve security, you can use one of these features. If the password reset is an obvious activity not worth additional explanation, the password rotation can be misunderstood. Primarily, it is a timer, which defines for how long the password will be active. Therefore, if you set password rotation to 90 days, your users are obliged to reset their password every 90 days.

Also, AWS IAM has granular permission. Strictly speaking, it is an access specification or restricting access. For example, you can allow users to view the information, but restrain them from other interactions like coping or changing.

In addition to these restricting access and previously mentioned features, Identification and Access Management even gives some advantages like the possibility to authorize with various third parties like Google accounts or Facebook, supports Multi-factor authentication, which can highly improve the security of users' accounts, and allows accounts shared access.

Summing up all the above, we can assume that AWS IAM is a must-have tool for development access monitoring. A wide range of solutions and control tools, combined with the fact, that this service is free of charge, make it an essential add-on, which can help to boost both security and partly the User Experience of development accounts.

AWS Virtual Private Clouds

Yet, Amazon Web Services allows its users not only account setting and management tools. As a matter of fact, developers can also set up the rules and virtual private gateways for used services. For instance, each time you create and connect any of the AWS services, Amazon creates and attaches a default virtual private cloud, where it is based and with the use of which it can interact with others.

Therefore, if you are willing to highly increase the level of security of your services, you will definitely have to use one of the AWS security best practices - we are talking about the VPC configuration.

As was mentioned above, each service has VPC. Yet, mostly they are default, i.e. public and insecure, with no secured virtual private gateways. So, it is hypothetically possible to find or even hack these connections between the private clouds. The easiest, still most effective way to avoid it - is to manually configure your VPCs. Frankly speaking, we are not going to consider a step-by-step tutorial on how to set up your own custom VPC. Instead, we would like to explain why it is important and how it can help boost your security. What you need to know at the moment is that VPCs are almost the same as virtual private gateways, which enable the overall connection and communication between the services.

While your AWS VPC is public(default) - it is potentially accessible. However, as soon as you adjust it to your requirements, it becomes almost unreachable. For example, you can set up a direct connection, i.e. specify the cloud security policies, as well as implement the restricting access. To be more precise, you can define a single factor like IP or region, which will work as data encryption keys, narrowing down the access to a service or an app for only one device or user. As an illustration, your Wi-Fi network, or working PC can become the one and only entry point to the virtual private gateway.

As a result, such cloud security policies as virtual private gateways can highly improve the overall level of security and avoid undesirable situations like unauthorized injection. Moreover, custom virtual private gateways can help you set up a direct secure connection for data transferring. For example, database - backend. As a result, it will be much harder for malicious actors to intercept your transfers or simply gain the access to vulnerable information.

Other AWS Security Services

Eventually, one of the major advantages of Amazon Web Services is their modular nature. In other words, you can simply interchange or combine various services on demand or as an option. Therefore, apart from basic security-related features like VPC, you can also choose some extra services, if you believe they are more useful or needed. It will take ages to even briefly explain each of these optional AWS cloud security policies and services. Instead, let’s consider one of the most well-known add-ons.

AWS Cognito

AWS Cognito is partly similar to AWS IAM. Both services are used for user authentication and access management. Still, while AWS IAM is used for the management of development team or users, who has an access to the backend and tech aspects, as well as other vulnerable information, AWS Cognito works with regular service users. To make it simple, Cognito is designed for usual in-app authorization. However, it is also possible to mix it with other utilities and software like a combination of AWS Cognito and Alexa Skill Account Linking.

In fact, AWS Cognito gives the advantage to implement user accounts, save their credentials and authorization avoiding development from scratch. Moreover, AWS Cognito proposes two different options.

The first one is user pools. This feature allows the implementation of “sign-up” and “sign-in” features, creating user profiles, and gives extended functionality like UI elements and adjustments. Besides, it also supports authorization with the use of trusted third parties like Google or Facebook.

The second feature is known as identity pools. It allows the system to remember registered user accounts and use the same credentials for other services as well. So, users will be able to use their AWS accounts seamlessly on your or any other website, which supports AWS user pools.

Eventually, apart from signing features, AWS Cognito can be used for user management as well, helping with tracking and effective user control.

End Line

As we stated before, the foregoing list is not final. It is rather a short sample of accessible and must-have AWS security best practices and services worth considering when it comes to developing your own software product. Using Amazon Web Services will not only simplify your developers' work but can help you to improve the overall protection of an app.

Still, do not forget that there are also some drawbacks. For instance, you have to keep up with the updates in order not to be caught off guard by the unplanned software update, which can directly impact some of the working aspects on your side.

Additionally, we can say that having an Amazon cloud backup plan has proven its effectiveness. Many Ukrainian software development companies have switched to cloud storing and computing due to the Russian invasion. In fact, such services with reliable cloud security policies helped to maintain the working routine and keep developing high-quality software products, saving the Ukrainian IT sector.

Yet, Ukraine is not a single case. If you will discover the cloud computing industry, you will find out many other great examples of how “clouds” improved various well-known software products.

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