How to Secure AWS: Advanced Strategies and Best Practices

Securing an Amazon Web Services (AWS) deployment can be complicated, but you can lessen the effort with the right approach and strategy.

After a decade of working with companies to secure their infrastructure (including our product that helps to protect AWS customers), we at Armor have learned a lot about how to secure cloud applications.

We’ve found that many of our customers and potential customers often have misconceptions about moving to the cloud.

First off, some believe that using AWS or other cloud platforms in and of itself will mean that their application is inherently secure. However, there is always some amount of work that they have to do on their end to be secure.

On top of that, you also need to do more than just use the security tools that AWS offers. Stacking on tools without the correct understanding can lead to misconfiguration which is a common source of breaches. In fact, Gartner says that through 2025, 99% of cloud security failures will be the customer’s fault. The majority of those failures will be the result of a misconfiguration.

When you are securing your AWS environment, it’s important that you avoid these and other pitfalls. In this article, we’ll share our strategies for helping customers with their AWS security.

Note: Our product, Armor Anywhere, can help secure any type of public or private server. That means you can have a secure AWS deployment with less work. If you want to find out how we can help your AWS deployment become more compliant and secure, click here.

Understand what is in your control and what is under Amazon’s control

Like we said before, using AWS by itself doesn’t mean you’re automatically secure or compliant with any regulations you need to follow (like PCI DSS or HIPAA).

It’s more helpful to think of using AWS (or other  security tools) as security partners because this means that the responsibility for security has to be shared.

What AWS actually secures for you is the physical infrastructure and data centers that you are using. That’s one thing you won’t need to worry about when using AWS, since nearly all security standards require securing the actual physical location of the servers you use.

However, what you’re actually responsible in securing within your infrastructure may change depending on the specific tools you use.

For example, if you use bare EC2 instances where you have direct access to the server, then you are responsible for securing the operating system and all the software running on it.

If you are using an AWS tool in which you don’t have access to the command line of the server you are using (like AWS Lambda), then you wouldn’t have to worry about securing the operating system.

Generally speaking, you need to secure any software and infrastructure that you have access to and can control. As a general rule of thumb, you will likely need to secure any software and infrastructure that you have access to and can directly control. 

However, certain tasks (e.g. securing your code and sensitive data) will always be your responsibility, no matter what tools you use.

Take Care to Prevent Misconfiguration of AWS Tools

As we said before, misconfiguration of cloud services is a common source of breaches, so you need to be cautious in how you use AWS tools.

If you do need a tool, make sure to read up on its documentation so you know about all of its possible configurations. There is a lot of information to process, but the reality of using a flexible cloud like AWS is that there is a lot more room for error when setting things up.

Another way to help reduce misconfigurations is to follow the principle of least privilege. That is, users should only have access to the tools and software that they need and nothing more. 

This minimizes the chances that a user accidentally misconfigures an AWS tool or uses a tool that they don’t understand. We suggest you look at AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), a powerful access control tool to place users into security groups and manage what AWS tools they can access.

The idea here is to prevent misconfigurations by limiting users’ ability to access and change the tool. According to a study by Palo Alto Networks, 65% of publicly disclosed cloud security breaches happened because of a misconfiguration. Because of this, the best way to handle potential misconfigurations is to avoid having them in the first place.

Security Should be a Proactive Not Reactive Process

One thing we’ve learned in over a decade of securing cloud applications is that it’s better to work on your security proactively before you need it.

All of the tips we’ve mentioned here won’t be very helpful if you don’t have an existing process to continuously maintain the security of your cloud infrastructure.

Rushing to secure your infrastructure and put out fires because you’ve just had an unexpected breach is not a pleasant experience. However, if you are in that situation, it’s not the end of the world. We have helped several companies recover after a breach, and it’s a manageable situation. We figure out what flaw happened that caused a breach and how to prevent it from happening again. We’ll also work with you on an incident response plan (IRP), so you can have a process to deal with any future breaches.

One way to become more proactive about security is to integrate security into your continuous integration (CI) or continuous deployment (CD) processes. That way, your organization already has security built into your process  as you continuously roll out updates to your application.

It may also be important to implement a review process to catch potential security bugs. It’s always a good practice to have a second pair of eyes on any changes in code or infrastructure. This minimizes the chances of a well-intentioned individual accidentally introducing a security flaw into your application.

Finally, we suggest that you frequently reiterate to developers what their responsibility is in securing your overall cloud environment.

Because some organizations don’t properly communicate to developers what parts of the infrastructure they are responsible for, it can lead to inefficiencies because of miscommunication and a lack of understanding from developers.  developers not being sure of their responsibilities.

You can increase security and empower developers to embrace their responsibilities by explicitly requiring  them to secure certain AWS tools like EC2 instances or S3 buckets and own specific parts of the infrastructure, like the application or database.

How We Can Help You Become Secure on AWS Faster

As you can tell, there’s a lot of work to be done to secure your AWS deployment.

Using the information we’ve presented here can make securing AWS easier, but you can lighten the load even more with our help.

Our product, Armor Anywhere, is designed to reduce the amount of work required for you to secure your AWS deployment. You can quickly install it in minutes and reap some of the benefits right away.

A visualization of how Armor lightens the amount of work you have to do to secure your AWS deployment is what we call the shared responsibility model:

As you can see, Armor monitors and helps to secure a significant portion of your overall deployment.

Armor Anywhere uses expertly selected tools and is constantly being updated as security best practices evolve. Plus, you’ll be able to monitor the real-time security of your AWS infrastructure in a single, clean dashboard:

Through this dashboard, you get complete visibility into the security of your overall AWS deployment. This is much more useful for managing your overall security than the standard AWS management console.

Armor Anywhere automatically does a lot of configuration of AWS tools for you. Our cloud security posture management (CSPM) tools are constantly monitoring your deployment for employees accidentally changing your security configuration or security controls. That means there’s less of a chance of you having a misconfiguration.

As an Armor customer, your deployment is protected by our 24/7/365 SOC (security operation center). We’re constantly monitoring your infrastructure for breaches and will advise you on how to fix a security hole.

We also have a dedicated team to help all our customers secure their deployments. We’ll advise you on best practices for AWS and security in general. Our advisors are up-to-date on security trends and have years of experience securing over 1,000 companies during our 11+ years in business.

Finally, Armor is an all-encompassing solution. Other security solutions and security services will only cover part of your infrastructure, which means that you’ll have to do more work to integrate various tools and solutions together.

While no outside tool or vendor can do all of your security for you, we’ve seen from our customers that we can cover a significant portion of your deployment for you.

In Conclusion

While securing an AWS deployment is a big task, the right strategies and approaches can lessen the amount of work it takes and prevent many of the problems that companies commonly run into.

Understand that AWS only secures part of your deployment. The other parts are your responsibility. Be sure to take precautions to prevent misconfigurations of your AWS tools, a common source of security holes.

Be sure to handle security within a  continuous, proactive process. A web application that is not continuously updated can quickly become vulnerable.

Finally, if you’re looking for additional  help to quickly secure your AWS deployment, we suggest you take a look at Armor Anywhere, our signature product that protects servers no matter where they are (public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud, on-premise, or elsewhere).

It can be installed in minutes and automates the setup of state-of-the-art security tools like threat detection, file monitoring, malware detection, and more.

If you’re interested in how Armor can help you, feel free to reach out to us.

Armor is happy to help make your AWS deployment more secure. Our product Armor Anywhere can help secure any type of public or private server. If you want to find out more about how we can help you, click here.

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