Updates to the security pillar of the AWS Well-Architected Framework

We have updated the security pillar of the AWS Well-Architected Framework, based on customer feedback and new best practices. In this post, I’ll take you through the highlights of the updates to the security information in the Security Pillar whitepaper and the AWS Well-Architected Tool, and explain the new best practices and guidance.

AWS developed the Well-Architected Framework to help customers build secure, high-performing, resilient, and efficient infrastructure for their applications. The Well-Architected Framework is based on five pillars — operational excellence, security, reliability, performance efficiency, and cost optimization. We periodically update the framework as we get feedback from customers, partners, and other teams within AWS. Along with the AWS Well-Architected whitepapers, there is an AWS Well-Architected Tool to help you review your architecture for alignment to these best practices.

Changes to identity and access management

The biggest changes are related to identity and access management, and how you operate your workload. Both the security pillar whitepaper, and the review in the tool, now start with the topic of how to securely operate your workload. Instead of just securing your root user, we want you to think about all aspects of your AWS accounts. We advise you to configure the contact information for your account, so that AWS can reach out to the right contact if needed. And we recommend that you use AWS Organizations with Service Control Policies to manage the guardrails on your accounts.

A new best practice is to identify and validate control objectives. This new best practice is about having objectives built from your own threat model, not just a list of controls to help you measure the effectiveness of your risk mitigation. Adding to that is the best practice to automate testing and validation of security controls in pipelines.

Identity and access management is no longer split between credentials and authentication, human and programmatic access. There are now just two questions which have a simpler approach, and which focus on identity and permissions. These questions don’t draw a distinction between humans and machines. You should think about how identity and permissions are applied to your AWS environment, to the systems supporting your workload, and to the workload itself. New best practices include the following:

  • Define permission guardrails for your organization – Establish common controls that restrict access to all identities in your organization, such as restricting which AWS Regions can be used.
  • Reduce permissions continuously – As teams and workloads determine what access they need, you should remove the permissions they no longer use, and you should establish review processes to achieve least privilege permissions.
  • Establish an emergency access process – Have a process that allows emergency access to your workload, so that you can react appropriately in the unlikely event of an issue with an automated process or the pipeline.
  • Analyze public and cross account access – Continuously monitor findings that highlight public and cross-account access.
  • Share resources securely – Govern the consumption of shared resources across accounts, or within your AWS Organization.

Changes to detective controls

The section that was previously called detective controls is now simply called detection. The main update in this section is a new best practice called automate response to events, which covers automating your investigation processes, alerts, and remediation. For example, you can use Amazon GuardDuty managed threat detection findings, or the new AWS Security Hub foundational best practices, to trigger a notification to your team with Amazon CloudWatch Events, and you can use an AWS Step Function to coordinate or automatically remediate what was found.

Changes to infrastructure protection

From a networking and compute perspective, there are only a few minor refinements. A new best practice in this section is to enable people to perform actions at a distance. This aligns to the design principle: keep people away from data. For example, you can use AWS Systems Manager to remotely run commands on an EC2 instance without needing to open ports outside your network or interactively connect to instances, which reduces the risk of human error.

Changes to data protection

One update in the best practice for data at rest is that we changed provide mechanisms to keep people away from data to use mechanisms to keep people away from data. Simply providing mechanisms is good, but it’s better if they are actually used.

One issue in data protection that hasn’t changed is how to enforce encryption at rest and in transit. For encryption in transit, you should never allow insecure protocols, such as HTTP. You can configure security groups and network access control lists (network ACLs) to not use insecure protocols, and you can use Amazon CloudFront to only serve your content over HTTPs with certificates deployed and automatically rotated by AWS Certificate Manager (ACM). For enforcing encryption at rest, you can use default EBS encryption, Amazon S3 encryption using AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS) customer master keys (CMKs), and you can detect insecure configurations using AWS Config rules or conformance packs.

Changes to incident response

The final section of the security pillar is incident response. The new best practice in this section is automate containment and recovery capability. Your incident response should already include plans, pre-deployed tools, and access, so your next step should be automation. The incident response section of the whitepaper has been rewritten and takes on many parts of the very helpful AWS Security Incident Response Guide. You should also check out the incident response hands-on lab Incident Response Playbook with Jupyter – AWS IAM. This lab uses the power of Jupyter notebooks to perform interactive queries against AWS APIs for semi-automated playbooks. As always, a best practice is to plan and practice your incident response so you can continue to learn and improve as you operate your workloads securely in AWS.

A huge thank you to all our customers who give us feedback on the tool and whitepapers. I encourage you to review your workloads in the AWS Well-Architected Tool, and take a look at all of the updated Well-Architected whitepapers.

If you have feedback about this post, submit comments in the Comments section below. If you have questions about this post, start a new thread on the AWS Well-Architected Tool forum or contact AWS Support.

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Author

Ben Potter

Ben is the global security leader for the AWS Well-Architected Framework and is responsible for sharing best practices in security with customers and partners. Ben is also an ambassador for the No More Ransom initiative helping fight cyber crime with Europol, McAfee and law enforcement across the globe. You can learn more about him in this interview.