AWS Access Key

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Overview

The AWS account credentials known as AWS access keys grant full or limited programmatic access to the AWS account. Both the root user of an AWS account and the IAM user can generate access keys. We will learn in-depth information about AWS access keys in this article, along with the best practices for managing them.

What is an AWS Access Key?

Access to the AWS account can be granted programmatically in full or in part using the AWS account credentials, also known as AWS access keys. Access keys can be created by both the IAM user and the root user of an AWS account.

Access keys offer the same programmatic access to AWS services as permissions do, depending on the IAM permissions granted to the IAM user. Whereas the root user access keys by default grant full access to an AWS account, including access to the billing data.

what-is-an-aws-access-key

AWS access keys are divided into two parts: a secret access key and an access key id. Both of these components are required to access an AWS account programmatically.

Access keys must be stored securely because exposing them could give users full access to AWS resources and services. AWS access keys can be misused to gain control of accounts and reveal customer billing information.

Managing AWS Access Key Securely

IAM Users and IAM Roles

To create, disable, enable, and delete AWS access keys for an IAM user, follow the steps below:

  1. Log in to AWS and launch the IAM console.
  2. Select the IAM user to create the keys in the User tab.
  3. Choose the Security Credentials tab.
  4. In the Access keys section, click on Create an access key.
  5. Choose to download a .csv file to save the credentials locally.
  6. After downloading the .csv file, use the keys for programmatic access.
  7. Select Make inactive to make an active access key inactive.
  8. Select Make active to reenable an inactive access key.
  9. Select Delete to delete the access key.

Understanding IAM Roles:

IAM identities with specific permissions are called IAM roles and can be created in an AWS account. Similar to an IAM user, an IAM role is an AWS identity that has permission policies that limit what it is allowed to do in AWS. Additionally, a role is not associated with any standard long-term credentials, such as a password or access keys. Instead, it gives temporary security credentials for the role session when the role is assumed.

Securing the Use of Access Key

The AWS Access keys must be kept in a safe, private location that is inaccessible to others to secure the AWS credentials. The application code may need to use AWS access keys; if so, store them as environment variables rather than hard-coded parameters. Another good choice is to routinely rotate the AWS access keys so that the old ones expire and new ones can be generated.

Rotating AWS Access Keys

Follow the following steps to rotate the AWS access keys:

  1. In the IAM user's security credentials tab, generate a new access key.
  2. To deactivate the previously active access key, select it and then click Make inactive.
  3. By selecting the x icon next to the access key and selecting Delete, you can then delete the old key.

Risk Calculation When AWS Access Key is Exposed

  • The first action after suspecting the exposure of AWS account credentials should be to make the AWS access keys inactive from the IAM console.
  • The following step might be auditing to find out what effects were made on the AWS account.
  • AWS Cloudtrail logs can be examined to review the user actions and determine who performed which operations.

Using AWS Secrets Manager to Secure Data

AWS offers Secrets Manager as a service to securely store security credentials and other sensitive information. The AWS access keys can be safely stored using the secrets manager, and using the auto-rotation feature of the AWS Secret Manager, they can also be periodically monitored and rotated. To rotate the keys using AWS Secrets Manager, a custom rotation configuration can be configured within AWS Secrets Manager and a lambda function can be utilized. The encryption services provided by AWS further secure the credentials kept in Secrets Manager.

Conclusion

  • Access to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) account can be granted programmatically in full or in part using the AWS account credentials, also known as AWS access keys.
  • Access keys can be created by both the IAM user and the root user of an AWS account.
  • A role is an IAM identity that has permission policies that limit what it is allowed to do in AWS.
  • A role is not associated with any standard long-term credentials, such as a password or access keys.
  • A good choice is to routinely rotate the AWS access keys so that the old ones expire and new ones can be generated.
  • AWS Secrets Manager is a service provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS) for managing access keys and other sensitive information.