IAM Best Practices

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Identity and access management (IAM) is a framework that a corporation employs to validate a user’s identity, enable limited access to company resources, and audit user and device access throughout their IT infrastructure.

IAM has become a crucial component of many firms’ security policies. To obtain most of the security benefits, businesses must ensure that their IAM tools and processes are configured accurately.

IAM Security Best Practices - Basic

Securing IAM does not have to entail complex security procedures or complex monitoring systems. You may dramatically enhance your IAM security posture by taking some simple measures correctly.

IAM Root User

The top-level identity in an AWS account or organization is the root user. It not only has complete access to all services, but it also manages billing and other administrative responsibilities. Using it for routine duties exposes it to a possible compromise, which may be disastrous in a multi-account setup.

A company may create a single AWS account with root credentials and then construct several users and roles with separate credentials. Within an AWS system, the root account should always be the most protected and secure entity. Under no circumstances, even for administrative tasks, should root credentials be used or shared.

Enforce MFA

IAM users in any account should always have Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) enabled, keeping with the principle of decreasing plausible vectors for compromise. AWS supports virtual and physical MFA tokens, adding a significant layer of protection to user access.

By requiring two or more kinds of validation to validate a user’s identity, MFA technologies simplify and automate the authentication process. MFA tools frequently employ a mix of the following ways to authenticate identity:

  • Biometric identification (e.g., fingerprints or facial recognition)
  • Possession authentication (for example, delivering a one-time password to a user’s mobile device)
  • Authentication of knowledge (e.g., answering security questions)
  • User location or time information

What’s the Worst Case Scenario?

Not enabling MFA increases their susceptibility to exploitation. If one of the user accounts has administrative privileges, the consequences might be catastrophic.

IAM Security Best Practices - Advanced

Since we’ve covered the fundamentals, let’s move on to more advanced approaches.

Utilize IAM Groups

IAM group utilization can be a valuable technique for making policy design and assignment easier. Simplifying the administration of permissions and access control for users may make security effective and easy. Instead of granting admin positions to each administrator individually, these rights may allocate to a “Administrators” group, and access can be granted or denied merely by group membership.

Make Use of Roles and Roles Assumption

A role is a generic identifier that is not associated with any specific user. Roles are not password-secured and can be claimed by anybody with authorization. Roles enable various users to temporarily assume differing permissions for specific tasks. They are quite similar to IAM users, with the key distinction being that a role can be assumed by many entities at the same time. This is an excellent method for issuing more ephemeral, temporary access licenses while avoiding the need for long-lived access credentials. When an identity, such as an IAM user, is granted permission to assume the position of Principal via a role’s trust policy, it can do so. This enables more secure access patterns, such as maintaining IAM users with limited permissions in one account while allowing them to accept responsibilities for work in another.

Implement Resource-Based Policies

Policies are AWS objects that are linked to consumers, organizations, roles, or resources and explain the permissions granted to those identities. When a user requests access to a resource, the request is compared to the policies connected with that resource. If the request is permissible, it is granted. Otherwise, it will be returned.

Resource-based restrictions apply to some AWS resources, such as S3 buckets and SQS queues. In contrast to identity-based IAM policies, resource-based policies are concerned with the underlying resources. IAM will examine both identity and resource-based policies concurrently, allowing for finer-grained access control then each could give alone.

Avoid Inline Policies

An inline policy is incorporated into an IAM identity (a user, group, or role). In other words, the policy is an integral component of the identity. You may develop a policy and embed it in an identity at any time, either when the identity is created or later.

The widespread use of inline policies makes management harder and prevents ensuring homogeneous policy setup and usage across a larger number of identities. The ability to centralize change management and administration, which is made significantly easier by the use of standard controlled policies tied to an identity, is a basic component of properly managing large, dispersed systems.

Configure Policies with Conditional Values

AWS customers can add conditions to policies to impose extra constraints on resource access. Date and time constraints, IP source address ranges, and the need for Secure Sockets Layer encryption are all possible conditions. For example, conditions may require users to authenticate using MFA before they may terminate an EC2 instance. Conditions are not usually required, but they provide an additional degree of protection for sensitive requests.

What’s the Worst Case Scenario?

These recommendations concentrate on more complex settings that aid in the automation of IAM administration and policy management. The use of roles and role assumption greatly minimizes the chance of hard-coded credentials with broad access being compromised. If you don’t use the other principles, you’ll end up with a huge, unmanageable collection of IAM identities and policies, making it a much more difficult task to maintain your AWS infrastructure safely.

Other Security Best Practices

Make Use of Strong Passwords

IAM enables cloud administrators to create a bespoke password policy that forces better password choices – such as long strings containing cases, digits, and symbols – and requires regular password updates. Stronger passwords are harder to hack due to increased cloud security and methodical attempts.

Remove Any Expired IAM Credentials

To improve security, locate and delete disused IAM passwords and keys. Credentials are no longer required for principals who no longer utilize IAM, such as users who have left the business or defunct apps. Remove those credentials to prevent the principals from gaining future access to the environment.

Use Distinct Access Keys

Access keys are used as application credentials. Keys serve as application passwords. Encrypt all embedded keys in an application and never use the same key for more than one application. Setting up an application to get temporary credentials using IAM roles rather than access keys may be safer and more effective.

Securing IAM is Critical to AWS Security

You’re aware that even basic practices may increase your AWS security significantly. As more businesses migrate their software and data to cloud platforms like AWS, it is more important than ever to ensure adequate security and hygiene measures are in place. Using this information will help you improve your IAM skill set and the AWS security of your organization.


  • A corporation may set up a single AWS account with root credentials and then set up many users and roles with different credentials. The root account should always be the most secured and secure entity in an AWS system.
  • Following the notion of reducing potential vectors for compromise, IAM users in any account should always have Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) enabled.
  • IAM groups may be a useful tool for simplifying policy formulation and assignment. Simplifying user authorization and access control management may make effective security easier.
  • IAM will examine both identity and resource-based policies concurrently, allowing for finer-grained access control than each could give alone.