The Security pillar includes the ability to protect information, systems, and assets while delivering business value through risk assessments and mitigation strategies.

Design Principles

There are seven design principles for security in the cloud:


There are five best practice areas for security in the cloud:

Before you architect any system, you need to put in place practices that influence security. You will want to control who can do what. In addition, you want to be able to identify security incidents, protect your systems and services, and maintain the confidentiality and integrity of data through data protection. You should have a well-defined and practiced process for responding to security incidents. These tools and techniques are important because they support objectives such as preventing financial loss or complying with regulatory obligations.

The AWS Shared Responsibility Model enables organizations that adopt the cloud to achieve their security and compliance goals. Because AWS physically secures the infrastructure that supports our cloud services, as an AWS customer you can focus on using services to accomplish your goals. The AWS Cloud also provides greater access to security data and an automated approach to responding to security events.

Best Practices

Identity and Access Management

Identity and access management are key parts of an information security program, ensuring that only authorized and authenticated users are able to access your resources, and only in a manner that you intend. For example, you should define principals (that is, users, groups, services, and roles that take action in your account), build out policies aligned with these principals, and implement strong credential management. These privilege-management elements form the core of authentication and authorization.

In AWS, privilege management is primarily supported by the AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) service, which allows you to control user and programmatic access to AWS services and resources. You should apply granular policies, which assign permissions to a user, group, role, or resource. You also have the ability to require strong password practices, such as complexity level, avoiding re-use, and enforcing multi-factor authentication (MFA). You can use federation with your existing directory service. For workloads that require systems to have access to AWS, IAM enables secure access through roles, instance profiles, identity federation, and temporary credentials.

The following questions focus on these considerations for security.

SEC 1: How do you manage credentials and authentication?
SEC 2: How do you control human access?
SEC 3: How do you control programmatic access?

Credentials must not be shared between any user or system. User access should be granted using a least-privilege approach with best practices including password requirements and MFA enforced. Programmatic access including API calls to AWS services should be performed using temporary and limited-privilege credentials such as those issued by the AWS Security Token Service.

Detective Controls

You can use detective controls to identify a potential security threat or incident. They are an essential part of governance frameworks and can be used to support a quality process, a legal or compliance obligation, and for threat identification and response efforts. There are different types of detective controls. For example, conducting an inventory of assets and their detailed attributes promotes more effective decision making (and lifecycle controls) to help establish operational baselines. You can also use internal auditing, an examination of controls related to information systems, to ensure that practices meet policies and requirements and that you have set the correct automated alerting notifications based on defined conditions. These controls are important reactive factors that can help your organization identify and understand the scope of anomalous activity.

In AWS, you can implement detective controls by processing logs, events, and monitoring that allows for auditing, automated analysis, and alarming. CloudTrail logs, AWS API calls, and CloudWatch provide monitoring of metrics with alarming, and AWS Config provides configuration history. Amazon GuardDuty is a managed threat detection service that continuously monitors for malicious or unauthorized behavior to help you protect your AWS accounts and workloads. Service-level logs are also available, for example, you can use Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to log access requests.

The following questions focus on these considerations for security.

SEC 4: How do you detect and investigate security events?
SEC 5: How do you defend against emerging security threats?

Log management is important to a well-architected design for reasons ranging from security or forensics to regulatory or legal requirements. It is critical that you analyze logs and respond to them so that you can identify potential security incidents. AWS provides functionality that makes log management easier to implement by giving you the ability to define a data-retention lifecycle or define where data will be preserved, archived, or eventually deleted. This makes predictable and reliable data handling simpler and more cost effective.

Infrastructure Protection

Infrastructure protection encompasses control methodologies, such as defense in depth, necessary to meet best practices and organizational or regulatory obligations. Use of these methodologies is critical for successful, ongoing operations in either the cloud or on-premises.

In AWS, you can implement stateful and stateless packet inspection, either by using AWS-native technologies or by using partner products and services available through the AWS Marketplace. You should use Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) to create a private, secured, and scalable environment in which you can define your topology—including gateways, routing tables, and public and private subnets.

The following questions focus on these considerations for security.

SEC 6: How do you protect your networks?
SEC 7: How do you protect your compute resources?

Multiple layers of defense are advisable in any type of environment. In the case of infrastructure protection, many of the concepts and methods are valid across cloud and on-premises models. Enforcing boundary protection, monitoring points of ingress and egress, and comprehensive logging, monitoring, and alerting are all essential to an effective information security plan.

AWS customers are able to tailor, or harden, the configuration of an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon EC2 Container Service (Amazon ECS) container, or AWS Elastic Beanstalk instance, and persist this configuration to an immutable Amazon Machine Image (AMI). Then, whether triggered by Auto Scaling or launched manually, all new virtual servers (instances) launched with this AMI receive the hardened configuration.

Data Protection

Before architecting any system, foundational practices that influence security should be in place. For example, data classification provides a way to categorize organizational data based on levels of sensitivity, and encryption protects data by way of rendering it unintelligible to unauthorized access. These tools and techniques are important because they support objectives such as preventing financial loss or complying with regulatory obligations.

In AWS, the following practices facilitate protection of data:

  • As an AWS customer you maintain full control over your data.

  • AWS makes it easier for you to encrypt your data and manage keys, including regular key rotation, which can be easily automated by AWS or maintained by you.

  • Detailed logging that contains important content, such as file access and changes, is available.

  • AWS has designed storage systems for exceptional resiliency. For example, Amazon S3 Standard, S3 Standard–IA, S3 One Zone-IA, and Amazon Glacier are all designed to provide 99.999999999% durability of objects over a given year. This durability level corresponds to an average annual expected loss of 0.000000001% of objects.

  • Versioning, which can be part of a larger data lifecycle management process, can protect against accidental overwrites, deletes, and similar harm.

  • AWS never initiates the movement of data between Regions. Content placed in a Region will remain in that Region unless you explicitly enable a feature or leverage a service that provides that functionality.

The following questions focus on these considerations for security.

SEC 8: How do you classify your data?
SEC 9: How do you protect your data at rest?
SEC 10: How do you protect your data in transit?

AWS provides multiple means for encrypting data at rest and in transit. We build features into our services that make it easier to encrypt your data. For example, we have implemented server-side encryption (SSE) for Amazon S3 to make it easier for you to store your data in an encrypted form. You can also arrange for the entire HTTPS encryption and decryption process (generally known as SSL termination) to be handled by Elastic Load Balancing (ELB).

Incident Response

Even with extremely mature preventive and detective controls, your organization should still put processes in place to respond to and mitigate the potential impact of security incidents. The architecture of your workload strongly affects the ability of your teams to operate effectively during an incident, to isolate or contain systems, and to restore operations to a known good state. Putting in place the tools and access ahead of a security incident, then routinely practicing incident response through game days, will help you ensure that your architecture can accommodate timely investigation and recovery.

In AWS, the following practices facilitate effective incident response:

  • Detailed logging is available that contains important content, such as file access and changes.

  • Events can be automatically processed and trigger tools that automate responses through the use of AWS APIs.

  • You can pre-provision tooling and a “clean room” using AWS CloudFormation. This allows you to carry out forensics in a safe, isolated environment.

The following questions focus on these considerations for security.

SEC 11: How do you respond to an incident?

Ensure that you have a way to quickly grant access for your InfoSec team, and automate the isolation of instances as well as the capturing of data and state for forensics.

Key AWS Services

The AWS service that is essential to Security is AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), which allows you to securely control access to AWS services and resources for your users. The following services and features support the five areas in security:


Refer to the following resources to learn more about our best practices for Security.

Security Pillar
AWS Cloud Security
AWS Compliance
AWS Security Blog
AWS Security Overview
AWS Security Best Practices
AWS Risk and Compliance
AWS Security State of the Union
Shared Responsibility Overview