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

AWS Well-Architected Framework has been updated based on customer feedback and new best practices. In this post, we’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. 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.


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.


How OSAM can help


At OSAM, security is our top priority and we aim to make it as easy as possible for you to apply these new best practices on your infrastructure. By consulting and supporting security tools that work both on and off the cloud, we help you secure your data and ensure compliance across your entire environment.




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