Getting Started with AWS Penetration Testing

| Updated on March 27, 2024

Penetration testing is a widely credible security evaluation technique throughout different firms and industries according to the necessary compliance standards. However, AWS penetration testing differs from traditional techniques in terms of ownership. Under AWS, users are not permitted to test its services or infrastructure and any ethical hacking attempts will disrupt its services and leak sensitive information. 

However, AWS security is a shared responsibility between AWS and the user and this has come to light with the increasing number of data breaches due to flaws in S3 buckets, infrastructural flaws, etc. Therefore, all AWS users should periodically conduct security testing within the permitted services after gaining prior approval. 

4 Commonly Used AWS Services

The AWS platform offers different services for the users, some of which are:

1. Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)

This is one of the most popularly used services in providing secure and flexible compute capacity. It can be used to set up different virtual servers after payment and ensures reliable and scalable infrastructure to meet the user’s demand. 

2. S3 Buckets

Also known as Simple Storage Service, S3 buckets have the abundant capacity and high scalability potential. Its components take the form of a bucket which is used to contain different objects including backups, files, source code, and other documents. Storage and retrieval of large amounts of data are made easy with S3 and it can be accessed using the HTTP and the AWS CLI (command line) interfaces. 

3. Identity and Access Management (IAM)

This service allows the user to manage user privileges and assign roles according to groups and policies. It can be used to connect users/applications from different organizations and to manage cross-account access. IAM is often used in combination with other Amazon services to prevent misuse of access privileges. 

4. Lambda

Lambda is used for automated code execution without delay in managing infrastructural components. It allows you to immediately respond to multiple code execution requests at a time and optimizes this process by using the right function memory size. 

AWS Penetration Testing Methodologies

AWS security depends on four main areas. The external and internal infrastructure of the AWS cloud, applications hosted/built on your platform, and the configuration reviews need to be tested to understand the overall security posture. In this context, AWS security auditing majorly involves two categories – security of the cloud and within the cloud. 

The security of the cloud is under the responsibility of AWS and they’ll ensure that all potential vulnerabilities are dealt with immediately. Any zero-day threats and flaws in the logic that can compromise business operations and interrupt AWS server performance are dealt with by the Amazon team. Security within the cloud is the user’s responsibility including the assets deployed and/or built on the AWS infrastructure. They can conduct periodic security testing, provided they follow certain rules and regulations as mandated by AWS.

AWS Controls that Should be Tested Under AWS Penetration Testing

There are some aspects under each AWS category that need to be tested for security. Here are a few of the important parameters:

1. Network Management –

Testers should look into the access permissions provided to each user and evaluate their necessity, revoking them if unneeded. They should also verify the presence of layered DDoS protection and the level of isolation from the environment. Pentesters should also search for malicious code that can be placed by hackers at strategic positions, making it more difficult to be detected through a preliminary search. There should be adequate documentation of all the steps taken in evaluating network security, the vulnerabilities discovered, and the remediation suggestions. 

2. Proper Encryption –

Access to the AWS Console and API gateways should be encrypted as these are sensitive regions that control multiple aspects of the environment. There should also be checks on the management of SSL keys and the use of internet protocol security tunnels (IPSec Tunnels).

3. AWS Governance –

The boundaries of the AWS environment need to be defined properly and all internal assets should be accounted for. Testers should verify that access privileges are in accordance with the AWS policies so that possible risks are detected, analyzed, and reviewed periodically. They should look into the documentation to understand the AWS usage and implementation practices for proper risk assessment. 

4. Adequate Logging –

IAM services offer credentials reports that provide insights into the variations and suspicious activities within the AWS environment by using data from multiple sources. These reports will also help in defining your testing scope, the ideal preliminary tests, and the kind of security testing approach to be taken. Testers can also look into the response system for intrusion detection and recheck its credibility. 

These are a few of the aspects that need to be kept in mind when conducting the AWS penetration testing procedure. Third-party service providers should also be chosen based on their knowledge and expertise regarding such pentesting exercises and the provision of services such as retesting. 

Chitra Joshi

Content Writer & Marketer

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