AWS Penetration Testing: All You Need To Know

By   Kanishk Tagade
, Astra Security | Sep 08, 2021 03:28 am PST

Since its introduction in 2006, AWS has been the king of the cloud market. AWS owns 33.8% of the global market share and this number is greater than any of its competitors by a long shot. Its success is due to its reliability and high scalability. Indeed, you can say AWS outperforms its competitors.

Unfortunately, since it is a popular cloud computing platform, it also is a popular target of cyberattacks. Therefore, it is crucial to take preventive measures against it. But how?

AWS penetration testing is the answer. A penetration test identifies all the vulnerabilities on your AWS instance. However, the procedure for this is different from the traditional pentest. After conducting the pentest, you can debug the AWS instance and take other measures to enhance security.

AWS Penetration Testing vs Traditional Penetration Testing

AWS penetration testing is different from traditional pentesting. This is because AWS has a very different architecture with an elastic computing platform that allows easy scaling and deployment.

AWS offers security through three fundamental pillars; it’s architecture, proactive monitoring, and compliance with AWS security standards.  A large part of the AWS cloud is based on an elastic computing platform. This means each instance has sufficient capacity to handle any spike in traffic without affecting the performance of the server.  The AWS cloud is scalable in nature, moreover, AWS servers are quick to deploy when compared to traditional servers.

Types of AWS Penetration Testing

Types of AWS penetration testing

Source: Cloud Management Insider

1. Security of the cloud

Here’s some good news, this is the part you don’t have to worry about. Security of the cloud is the cloud service provider’s responsibility, in this case, Amazon’s responsibility. This largely includes the security of the server. They also deal with zero-day attack prevention and flaws in logic.

2. Security in the cloud

This is where you and your team come in. You are in charge of overseeing the security of the AWS assets you use. You also have to ensure the safety of any web application or software your company deploys.

How to Perform AWS Penetration Testing?

While conducting a penetration test, there are 3 main areas that you need to focus on. They are:

  • The internal infrastructure of the cloud
  • Web application/software that you deploy
  • AWS config review

An AWS pentest can be divided into 4 phases. These phases are:

1. Review Policies For AWS Penetration Testing

The AWS Security Credentials Guidelines are a great place to start. You need to review them before the AWS pentest begins. AWS has a set of security standards that you must follow. You have to ensure accounts, AWS Config, and AWS services are configured in accordance with these guidelines. AWS can also provide you with AWS security best practices. They regularly update their AWS Security Center.

2. AWS Pentest Planning

A plan is crucial for any pentest to succeed. Therefore, AWS penetration testing demands one as well. AWS pentesting has its own AWS security assessment methodologies that you must conform to. AWS documentation provides AWS pentest planning templates which are available here.

3. AWS Penetration Testing Execution

For AWS Pentesting, the methodology involves scanning the AWS environment, assessing permissions, and configuring permissions. To use a metaphor, AWS pentesting is like a game of chess. AWS customers must understand the various strategies that hackers use to attack AWS products and services. You have to defend against these attacks in AWS pentesting so you can have your AWS instance up and running smoothly.

4. AWS Penetration Testing Reporting

You should consider this as the final move in AWS penetration testing. AWS has a well-documented AWS security assessment report format that you must use in AWS pentesting.

Benefits of AWS Penetration Testing

Some of the benefits you gain after conducting  AWS penetration tests are as follows:

  • It assists in increasing compliance with international standards like GDPR, PCI-DSS, ISO-27017, etc.
  • A pentest helps strengthen security and prevents security breaches.
  • It increases customer trust and confidence in your company.
  • Pentests save you from paying hefty fines and compensations in case of a cyber attack.

Challenges of AWS Penetration Testing

AWS penetration testing is not an easy task. There are some challenges that you may encounter during AWS pentest. These are discussed below:

  • Penetration testing requires expert knowledge of AWS infrastructure.
  • AWS penetration testing cost might be very high for your organization.
  • AWS penetration tests take time to complete, sometimes up to a month or more.
  • Penetration tests might not always guarantee that your AWS environment is safe.
  • AWS is constantly updating its services and flaws in those services may not be detected during the test.

Final Thoughts

It is crucial for any business utilizing the Amazon Web Services platform to have their system regularly inspected for vulnerabilities, as these are not always obvious and could lead to serious security breaches. The benefits of this type of pentesting include increased protection against cyberattacks, knowledge about how your defenses work in practice, and more confidence that you’re doing everything possible to keep data safe from external threats. 

Remember, don’t wait until something bad happens before you start thinking about security. Your data is valuable, take care of it now!