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AWS Pentesting: An Essential Guide

As AWS capabilities continue to grow, the need for AWS pentesting increases. Learn about Cobalt’s AWS pentesting services here.

Any digital platform is at risk of a devastating breach. Attacks can even happen to tech-giant Amazon Web Services (AWS). Cybercriminals take advantage of vulnerable Simple Storage Service (S3), poorly constructed configurations, and obfuscated Cloudtrail logs.

Cyberattacks have become commonplace, creating a need for continual security testing. However, a specific methodology is necessary when executing AWS penetration testing (also referred to as pentesting).

We’ve compiled this guide to help companies enhance their security posture. We’ll discuss what is pentesting in AWS and how to implement it into an organization’s operations.

What is AWS?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the world’s largest cloud platform, delivering over 200 enterprise-level features to over 190 countries worldwide. Industry leaders, government organizations, and even SMEs all take advantage of AWS's cloud computing.

Businesses and agencies that subscribe to AWS's services can lower costs, adapt to changing environments faster, and enhance their product lines or services at an unprecedented pace.

However, these companies expose themselves to an inherent risk of cybercriminal activity by using an online platform. As the potential for damages escalate, the need for security increases as well.

Be aware, when conducting AWS application security testing, the exercise needs to occur on client-side components and not the actual AWS instance.

The Importance of AWS Pentesting

As AWS continues to roll out more services and its millions of current users further expand, the system becomes exponentially more complicated. This growing complexity creates avenues for attackers to capitalize on undiscovered vulnerabilities. Problems only increase when you also factor in the human element. For cybersecurity professionals to combat these expanding challenges, it's essential to perform AWS pentesting regularly.

Top reasons to conduct an Amazon AWS pentest:

  • An environment has been constructed with wide open security groups and excessive permissions.

  • Misguided understanding concerning the ‘shared responsibility model,’ leading to misinformation regarding risk exposure.

  • Failure to comprehend the critical components of multi-factor authentication requirements, implementation, and operation. Businesses may not inform employees as to the risk potential of social engineering or credentials theft.

  • Negligence towards maintaining compliance regulations, such as HIPAA, PCI-DSS, and FedRAMP that impacts the networks and data centers. Companies must run an AWS pentest application to identify, resolve, and remediate any compliance gaps.

  • Zero-day vulnerabilities.

Organizations should integrate an AWS pentesting policy into every company's operations to ensure that its security is adequate.

Amazon also adheres to the shared responsibility model and has extended AWS pentest approval measures to its user base. However, organizations should turn to security professionals who have the expertise to conduct a proper Amazon pentest. Security partners will know what to test and which simulations require Amazon pentest approval.

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AWS vs. Traditional Pentesting

We recommend regular pentesting of any at-risk system. However, the methods used for traditional pentesting and AWS pentesting can differ in several ways. This difference traces back to who ultimately owns the system.

Since AWS is a subsidiary of Amazon that delivers on-demand cloud computing platforms and APIs to businesses worldwide, it's understandable that they wouldn't want even professional AWS pentesters testing its systems.

AWS pentesting against the core system is likely to elicit a response from Amazon’s AWS security team.

Granted, AWS offers a multitude of cloud hosting services that range from simple storage to complex network infrastructures. While these services allow companies to scale their web services when needed, at the end of the day, they are owned by Amazon.

This lack of ownership means that individuals cannot perform AWS pentesting to the underlying platform without explicit permission from Amazon. However, an organization is free to test its configurations and assets within the environment.

What to Test in the AWS Cloud

AWS has several vulnerabilities specific to the system. However, some become targets more frequently than others. Attackers will typically:

  • Exploit misconfigured S3 Bucket and permissions flaws.
  • Target and compromise AWS IAM keys.
  • Hijack vulnerable domains due to Cloudfront misconfiguration.
  • Apply Lambda backdoor functionality and establish access to private clouds.
  • Hide evidence of intrusion by obfuscating Cloudtail logs.

Pentesters need to understand how an attacker will manipulate a system or steal sensitive materials. By performing AWS pentesting in a manner that a hacker would, they can find real vulnerabilities.

What NOT to Test in the AWS Cloud

As stated earlier, companies can only test what they own. Businesses usually subscribe to AWS Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms. As Amazon retains the rights to these services, users cannot test them in the way a company would test its private systems. The right of ownership extends to any physical hardware and underlying infrastructure.

Aside from AWS’s services, third-party partners and vendors are also considered off-limit for AWS pentesting.

However, the company’s configurations attributed to the SaaS platforms allow it to conduct tests to check for potential exploits.

In closing, as AWS capabilities continue to grow, the need for AWS pentesting increases. Cobalt’s AWS pentest offers a service that encompasses the Amazon-based cloud environment and all of its internal and external components. To ensure the protection of your company from AWS exploits, contact Cobalt today.

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About Alexander Jones
Alex Jones is a cybersecurity leader, educator, multimedia enthusiast and geek. Alex is currently the Information Security Manager at Cobalt.io, the leading Pentest as a Service company. He has led Security and Compliance teams and initiatives at HBC, Express Scripts, Gainsight and Cognizant prior to joining Cobalt. These roles have included Security Analyst, Senior Security Engineer and Security Architect. Prior to his career in Information Security, Alex was a Lead Audio Engineer and Adjunct Instructor at Clayton Studios and Extreme Institute in St. Louis, MO. More By Alexander Jones