Getting started with Amazon CloudTrail tutorial - Amazon CloudTrail
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Getting started with Amazon CloudTrail tutorial

If you're new to Amazon CloudTrail, this tutorial helps you learn how to use its features. In this tutorial, you review your recent Amazon account activity in the CloudTrail console and examine an event. You then create a trail, which is an ongoing record of management event activity that is stored in an Amazon S3 bucket. Unlike Event history, this ongoing record is not limited to 90 days, logs events in all Amazon Regions, and can help you meet your security and auditing needs over time.


Before you begin, you must complete the following prerequisites and setup:

  • Create an Amazon account, if you do not already have one.

    If you do not have an Amazon Web Services account, use the following procedure to create one.

    To sign up for Amazon Web Services

    1. Open and choose Sign Up.

    2. Follow the on-screen instructions.

  • Create an IAM user for administering CloudTrail. For more information, see Granting permissions for CloudTrail administration.

Step 1: Review Amazon account activity in event history

CloudTrail is enabled on your Amazon account when you create the account. When activity occurs in any Amazon service that supports CloudTrail, that activity is recorded in a CloudTrail event along with other Amazon service events in Event history. In other words, you can view, search, and download recent events in your Amazon account before creating a trail, though creating a trail is important for long-term records and auditing of your Amazon account activity. Unlike a trail, Event history only shows events that have occurred over the last 90 days.

  1. Sign in to the Amazon Web Services Management Console using the IAM user you configured for CloudTrail administration. Open the CloudTrail console at

  2. Review the information in your dashboard about the most recent events that have occurred in your Amazon account. A recent event should be a ConsoleLogin event, showing that you just signed in to the Amazon Web Services Management Console.

  3. To see more information about an event, expand it.

  4. In the navigation pane, choose Event history. You see a filtered list of events, with the most recent events showing first. The default filter for events is Read only, set to false. You can clear that filter by choosing X at the right of the filter.

  5. Many more events are shown without the default filter. You can filter events in many ways. For example, to view all console login events, you could choose the Event name filter, and specify ConsoleLogin. The choice of filters is up to you.

  6. You can save event history by downloading it as a file in CSV or JSON format. Downloading your event history can take a few minutes.

For more information, see Viewing events with CloudTrail Event history.

Step 2: Create your first trail

While the events provided in Event history in the CloudTrail console are useful for reviewing recent activity, they are limited to recent activity, and they do not include all possible events that can be recorded by CloudTrail. Additionally, your view of events in the console is limited to the Amazon Region where you are signed in. To create an ongoing record of activity in your Amazon account that captures information for all Amazon Regions, create a trail. By default, when you create a trail in the CloudTrail console, the trail logs events in all Regions. Logging events in all Regions in your account is a recommended best practice.

For your first trail, we recommend creating a trail that logs all management events in all Amazon Regions, and does not log any data events. Examples of management events include security events such as IAM CreateUser and AttachRolePolicy events, resource events such as RunInstances and CreateBucket, and many more. You will create an Amazon S3 bucket where you will store the log files for the trail as part of creating the trail in the CloudTrail console.


This tutorial assumes you are creating your first trail. Depending on the number of trails you have in your Amazon account, and how those trails are configured, the following procedure might or might not incur expenses. CloudTrail stores log files in an Amazon S3 bucket, which incurs costs. For more information about pricing, see Amazon CloudTrail Pricing and Amazon S3 Pricing.

  1. Sign in to the Amazon Web Services Management Console using the IAM user you configured for CloudTrail administration. Open the CloudTrail console at In the Region selector, choose the Amazon Region where you want your trail to be created. This is the home Region for the trail.


    The home Region is the only Amazon Region where you can view and update the trail after it is created, even if the trail logs events in all Amazon Regions.

  2. On the CloudTrail service home page, the Trails page, or the Trails section of the Dashboard page, choose Create trail.

  3. In Trail name, give your trail a name, such as My-Management-Events-Trail. As a best practice, use a name that quickly identifies the purpose of the trail. In this case, you're creating a trail that logs management events.

  4. Leave default settings for Amazon Organizations organization trails. This option won't be available to change unless you have accounts configured in Organizations.

  5. For Storage location, choose Create new S3 bucket to create a bucket. When you create a bucket, CloudTrail creates and applies the required bucket policies. Give your bucket a name, such as my-bucket-for-storing-cloudtrail-logs.

    To make it easier to find your logs, create a new folder (also known as a prefix) in an existing bucket to store your CloudTrail logs. Enter the prefix in Prefix.


    The name of your Amazon S3 bucket must be globally unique. For more information, see Amazon S3 bucket naming requirements.

  6. Clear the check box to disable Log file SSE-KMS encryption. By default, your log files are encrypted with SSE-S3 encryption. For more information about this setting, see Protecting Data Using Server-Side Encryption with Amazon S3-Managed Encryption Keys (SSE-S3).

  7. Leave default settings in Additional settings.

  8. For now, do not send logs to Amazon CloudWatch Logs.

  9. In Tags, add one or more custom tags (key-value pairs) to your trail. Tags can help you identify your CloudTrail trails and other resources, such as the Amazon S3 buckets that contain CloudTrail log files. For example, you could attach a tag with the name Compliance and the value Auditing.


    Though you can add tags to trails when you create them in the CloudTrail console, and you can create an Amazon S3 bucket to store your log files in the CloudTrail console, you cannot add tags to the Amazon S3 bucket from the CloudTrail console. For more information about viewing and changing the properties of an Amazon S3 bucket, including adding tags to a bucket, see the Amazon S3 User Guide.

    When you are finished creating tags, choose Next.

  10. On the Choose log events page, select event types to log. For this trail, keep the default, Management events. In the Management events area, choose to log both Read and Write events, if they are not already selected. Leave the check box for Exclude Amazon KMS events empty, to log all events.

  11. Leave default settings for Data events and Insights events. This trail will not log any data or CloudTrail Insights events. Choose Next.

  12. On the Review and create page, review the settings you've chosen for your trail. Choose Edit for a section to go back and make changes. When you are ready to create your trail, choose Create trail.

  13. The Trails page shows your new trail in the table. Note that the trail is set to Multi-region trail by default, and that logging is turned on for the trail by default.

Step 3: View your log files

Within an average of about 15 minutes of creating your first trail, CloudTrail delivers the first set of log files to the Amazon S3 bucket for your trail. You can look at these files and learn about the information they contain.


CloudTrail typically delivers logs within an average of about 15 minutes of an API call. This time is not guaranteed. Review the Amazon CloudTrail Service Level Agreement for more information.

  1. In the navigation pane, choose Trails. On the Trails page, find the name of the trail you just created (in the example, My-Management-Events-Trail).


    Be sure you are still signed in using the IAM user you configured for CloudTrail administration. Otherwise you might not have sufficient permissions to view trails in the CloudTrail console or the Amazon S3 bucket that contains log files for that trail.

  2. In the row for the trail, choose the value for the S3 bucket (in the example, aws-cloudtrail-logs-08132020-mytrail).

  3. The Amazon S3 console opens and shows that bucket, at the top level for log files. Because you created a trail that logs events in all Amazon Regions, the display opens at the level that shows you each Region folder. The hierarchy of the Amazon S3 bucket navigation at this level is bucket-name/AmazonLogs/account-id/CloudTrail. Choose the folder for the Amazon Region where you want to review log files. For example, if you want to review the log files for the US East (Ohio) Region, choose us-east-2.

  4. Navigate the bucket folder structure to the year, the month, and the day where you want to review logs of activity in that Region. In that day, there are a number of files. The name of the files begin with your Amazon account ID, and end with the extension .gz. For example, if your account ID is 123456789012, you would see files with names similar to this: 123456789012_CloudTrail_us-east-2_20190610T1255abcdeEXAMPLE.json.gz.

    To view these files, you can download them, unzip them, and then view them in a plain-text editor or a JSON file viewer. Some browsers also support viewing .gz and JSON files directly. We recommend using a JSON viewer, as it makes it easier to parse the information in CloudTrail log files.

    As you're browsing through the file content, you might start to wonder about what you're seeing. CloudTrail logs events for every Amazon service that experienced activity in that Amazon Region at the time that event occurred. In other words, events for different Amazon services are mixed together, based solely on time. To learn more about what a specific Amazon service logs with CloudTrail, including examples of log file entries for API calls for that service, see the list of supported services for CloudTrail, and read the CloudTrail integration topic for that service. You can also learn more about the content and structure of CloudTrail log files by reviewing the CloudTrail log event reference.

    You might also notice what you're not seeing in log files in US East (Ohio). Specifically, you won't see any console sign-in events, even though you know you logged into the console. That's because console sign-in and IAM events are global service events, which are usually logged in a specific Amazon Region. In this case, they are logged in US East (N. Virginia), and found in the folder us-east-1. Open that folder, and open the year, month, and day you're interested in. Browse the log files, and you find ConsoleLogin events that look similar to the following:

    { "eventVersion": "1.05", "userIdentity": { "type": "IAMUser", "principalId": "AKIAIOSFODNN7EXAMPLE", "arn": "arn:aws:iam::123456789012:user/Mary_Major", "accountId": "123456789012", "userName": "Mary_Major" }, "eventTime": "2019-06-10T17:14:09Z", "eventSource": "", "eventName": "ConsoleLogin", "awsRegion": "us-east-1", "sourceIPAddress": "", "userAgent": "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64; rv:60.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/60.0", "requestParameters": null, "responseElements": { "ConsoleLogin": "Success" }, "additionalEventData": { "LoginTo": "", "MobileVersion": "No", "MFAUsed": "No" }, "eventID": "2681fc29-EXAMPLE", "eventType": "AwsConsoleSignIn", "recipientAccountId": "123456789012" }

    This log file entry tells you more than just the identity of the IAM user who logged in (Mary_Major), the date and time she logged in, and that the login was successful. You can also learn the IP address she logged in from, the operating system and browser software of the computer she used, and that she was not using multi-factor authentication.

Step 4: Plan for next steps

Now that you have a trail, you have access to an ongoing record of events and activities in your Amazon account. This ongoing record helps you meet accounting and auditing needs for your Amazon account. However, there is a lot more you can do with CloudTrail and CloudTrail data.

  • Add additional security for your trail data. CloudTrail automatically applies a certain level of security when you create a trail. However, there are additional steps you can take to help keep your data secure.

  • Create a trail to log data events. If you are interested in logging when objects are added, retrieved, and deleted in one or more Amazon S3 buckets, when items are added, changed, or deleted in DynamoDB tables, or when one or more Amazon Lambda functions are invoked, these are data events. The management event trail you created earlier in this tutorial doesn't log these types of events. You can create a separate trail specifically to log data events for some or all of supported resources. For more information, see Data events.


    Additional charges apply for logging data events. For more information, see Amazon CloudTrail Pricing.

  • Log CloudTrail Insights events on your trail. CloudTrail Insights helps you identify and respond to unusual or anomalous activity associated with write API calls by continuously analyzing CloudTrail management events. CloudTrail Insights uses mathematical models to determine the normal levels of API and service event activity for an account. It identifies behavior that is outside normal patterns, generates Insights events, and delivers those events to a /CloudTrail-Insight folder in the chosen destination S3 bucket for your trail. For more information about CloudTrail Insights, see Logging Insights events for trails.


    Additional charges apply for logging Insights events. For more information, see Amazon CloudTrail Pricing.

  • Set up CloudWatch Logs alarms to alert you when certain events occur. CloudWatch Logs lets you monitor and receive alerts for specific events captured by CloudTrail. For example, you can monitor key security and network-related management events, such as security group changes, failed Amazon Web Services Management Console sign-in events, or changes to IAM policies. For more information, see Monitoring CloudTrail Log Files with Amazon CloudWatch Logs.

  • Use analysis tools to identify trends in your CloudTrail logs. While the filters in Event history can help you find specific events or event types in your recent activity, it does not provide the ability to search through activity over longer time periods. For deeper and more sophisticated analysis, you can use Amazon Athena. For more information, see Querying Amazon CloudTrail Logs in the Amazon Athena User Guide.