Security best practices for Systems Manager - Amazon Systems Manager
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Security best practices for Systems Manager

Amazon Systems Manager provides a number of security features to consider as you develop and implement your own security policies. The following best practices are general guidelines and don’t represent a complete security solution. Because these best practices might not be appropriate or sufficient for your environment, treat them as helpful considerations rather than prescriptions.

Systems Manager preventative security best practices

The following best practices for Systems Manager can help prevent security incidents.

Implement least privilege access

When granting permissions, you decide who is getting what permissions to which Systems Manager resources. You allow specific actions that you want to allow on those resources. Therefore you should grant only the permissions that are required to perform a task. Implementing least privilege access is fundamental in reducing security risk and the impact that could result from errors or malicious intent.

The following tools are available to implement least privilege access:

Use SecureString parameters to encrypt and protect secret data

In Parameter Store, a capability of Amazon Systems Manager, a SecureString parameter is any sensitive data that needs to be stored and referenced in a secure manner. If you have data that you don't want users to alter or reference in plaintext, such as passwords or license keys, create those parameters using the SecureString data type. Parameter Store uses an Amazon KMS key in Amazon Key Management Service (Amazon KMS) to encrypt the parameter value. Amazon KMS uses either a customer managed key or an Amazon managed key when encrypting the parameter value. For maximum security, we recommend using your own KMS key. If you use the Amazon managed key, any user with permission to run the GetParameter and GetParameters actions in your account can view or retrieve the content of all SecureString parameters. If you're using customer managed keys to encrypt your secure SecureString values, you can use IAM policies and key policies to manage permissions for encrypting and decrypting parameters. It's more difficult to establish access control policies for these operations when you use the customer managed keys. For example, you if you use the Amazon managed key to encrypt SecureString parameters and don't want users to work with SecureString parameters, their IAM policies must explicitly deny access to the default key.

For more information, see Restricting access to Systems Manager parameters using IAM policies and How Amazon Systems Manager Parameter Store Uses Amazon KMS in the Amazon Key Management Service Developer Guide.

Define allowedValues and allowedPattern for document parameters

You can validate user input for parameters in Systems Manager documents (SSM documents) by defining allowedValues and allowedPattern. For allowedValues, you define an array of values allowed for the parameter. If a user inputs a value that isn't allowed, the execution fails to start. For allowedPattern, you define a regular expression that validates whether the user input matches the defined pattern for the parameter. If the user input doesn't match the allowed pattern, the execution fails to start.

For more information about allowedValues and allowedPattern, see Data elements and parameters.

Block public sharing for documents

Unless your use case requires public sharing to be allowed, we recommend turning on the block public sharing setting for your SSM documents in the Preferences section of the Systems Manager Documents console.

Use an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) and VPC endpoints

You can use Amazon VPC to launch Amazon resources into a virtual network that you've defined. This virtual network closely resembles a traditional network that you'd operate in your own data center, with the benefits of using the scalable infrastructure of Amazon.

By implementing a VPC endpoint, you can privately connect your VPC to supported Amazon Web Services and VPC endpoint services powered by Amazon PrivateLink without requiring an internet gateway, NAT device, VPN connection, or Amazon Direct Connect connection. Instances in your VPC don't require public IP addresses to communicate with resources in the service. Traffic between your VPC and the other service doesn't leave the Amazon network.

For more information about Amazon VPC security, see Create VPC endpoints and Internetwork traffic privacy in Amazon VPC in the Amazon VPC User Guide.

Restrict Session Manager users to sessions using interactive commands and specific SSM session documents

Session Manager, a capability of Amazon Systems Manager, provides several methods for starting sessions to your managed nodes. For the most secure connections, you can require users to connect using the interactive commands method to limit user interaction to a specific command or command sequence. This helps you manage the interactive actions a user can take. For more information, see Starting a session (interactive and noninteractive commands).

For added security, you can limit Session Manager access to specific Amazon EC2 instances and specific Session Manager session documents. You grant or revoke Session Manager access in this way by using Amazon Identity and Access Management (IAM) policies. For more information, see Step 3: Control session access to managed nodes.

Provide temporary node permissions for Automation workflows

During a workflow in Automation, a capability of Amazon Systems Manager, your nodes might need permissions that are needed for that execution only but not for other Systems Manager operations. For example, an Automation workflow might require a node to call a particular API operation or access an Amazon resource specifically during the workflow. If these calls or resources are ones that you want to limit access to, you can provide temporary, supplemental permissions for your nodes within the Automation runbook itself instead of adding the permissions to your IAM instance profile. At the end of the Automation workflow, the temporary permissions are removed. For more information, see Providing temporary instance permissions with Amazon Systems Manager Automations on the Amazon Management and Governance Blog.

Keep Amazon and Systems Manager tools up to date

Amazon regularly releases updated versions of tools and plugins that you can use in your Amazon and Systems Manager operations. Keeping these resources up to date ensures that users and nodes in your account have access to the latest functionality and security features in these tools.

  • SSM Agent – Amazon Systems Manager Agent (SSM Agent) is Amazon software that can be installed and configured on an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instance, an on-premises server, or a virtual machine (VM). SSM Agent makes it possible for Systems Manager to update, manage, and configure these resources. We recommend checking for new versions, or automating updates to the agent, at least every two weeks. For information, see Automating updates to SSM Agent. We also recommend verifying the signature of SSM Agent as part of your update process. For information, see Verifying the signature of SSM Agent.

  • Amazon CLI – The Amazon Command Line Interface (Amazon CLI) is an open source tool that allows you to interact with Amazon Web Services using commands in your command-line shell. To update the Amazon CLI, you run the same command used to install the Amazon CLI. We recommend creating a scheduled task on your local machine to run the command appropriate to your operating system at least once every two weeks. For information about installation commands, see Installing the Amazon CLI version 2 in the Amazon Command Line Interface User Guide.

  • Amazon Tools for Windows PowerShell – The Tools for Windows PowerShell are a set of PowerShell modules that are built on the functionality exposed by the Amazon SDK for .NET. The Amazon Tools for Windows PowerShell allow you to script operations on your Amazon resources from the PowerShell command line. Periodically, as updated versions of the Tools for Windows PowerShell are released, you should update the version that you're running locally. For information, see Updating the Amazon Tools for Windows PowerShell on Windows or Updating the Amazon Tools for Windows PowerShell on Linux or macOS in the IAM Policy Simulator User Guide.

  • Session Manager plugin – If users in your organization with permissions to use Session Manager want to connect to a node using the Amazon CLI, they must first install the Session Manager plugin on their local machines. To update the plugin, you run the same command used to install the plugin. We recommend creating a scheduled task on your local machine to run the command appropriate to your operating system at least once every two weeks. For information, see Install the Session Manager plugin for the Amazon CLI.

  • CloudWatch agent – You can configure and use the CloudWatch agent to collect metrics and logs from your EC2 instances, on-premises instances, and virtual machines (VMs). These logs can be sent to Amazon CloudWatch Logs for monitoring and analysis. We recommend checking for new versions, or automating updates to the agent, at least every two weeks. For the simplest updates, use Amazon Systems Manager Quick Setup. For information, see Amazon Systems Manager Quick Setup.

Systems Manager monitoring and auditing best practices

The following best practices for Systems Manager can help detect potential security weaknesses and incidents.

Identify and audit all your Systems Manager resources

Identification of your IT assets is a crucial aspect of governance and security. You need to identify all of your Systems Manager resources to assess their security posture and take action on potential areas of weakness.

Use Tag Editor to identify security-sensitive or audit-sensitive resources, then use those tags when you need to search for these resources. For more information, see Find resources to tag in the Amazon Resource Groups User Guide.

Create resource groups for your Systems Manager resources. For more information, see What are resource groups?

Implement monitoring using Amazon CloudWatch monitoring tools

Monitoring is an important part of maintaining the reliability, security, availability, and performance of Systems Manager and your Amazon solutions. Amazon CloudWatch provides several tools and services to help you monitor Systems Manager and your other Amazon Web Services. For more information, see Sending node logs to unified CloudWatch Logs (CloudWatch agent) and Monitoring Systems Manager events with Amazon EventBridge.

Use CloudTrail

Amazon CloudTrail provides a record of actions taken by a user, role, or an Amazon Web Service in Systems Manager. Using the information collected by CloudTrail, you can determine the request that was made to Systems Manager, the IP address from which the request was made, who made the request, when it was made, and additional details. For more information, see Logging Amazon Systems Manager API calls with Amazon CloudTrail.

Turn on Amazon Config

Amazon Config allows you to assess, audit, and evaluate the configurations of your Amazon resources. Amazon Config monitors resource configurations, allowing you to evaluate the recorded configurations against the required secure configurations. Using Amazon Config, you can review changes in configurations and relationships between Amazon resources, investigate detailed resource configuration histories, and determine your overall compliance against the configurations specified in your internal guidelines. This can help you simplify compliance auditing, security analysis, change management, and operational troubleshooting. For more information, see Setting Up Amazon Config with the Console in the Amazon Config Developer Guide. When specifying the resource types to record, ensure that you include Systems Manager resources.

Monitor Amazon security advisories

You should regularly check security advisories posted in Trusted Advisor for your Amazon Web Services account. You can do this programmatically using describe-trusted-advisor-checks.

Further, actively monitor the primary email address registered to each of your Amazon Web Services accounts. Amazon will contact you, using this email address, about emerging security issues that might affect you.

Amazon operational issues with broad impact are posted on the Amazon Service Health Dashboard. Operational issues are also posted to individual accounts through the Personal Health Dashboard. For more information, see the Amazon Health Documentation.