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A Beginners Guide to AWS Penetration Testing

Figures show that about 82% of the workload of businesses will reside on the cloud with a flow of around 40 zettabytes of data flowing through networks and cloud. The global growth value of the public cloud is expected to be around $120 billion during 2021. 30% of the companies are planning to invest in cloud computing.

These facts help us conclude that we are entering into the world of cloud computing and of course adopting cloud technologies without understanding the security aspects of protecting it. The more the data over a network, the higher is the risk of security.


During the period of last year, the companies have gone virtual, and employees are working remotely with the aid of cloud-connected networks. There was a 630% rise in cloud-based cyber attacks during the first quarter of 2020.

One of the widely-used cloud platforms AWS enables 32% of customers worldwide. It offers a wide range of cloud services such as security management, code development and deployment, web application services, network infrastructure, content delivery, compute and storage facilities, and many more.

AWS being the largest service provider in the cloud segment, has its own security protocols, both manual and automated, running on its infrastructure.

These days, increase in cloud services usage and the necessity to follow the mandatory regulations; organizations are researching advanced and efficient approaches to enhance the security of their system and customer data while switching to cloud services like AWS.

Penetration testing for AWS

Before you purchase a car, you always collect information about its functioning and the security controls to safeguard the passengers’ lives. Similarly, ensuring the security of cloud platforms is necessary too.

Every AWS cloud service has a different scope for pen-testing. For example, Elastic Cloud Computing or EC2 service of AWS is very commonly pen-tested. The domain includes API, applications hosted by an organization, virtual machines, operating systems, application servers, and the related stack.

The AWS penetration testing focuses on identity configuration or authentication management, access management user permissions, user-owned resources, integrating the AWS API into the ecosystem.

Need of Penetration testing in AWS

As the organizations move their applications over the cloud infrastructure such as AWS and make use of the third-party vendors’ services – the risk of security breach and data theft increases exponentially. Not everyone in the organization understands the AWS security protocols that may lead to different kinds of failures.

These are some of the reasons why pen-testing is required for AWS services that you use:

  • Incomplete understanding of the ‘shared responsibility model’. This is the reason due to which companies underestimate the potential risks associated.
  • Incompetence in the security requirement, implementation, and operation of multi-factor authentication. It is crucial to understand the impact of personal data leakage, social engineering attacks, and privilege escalations.
  • Failure in AWS security checks that includes open-wide security groups and too many permissions.
  • Growing requirements of norms and mandates, visibility to the cloud, and reporting. To keep up the compliance efforts affecting the datacenter like FedRAMP, HIPAA, etc., are some of the most compliances companies need to follow.
  • Identifying and resolving the zero-day vulnerabilities is necessary to maintain a high level of security in the cloud.

Difference between AWS pen-testing and Traditional pen-testing

Penetration testing done for AWS is quite different from the traditional pen testing methodologies due to its association with the company Amazon. The customarily used practices of ethical hacking would violate the policies laid down by AWS.


For instance, one can pen-test the AWS services like Cloudfront and API gateway configuration but not the hosting infrastructure.

The customer does not own the environment of Software-as-a-Service services offered on AWS. It cannot be pen-tested like an offline or onsite environment of an organization. Only the identity and configuration can be tested and audited for all the SaaS-based services available on the AWS cloud.

Also, while doing penetration testing for AWS, you can test the S3 bucket configuration and associated loopholes, initiate access through Lambda backdoor functions, cover tracks by confusing Cloudtrail logs, target and hamper the AWS IAM keys, and so on.

Focus areas for AWS pen testing

There are four key focus areas to test on AWS, as follows:

1. External infrastructure

By default, AWS does not allow any external traffic inside an EC2 instance, but this can be modified while launching one. Engineering teams may change the security settings to allow all external traffic, which could be an invitation for cybercriminals. One should always check for such vulnerabilities and leave out open access points for the hackers using a vulnerability scanner or other tools. This is the most vulnerable surface for an attack and needs to be a part of the AWS pen testing process.

2. Web Applications

Companies use AWS’s services to host their web apps to serve the needs of their customers, partners, and employees. Sometimes, organizations expose their web applications for easy access which makes it the second most easy entry point for cybercriminals.

Additionally, loopholes in the web app security might also reveal sensitive information, application logic, databases containing the details of all the employees and customers, payment or transaction details, and so on to the outer world. AWS pen testing is done to check and secure web applications hosted on AWS.

3. Internal infrastructure

The internal infrastructure is accessible to the outer world criminals if and only if they have access to the underlying environment or the external infrastructure.

This is a secondary layer where a cyberattack is probable to happen. The importance of internal infrastructure testing depends upon the complexity of the system. Insecure services, unpatched software, security controls to access the AWS resources in use, etc., are the main reasons due to which the internal infrastructure might be at risk.

The pen-testing for internal infrastructure of an organization solely depends on the usage and requirements, unlike the other domains.

4. AWS configuration

AWS configurations and management policies might not be easily understandable for engineers working on the cloud and thus require professional help from security system providers with experts who would conduct and exploit the system well to analyze and estimate the level of risks associated and the negligence and gaps left out while switching to the cloud services from the onsite system.

Conclusion

Cloud services are gaining popularity day by day due to the infinite number of advantages they provide and the management of service available for their clients, making it easier for them to work with efficiency and reliability.

It is a mandatory step to clearly define the scope and object of conducting a pen test on the AWS cloud before taking a step forward to understand and resolve the complex risks and potential vulnerabilities involved in the AWS cloud.

Businesses must very well interpret the risks involved and the suggested remedies before it is too late and the cybercriminals compromise your data or application. It is often tricky to understand such technical stuff. Astra Security is always available to help with reliable AWS penetration testing.

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