A Beginner’s Guide to AWS Penetration Testing

As Amazon Web Services (AWS) takes up the realm of cloud services, a lot of organizations and websites prefer AWS over other cloud service providers. AWS is known for its prominence in content delivery, computation, storage of necessary data, network infrastructure and even hosting facilities.

All of the services provided by AWS fall under the wider range of three categories.

  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS),
  • Software as a service (SaaS),
  • and Platform as a service (PaaS).

Therefore, the purpose of AWS penetration testing and security infrastructure is to protect these services from all kinds of cyberattacks. This can be done with the help of correct and effective security measures such as periodic pentesting or security audits. Hence, you can also ensure that the cloud services you’re using are made impenetrable to any hacking attempt.

What forms of penetration testing can be performed on AWS?

AWS offers options for penetration testing user-operated services and vendor-operated services. The former includes cloud-based services which are controlled, created, and modified by the user. This means an organization can fully test their AWS Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) service, minus the possibilities of business interruption such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

The latter involves those services handled and operated by third-party vendors. These tests are usually restricted to implementing and configuring the cloud environment of the services provided, but not the infrastructure. Examples for this include Cloudfront and API Gateway which don’t allow the pentesting of hosting infrastructure.

For penetration testing of AWS EC2 instances, there are certain instances that allow for it. This includes application programming interfaces (API) like HTTP or HTTPS, application server, and the associated stack of programming languages like Python or React, virtual machines and operating systems, etc.

What usually can’t be tested due to legality issues or technical constraints are – security appliances managed by other vendors, EC2 environments belonging to other organizations, physical facilities, hardware, or other aspects that belong to Amazon, etc.

Being informed on a prior basis about the requirements and general nature of the AWS network can save you a lot of trouble at the last minute.

It is equally important that you’re knowledgeable about the necessity of conducting such a test, as this will help you determine the legal, technical, and other industry-specific requirements that are associated with it. For example, the payment card industry is required to conduct pentesting procedures every six months to test the security response of the cardholder data environment (CDE). They are also required to do external and internal network penetration tests, and even segmentation controls, if required.

Is there a difference between traditional pentesting and AWS methods?

Since systems tested in both these scenarios have different owners, AWS security audit & testing used in the traditional manner would not be in compliance with a number of AWS rules. It may also bring forward incident response complaint procedures initiated by the team in charge.

Under AWS, penetration testing focuses more on user-based assets, configurations of identity and access management (IAM) user permissions, and the user of other APIs that are fundamental to the working of the system.

Hackers mainly target the ability to access through the Lambda backdoor functions, messing with the AWS IAM keys, S3 bucket configuration details – all of these hacking attempts made by the hacker require specific knowledge about AWS in general and about the system in particular.

What are some basic steps to be included in the AWS penetration testing procedure?

  1. Understand the scope of testing the AWS network infrastructure and the target points within the system, including the type of testing you’d prefer (black, gray, white)
  2. Engage in a self-initiated preliminary testing attempt
  3. Provide a detailed list of expectations for all those involved in the testing process – the testing team, internal stakeholders, and the third-party experts in charge
  4. Plan out a timeline for conducting each stage of the assessment process, including the technical assessment of the system. Make sure to note down the characteristics and vulnerabilities of the system that popped up during the process in a report accessible to all stakeholders. Along with this, provide possible solutions and then conduct a testing process to evaluate the effectiveness of these measures.
  5. Check the system for the ability to issue warnings in case it has been breached or undergoing an attack in real-time
  6. Get approval from the involved parties, third-party or otherwise, and written, if needed – this will involve filling a request form, obtaining permissions from AWS for the respective dates, IP addresses for the tester, and the one being tested

What is after the penetration testing procedure?

The immediate step after performing penetration testing for your integrated AWS services is finalizing a report that consists of all the details of the testing process on a step-by-step basis. The report should also include – the vulnerabilities found, suggested remediation measures, impact on the business and its customers. Make sure the report is provided in a language that is understandable to all the stakeholders involved in the testing procedure. You can also use automated tools to test the basic security configuration of the AWS server

There should also be sections in the report that document the risks of the vulnerabilities found with respect to the AWS environment, the probability of exploits, etc. When selecting a third-party testing organization, try and choose one that offers retesting after the implementation of the remediation measures for all the issues found.

Summing Up

A comprehensive and successful penetration testing procedure is usually a painstaking affair, especially if the chosen third-party penetration testing service is not up to the expected standards. Avoid this gap in knowledge of security risks and penetration experience with experts like Astra Security!

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