Understanding IAM policies

One of the most critical components in any system is security. In AWS, security is at the top of their list. With Identity and Access Management, you can create users, roles, policies, and groups to secure your AWS resources. In this post, I’m going to share how to secure a S3 bucket by creating a new user with limited access. Let’s get started.

Create a new user

To create a new user, sign in to the aws console and select IAM. Select users from the left menu and click Add User. Add a user name and select programmatic access in the access type section.

Click Next. Since we don’t have a policy in place, click Next again.

Now it’s time to review our new user. Notice that aws is displaying a warning message that this user has no permissions. Click next.

We’re in the final step in creating our new user. Click on the Download .csv button. This file will contain the access key id and secret access key. We’ll use these items in the aws cli tool to access S3 buckets. You can also click on the show link below the secret access key header.

Now that we have our user ready, it’s time to create a new policy with limited permissions to a S3 bucket. Click on the Policies link on the left side menu. Click on Create Policy.

There are 2 ways to create your policy: using the visual editor and using a JSON file. For this exercise, I’m going to use a JSON file to specify the policy. Click on JSON tab next to Visual editor tab and paste below JSON.

This simple policy is allowing access to S3 PutObject action to a bucket named agileraymond-s3. As you can see, this policy is limited to what it can perform. AWS recommends that you follow the principle of least privileges. Only give access to the resources that your application needs. Click on Next and finally create your new policy.

With our new user and policy in place, we have to link our user to this new policy. Select your user and click on Add permissions button.

Click on the attach existing policies directly tab and filter policies by selecting customer managed from the filter menu next to the search input.

Click next and review your changes. And finally add permissions. We’re ready to test our new user and its permissions. Let’s use AWS CLI to test our new user. Using a terminal/command prompt, type aws configure and add access key, secret access key, region, and format. Make sure you select the same region where your resources are. In my case, I selected us-east-1 because that’s where my bucket resides.

Now, type “aws s3 ls” in your terminal window. You should see an error since we don’t have permissions to list. We only have access to PutObject for a bucket. To upload a file to our S3 bucket, type aws s3 cp myfile.txt s3://yourbucketname. If you go back to the aws console, you should see myfile.txt inside your bucket.

In conclusion, you have to secure your resources by default. Create new users with limited permissions. Give them access to resources that they need. See you next time.

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