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The AWS Management Console Raises Security Concerns

| by Abel Avram Follow 9 Followers on Jan 14, 2009. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes |

There has been an ongoing debate over how secure cloud computing is. Some argue that clouds are more secure than many private networks, while others consider that cloud computing may open more security holes. Some consider that Amazon’s - Web based – AWS Management Console is creating more opportunities to hackers.

GNUCITIZEN considered that cloud computing is more secure:

To me, this [Amazon’s security] is pretty insane security and I can guarantee you that your home-grown solution will be hundreds of times less secure.

… Is the cloud secure? I would say yes if you know what you are doing.

Alistair Croll gave some reasons why clouds can be safer:

Fewer humans – Most computer breaches are the result of human error; only 20-40 percent stem from technical malfunctions. Cloud operators that want to be profitable take humans out of the loop whenever possible.

Better tools – Clouds can afford high-end data protection and security monitoring tools, as well as the experts to run them. I trust Amazon’s operational skills far more than my own.

Enforced processes – You could probably get a co-worker to change your company’s IT infrastructure. But try doing it with a cloud provider without the proper authorization: You simply won’t be able to.

Not your employees — Most security breaches are committed by internal employees. Cloud operators don’t work for you. When it comes to corporate espionage, employees are a much more likely target.

Alistair also expressed his concerns:

With any new technology, there are bound to be exploits we haven’t thought of. But they’re more likely to be part of the management tools used to transfer and modify cloud data, as well as remote tools used to access applications in the cloud, than the clouds themselves.

There are real reasons to be careful when moving your data into a cloud. But be sure you’re worried about the right things. Otherwise you risk looking like a panicky server-hugger who wants to sleep with a copy of your data under your pillow.

Looking at Amazon S3, x86Virtualization noted:

Perhaps the weakest point to the whole S3 system is Amazon’s own password scheme. It allows for very weak passwords and I’m sure with some good social engineering could probably get them to reset it to a new e-mail address claiming the old address was changed due to a corporate e-mail policy change. Take any company, buy the domain mail-corportationname.com, and probably get any phone support person to believe you are in fact working for that corporation. If needed do some fake letter head, get a fax number in the same town / phone exchange, and pretty soon you could be the head of the smallest branch office of that corporation. It must happen pretty often, Amazon even has a page for people’s who’s email has changed since the last order.

So, how secure is your cloud? Using the same techniques used to compromised domain names and have them transferred, it would be possible to recover Amazon passwords and login and download complete S3 collections, Start and Stop clouds, and manage any other Amazon web service.

Continuing on the same note, Krishnan Subramanian considered the newly introduced AWS Management Console as bringing a new level of insecurity:

Before the release of console, someone who steals the Amazon password of an user, could log into their AWS account and get the public/private key and certificates. They can then use this information to cause havoc in the EC2 deployment. With this console, the hacker cracker has one less step to manage. He/She can just log into the EC2 web based management console with the Amazon.com account password they stole and create havoc. They don’t even have to worry about looking for the public/private key and certificates. This is plain risky from the security point of view.

Krishnan also made a couple of suggestions on improving the AWS security:

  1. Separate Amazon.com account from AWS account. In fact, the percentage of Amazon.com users who will also use AWS is quite negligible and such a separation will not affect badly.
  2. Force the users to select a really hard to crack password. It is important to develop a policy to enforce strong passwords in every AWS account.

With all security risks involved, the AWS Console will most likely going to be used because it allows users to start and manage EC2 instances, find and create AMI (Amazon Machine Images), manage EBS (Elastic Block Storage) volumes and Elastic IPs, all of that with a few mouse clicks.

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clouds could be safer? by Francisco Jose Peredo Noguez

Fewer humans: I guess this depends, I do not think that the team amazon uses for clouds is that small.

Better tools: This could theoretically improve security, but tools are only as secure as the security practices of the humans that use them.

Enforced processes: uld probably get a co-worker to change your company’s IT infrastructure. But try doing it with a cloud provider without the proper authorization: You simply won’t be able to. And, if you actually NEED to make a change in the cloud infrastructure to improve security, you are screwed. And since we are discussing processes... What processes related standards are followed by the cloud team? ISO? CMMI?

Not your employees — Most security breaches are committed by internal employees. I wonder... maybe that is true because the infrastructure is managed by internal employees. Now that all your stuff will be managed by external employees, rules will change..

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