Amazon EC2

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

By Abhinay Durishetty
6 mins read

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

What is AWS IAM?

AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) is a key service within the Amazon Web Services (AWS) ecosystem that allows you to securely manage access to your AWS resources. It enables you to create and manage users, roles, and permissions, thereby ensuring that only authorized parties can access specific resources. IAM is the gatekeeper of your cloud environment, helping you answer the critical question: "Who is allowed to do what?"

Why IAM?
Controlled Access:
Imagine having a safe in your house. Not everyone should have the code to access it. Similarly, IAM allows you to specify who is allowed to do what within your AWS environment. This means you can have multiple users or systems interacting with your resources, each with a different set of permissions.

Simplified Management:
Organizing permissions and users can become increasingly complex as your projects grow. IAM simplifies this by letting you create roles with permissions and then assign those roles to users or AWS services. It's like creating keys that open specific sets of locks, making it easier to manage access at scale.

Enhanced Security:
Security is paramount in the digital world. IAM offers multi-factor authentication (MFA), detailed access logging, and real-time monitoring through AWS CloudWatch, giving you robust security capabilities. It's akin to having multiple layers of security before you can open that safe, ensuring your AWS resources remain secure.

Auditing and Compliance:
Ever wonder who did what in your AWS environment? IAM enables you to keep a track record of all activities through integrated logging features. This is essential for auditing and meeting compliance requirements, providing a clear breadcrumb trail for auditors to follow.

Flexible Billing:
If you're a business with various departments or projects, you'd want to track your AWS costs separately for each. IAM lets you do just that by setting up individual users and roles, allowing for detailed cost tracking and budgeting.

Granular Permissions:
IAM lets you set permissions at a very granular level—right down to specific AWS actions and resources. So, it's not just about who can access your AWS resources, but what they can do once they're in. It’s like having a highly customizable access control system tailored to your needs.

How to Set Up AWS IAM?

Step 1: Sign In to AWS
Log into your AWS Management Console using your AWS account credentials.

Step 2: Navigate to IAM Dashboard
Locate the "Services" dropdown and choose "IAM" under the "Security, Identity, & Compliance" section.

Step 3: Create Users
Click the "Users" tab and then select the “Add User” button. Follow the prompts to set usernames and assign permissions.

Step 4: Set Up Roles
Under the “Roles” tab, click “Create Role.” Define the role, specify permissions, and assign it to users or AWS services.

Step 5: Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Go to the “Dashboard” and under “Security Status,” activate MFA to add an extra layer of security.

Step 6: Configure Password Policies
Under “Account settings,” you can set your password policy, specifying complexity requirements and rotation policies.

Step 7: Set Up Groups (Optional)
For ease of management, you can create groups and assign users to them. Each group can have a specific set of permissions.

Step 8: Review Permissions
Always periodically review permissions for each role and user to ensure they align with current needs.

Step 9: Audit and Monitor
Use AWS CloudWatch along with IAM access logs to continuously monitor and audit activities.

Some Use Cases for IAM:
User Management: Create different IAM users for employees and assign permissions based on job roles.
API Access: Provide secure and restricted API access for various applications.
Temporary Access: Grant temporary permissions for contractors or for specific operations.
Cross-Account Access: Use IAM roles to share resources across different AWS accounts securely.
Service Control: Assign roles to AWS services to interact with resources in your account.
Resource Tagging: Tag IAM users, roles, and groups for easier management and cost-tracking.
Data Encryption: Control who has access to encryption and decryption keys.
Automated Policies: Implement automated policies for password rotation, access reviews, and more.

In summary, AWS IAM provides a robust framework for securely managing access to your AWS resources. It’s the cornerstone for implementing security best practices and governance in your AWS environment.