Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) In AWS For Cloud Security

Learn about Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) In AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) and the best practice that requires a second authentication factor in addition to the user name and password sign-in credentials. You can enable MFA at the AWS account level and for root and IAM users you have created in your account. But why does an MFA in AWS matter?

Recently, we have been facing a recurring problem related to cloud security – breaches based on credentials leaks or breakage. Users log into their accounts using a single-factor system, such as a user and password combination. This introduces a single point of failure in your account’s security. You should always enable MFA on your cloud accounts.

Weeks ago, we read a Tweet about a person dealing with a vast AWS bill due to a stolen key taken by attackers to use AWS Lambda functions for crypto mining and other cybercrime plans. After a month, they faced a $45,000 AWS bill. Even if their case is not strictly a stolen password, it is a single-factor authentication example. It’s exciting to learn how it all happened.

As well as getting to know how they would have protected themselves by activating the MFA in their cloud account. Hyper-connectivity is a concept that has its perks and drawbacks. While interacting and collaborating with individuals worldwide, you also become susceptible to cyber criminals who steal data for illicit reasons. Protecting your cloud infrastructure is paramount.

What Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) In AWS Is Plus Safety Benefits

MFA is a top-notch security mechanism that requires users to submit a mix of identifying types (such as passwords, hardware tokens, or fingerprints) before accessing a system or resource. Since they would need multiple pieces of information to circumvent authentication, this combination makes it much more difficult for attackers to compromise accounts.

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is a multi-step account login process that requires users to enter more information than just a password. For example, along with the password, users might be asked to enter a code sent to their email, answer a secret question, or scan a fingerprint. A second form of authentication can help prevent unauthorized account access in a system.

If your password has been compromised, digital online and website security is critical today because businesses and users store sensitive information online. Everyone uses online accounts to interact with applications, services, and data stored online. A breach or misuse of this online information could have severe real-world consequences for your business entity.

Such misleading elements could include deformative articles to stain your company, financial theft, business disruption, and loss of business and consumer data privacy. Thus, there are numerous benefits of using multi-factor authentication.

Some benefits include:
  • Reduced Security Risks: MFA in AWS minimizes risks due to human error, misplaced passwords, and lost devices.
  • Digital Initiatives Enablement: Organizations can undertake digital initiatives with confidence. Businesses use MFA to help protect organizational and user data from securely carrying out online interactions and transactions.
  • Improved Security Response: Companies can configure an MFA system to send an alert whenever it detects suspicious login attempts actively. This helps companies and individuals respond faster to cyberattacks, minimizing potential damage.

While passwords protect digital assets, they are not enough. Expert cybercriminals try to find active passwords by discovering one; access can be gained to multiple accounts for which you might have reused the password. Could someone with your password login launch a machine (lambda function), install a cryptomining app, and let it run until you notice?

Suppose you aren’t familiar with the huge_amount_of_options when using different cloud providers. In that case, it’s easy not to notice, for example, that there could be an extra instance running in a region you don’t usually use. And if you (like us) don’t have cost alarms set up for your account, it could be a month until the bill arrives and you notice you’ve been hacked.

Some Examples Of How Companies Can Benefit From MFA Authentication

We did a test and tried creating an instance in my Google Cloud Platform account from an incognito web browser window (to do the whole login process). Then voilà asked us to enter the code sent to our cell phone (thanks to Google for insisting on enabling MFA). Even though we were more relaxed after knowing MFA was enabled for my cloud account, we think it is vital.

Especially to be conscious of its relevance. Multi-Factor Authentication In AWS is an additional layer of security to prevent unauthorized users from accessing these accounts. More so, even when the password has been stolen, businesses use multi-factor authentication to validate user identities and provide quick and convenient access to authorized users.

Passwords are the most spread as they are the easiest and generate the least friction for user acquisition. But passwords are the weakest, as we can quickly try to guess them from anywhere. And they are the only thing the Cybercriminals, hackers, and attackers need to break your password in time. Even if long and complex passwords are secure, relying on them is not wise.

Neither is using a single authentication method like a password isn’t. A password can be stolen instead of guessed. Using multiple-factor authentication enhances the security of your company or even your account. According to Microsoft, enabling MFA for your accounts can prevent 99.9% of these attacks. From a corporate point of view, MFA should be forced on all users.

Cloud providers such as Amazon AWS, Google Cloud Platform, and Azure register incorrect login attempts and successful logins without MFA in their logging services. Below are some examples of how companies can use MFA for security:

1. Remote Employees Access 

A company wants to give remote resource access to its employees. It can set up multi-factor authentication requiring login, a hardware fob, and a fingerprint scan on company-issued laptops that the employees take home. Based on the employee’s IP address, the company can set rules that the employee needs to use two-factor authentication when working from home. However, the company may require three-factor authentication when the employee is working on any other wifi network.

2. On-Site User System Access 

A hospital wants to give all its employees access to health apps and patient data. It provides employees with a proximity badge to access these applications. At the start of each shift, the employee has to log in and tap the badge to a central system. During the change, they can access all resources with a single tap of the badge, without more login requirements. At the end of the shift, the single-tap access rights end. This minimizes the risk of unauthorized access due to lost badges.

3. Brute Force Attacks Safety

In this case, this table looks at the time to crack a password through brute force. In addition, several tools help with brute force attacks (not only user/password combination but port scanning or even known vulnerabilities), like Burp suite or Hydra.

4. Mitigating Credential Leaks

Post It’s on your display, credentials uploaded by error, oversight into Github repos, or even on social network profiles all fall in the social engineering category and are ways for attackers to get your precious passwords.

5. Preventing Phishing Attacks

A prevalent example of a phishing attack is when you receive an email asking you to “Reset your password,” ironically due to a security issue. However, once you reset your password, they got you.

Why Should You Integrate Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) In AWS 

The first thought could be, “That’s a problem of those Cloud Provider centric companies/users.” But then, several end-user-centric use cases came to mind. Of course, we remembered that several years ago, we attended a MOOC which required us to register for the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) to get started. Since then, we’ve received a monthly $0.00 bill from Google.

Think about when you are preparing for a Certification in a Cloud Provider. Or consider the NAS you bought that offers storage synchronization with a solution like AWS Glacier, Google Nearline, or Azure Storage that you configured with your Amazon account. There are several ways for you to have registered for a cloud provider. Are those thoughts keeping you up at night?

The Basic Steps To Integrate Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) In AWS

Could someone with your password login launch a machine (or a lambda function), install cryptomining software, and let it run until you notice it? If you aren’t familiar with the huge_amount_of_options when using different cloud providers, it’s easy not to see, for example, that there could be an extra instance running in a region you don’t usually use.

And if you (like us) don’t have cost alarms set up for your account, it could be a month until the bill arrives and you notice you’ve been hacked. We did a test and tried creating an instance in my Google Cloud Platform account from an incognito web browser window (to do the whole login process). Then voilà asked us to enter the code sent to our cell phone.

The Basic Steps To Integrate Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) In AWS 

Thanks to Google for insisting on enabling MFA. Even though we were more relaxed after knowing MFA was enabled for my cloud account, we think it is essential to be conscious of its relevance.

Before we talk more about Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), it’s also necessary to mention Adaptive multi-factor authentication or adaptive MFA. It uses business rules and information about the user to determine which authentication factors it should apply. Businesses use adaptive authentication to balance security requirements with the user experience.

To sleep peacefully at night, you must set up a second authentication factor to reduce the risk of hacking your account. For example, using contextual user information, adaptive authentication can dynamically increase or decrease user steps.

Such as follows:
  • Number of failed login attempts
  • The geographical location of the user
  • Geo-velocity or the physical distance between consecutive login attempts
  • The device being used for login
  • Day and time of login attempt
  • Operating system
  • Source IP address
  • User role

In most cases, adaptive authentication solutions use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to analyze trends and identify suspicious activity in system access. These solutions can monitor user activity to identify patterns, establish baseline user profiles, and detect unusual behavior.

Such as these actions:
  • One: Login attempts at unusual hours
  • Two: Login attempts from unique locations
  • Three: Login attempts from unknown devices

ML algorithms assign risk scores to suspicious events and adjust MFA factors based on business policies in real-time. For example, if the behavior is classified as low-risk, the user can sign in with a username and password.

On the other hand, the user must enter an SMS code for medium-risk behavior, and if the behavior is high-risk, the user is denied access altogether. Multi-factor authentication might be implemented in different ways.

Below are some examples:
  • The system asks for the password and another ID, called two-factor or two-step authentication.
  • Instead of the system, a third-party application called an authenticator verifies the user’s identity. The user enters the passcode into the authenticator, and the authenticator confirms the user to the system.
  • During verification, the user enters biometric information by scanning a fingerprint, retina, or other body part.
  • The system may request multiple authentications only when you access it for the first time on a new device. After that, it will remember the machine and ask only for your password.

A recent approach to amp up your protection is by Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) in Amazon Web Services. AWS offers several MFA options to suit different needs. You can also look for an AWS Service Provider to get enhanced solutions.

  • Virtual MFA Devices: These nifty apps installed on smartphones or tablets generate temporary, one-time-use codes.
  • Hardware MFA Devices: Physical tokens that display authentication codes.
  • U2F (Universal 2nd Factor) Security Keys: USB or NFC devices that let you securely authenticate without a password.

MFA authentication methods are based on something you know, something you have, and something you are. With that in mind, we can describe some common authentication factors as follows:

A. Knowledge Factor

In the knowledge factor method, users must prove their identity by revealing information no one else knows. A typical example of this authentication factor is secret questions with answers only the user would know, such as the name of their first pet or their mother’s maiden name. Applications may also request access to a four-digit pin code.

These methods are secure only if no one else discovers the secret information. Criminals might investigate the user’s history or trick them into revealing this information. Pin codes can also be cracked using a brute-force method that guesses every four-digit number combination possible.

B. Possession Factor

In the possession factor method, users identify themselves by something they uniquely own. Here are some examples:

  • Physical devices like mobile phones, security tokens, display cards, hardware fobs, and security keys.
  • Digital assets like email accounts and authenticator applications

The system sends a secret code as a digital message to these devices or aids, which the user then re-enters into the system. The account can be compromised if the device is lost or stolen. Some security tokens circumvent this problem by connecting directly to the system so they cannot be digitally accessed.

C. Inherence Factor

Inherence methods use information that is inherent to the user. These are a few examples of such authentication factors:

  • Fingerprint scans
  • Retina scans
  • Voice recognition
  • Facial recognition
  • Behavioral biometrics like keystroke dynamics

In layman’s language, the application must collect and store this information and the password during registration. Still, the business managing the application must protect biometrics and passwords. On that note, multi-factor authentication works by requesting multiple forms of ID from the user at the time of account registration.

Often, the system stores this ID and user information to verify the user for the next login. The login is a multi-step process that verifies the other ID information and the password. Let’s describe the steps in the multi-factor authentication process:

Step #1: Registration

A user creates the account with a username and password. They then link other items to their account, such as a cell phone device or physical hardware fob. The item might also be virtual, such as an email address, mobile number, or authenticator app code. All these items help to identify the user uniquely and should not be shared with others.

Step #2: Authentication

When a user with MFA-enabled logs into a website, they are prompted for their username and password (the first factor–what they know) and an authentication response from their MFA device (the second factor–what they have).

If the system verifies the password, it connects to the other items. For example, it may issue a number code to the hardware device or send a code by SMS to the user’s mobile device.

Step #3: Reaction

The user completes the authentication process by verifying the other items. For example, they might enter the code they have received or press a button on the hardware device. They only access the system when all the other information is verified.

The Best Practices For Setting Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) In AWS

All businesses should set up enterprise-wide policies to restrict access and secure digital resources. The following are some of the best practices in access management:

  • Create user roles: You can fine-tune access control policies by grouping users into functions. For example, you can grant privileged admin users more access rights than end users.
  • Create strong password policies: You should still enforce strong policies even if you have three or four-factor authentication. You can implement rules to create passwords with upper and lower case, memorable characters, and numbers.
  • Rotate security credentials: It is an excellent practice to ask your users to change passwords regularly. You can automate this process by having the system deny access until the password has been changed.
  • Follow the least privilege policy: Always start new users at your system’s lowest privilege and access rights level. You can increase privilege by manual authorization or gradually as the user builds trust through verified credentials.

AWS’s root account, created when you joined, has complete access to all resources and services. Your root account must get enhanced by MFA for its security. There is a procedure for how you can integrate MFA into your AWS.

Consider the following:
  • Choose a virtual, physical, or U2F security key.
  • Log in to the root account and go to the AWS Management Console.
  • Click on your account name in the upper right corner, and pick “My Security Credentials” from the drop-down menu.
  • Next, clicking “Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)” moves to the next phase.
  • Follow the instructions for your MFA device—virtual, physical, or U2F security key—to activate it.
  • Enter two consecutive MFA codes (virtual or physical) or validate U2F security essential registration to verify the MFA device.
  • Now, the Security Credentials page’s “Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)” section should say “Enabled” for the MFA device.

These procedures set up MFA for your AWS root account, thus protecting your cloud resources.

The Process Of Configuring MFA For AWS IAM Users

IAM (Identity and Access Management) users can access certain services and resources in their AWS accounts. To secure your infrastructure, enable MFA for all IAM users. Here’s how

  • Create or Select an IAM User: If you haven’t previously, do so. If you have IAM users, choose one to enable MFA for.
  • Select An MFA Device: Choose an MFA device for the IAM user. U2F security keys, hardware MFA devices, and virtual MFA devices are available. Google Authenticator or Authy are compatible apps for virtual MFA devices.
  • Launch The AWS Management Console: Log in to your AWS Management Console using your root account or an IAM user with administrative privileges. And then, ”Visit Users” section from the AWS Management Console, open the IAM service. Click “Users” in the left-hand menu to view the IAM user list.
  • Set MFA for The User: Click on the IAM user whose MFA you want to configure. Find the “Security credentials” tab on the “User Details” page and click on the “Edit” button next to “Assigned MFA device.” Following your MFA choice in step 2, follow the on-screen steps to enable MFA for the selected user. You must scan a QR code or manually enter a key into your authentication app for virtual MFA devices. For hardware MFA devices or U2F security keys, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to associate them with your IAM user.
  • Verify Configuration: After activating the MFA device, you’ll be asked to input two consecutive MFA codes or touch the U2F security key to verify its functionality. After this, your MFA configuration will be confirmed. 

The IAM user must authenticate with the assigned MFA device when accessing the AWS Management Console or other protected resources. Following this, inform the IAM user about the new requirements and show them how to use their device.

The Stage Of Requiring MFA For AWS API Calls

You may require MFA for specific API calls and Management access to secure your infrastructure. This helps while accessing sensitive resources or undertaking high-risk tasks. First, log into the AWS Management Console with your root account or an IAM user with admin privileges.

And then;
  • Start IAM: Select “IAM” from “Services” to access the IAM dashboard.
  • Create A Policy: In the IAM dashboard, click “Policies” in the left-hand menu, and “Create Policy” opens up. Click on it!
  • Define The Policy: On the “Create Policy” page, pick the “JSON” option to update the policy in JSON format directly. This policy blocks all AWS actions unless the user has MFA.
  • Review the Policy: Click “Review policy” at the bottom after entering the JSON code. On the “Review policy” page, name and describe your policy.
  • Save The Policy: Click “Create policy” after reviewing it.

After creating the policy, please attach it to the necessary IAM users or groups. Go to the IAM dashboard and click “Users” or “Groups” on the left. Now, selecting the group or user, click “Add Permissions” to implement the policy. Now choose your policy in the “Attach existing policies directly” tab. The ”Review” and “Add permissions” are to implement the policy.

These procedures will require MFA authentication for API calls performed by IAM users or groups you’ve linked the policy to, adding protection to your AWS resources.

Getting To Know AWS Identity And Access Management (IAM) Services 

Equally important, you can use AWS Identity Services to manage identities, resources, and permissions securely and at scale. For example, they give you or your workforce a choice of where to collect the identities and credentials of your employees and the fine-grained permissions to grant the proper access to the right people at the right time.

As well as granting developers more time to build great apps for your customers by enabling them to add user sign-up, sign-in, and access control to your web and mobile apps quickly and effortlessly. For example, Amazon Cognito helps you create a simple, secure, scalable, and standards-based sign-up and sign-in experience for your customer-facing applications.

Resource Reference: AWS Marketplace | How Amazon Cloud Computing Powers Business

Especially for your customer and for your applications. In most cases, Amazon Cognito supports multi-factor authentication and data encryption at rest and in transit. And as such, it helps you meet multiple security and compliance requirements, including those for highly regulated organizations such as healthcare companies and merchants.

You can also utilize the AWS Identity And Access Management (IAM) that provides fine-grained access control across all AWS. With IAM, you can specify who can access the services and resources under which conditions. With IAM policies, you manage permissions to your workforce and systems to ensure least-privilege approvals.

In Conclusion;

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is an AWS IAM Feature that adds an extra layer of protection on top of your username and password. With MFA enabled, when a user signs in to an AWS Management Console, it prompts them to enter their username and password (the first factor—what they know) and an authentication code from their AWS MFA device.

This is the second factor—what they have. These multiple factors provide increased security for your AWS account settings and resources. Enabling Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) in AWS is critical to securing your cloud infrastructure and safeguarding your company’s data and resources. Implementing MFA for your root account, IAM users, and API calls is crucial.

For one thing, it can significantly lower the risk of unauthorized access. Thus, it becomes more difficult for attackers to breach your accounts. Fortunately, with this step-by-step tutorial, you’ll be well on your way to improved cloud security in no time. So go ahead and be amongst those who’ve already made this intelligent decision by implementing MFA!

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