AWS Identity and Access Management
User Guide

IAM Best Practices

To help secure your AWS resources, follow these recommendations for the AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) service.

Lock away your AWS account (root) access keys

You use an access key (an access key ID and secret access key) to make programmatic requests to AWS. However, do not use your AWS account (root) access key. The access key for your AWS account gives full access to all your resources for all AWS services, including your billing information. You cannot restrict the permissions associated with your AWS account access key.

Therefore, protect your AWS account access key like you would your credit card numbers or any other sensitive secret. Here are some ways to do that:

  • If you don't already have an access key for your AWS account, don't create one unless you absolutely need to. Instead, use your account email address and password to sign in to the AWS Management Console and create an IAM user for yourself that has administrative privileges, as explained in the next section.

  • If you do have an access key for your AWS account, delete it. If you must keep it, rotate (change) the access key regularly. To delete or rotate your AWS account access keys, go to the Security Credentials page in the AWS Management Console and sign in with your account's email address and password. You can manage your access keys in the Access Keys section.

  • Never share your AWS account password or access keys with anyone. The remaining sections of this document discuss various ways to avoid having to share your account credentials with other users and to avoid having to embed them in an application.

  • Use a strong password to help protect account-level access to the AWS Management Console. For information about managing your AWS account password, see Changing the AWS Account ("root") Password.

  • Enable AWS multifactor authentication (MFA) on your AWS account. For more information, see Using Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) in AWS.

Create individual IAM users

Don't use your AWS root account credentials to access AWS, and don't give your credentials to anyone else. Instead, create individual users for anyone who needs access to your AWS account. Create an IAM user for yourself as well, give that user administrative privileges, and use that IAM user for all your work. For information about how to do this, see Creating an Administrators Group.

By creating individual IAM users for people accessing your account, you can give each IAM user a unique set of security credentials. You can also grant different permissions to each IAM user. If necessary, you can change or revoke an IAM user's permissions any time. (If you give out your AWS root credentials, it can be difficult to revoke them, and it is impossible to restrict their permissions.)


Before you set permissions for individual IAM users, though, see the next point about groups.

Use groups to assign permissions to IAM users

Instead of defining permissions for individual IAM users, it's usually more convenient to create groups that relate to job functions (administrators, developers, accounting, etc.), define the relevant permissions for each group, and then assign IAM users to those groups. All the users in an IAM group inherit the permissions assigned to the group. That way, you can make changes for everyone in a group in just one place. As people move around in your company, you can simply change what IAM group their IAM user belongs to.

For more information, see the following:

Grant least privilege

When you create IAM policies, follow the standard security advice of granting least privilege—that is, granting only the permissions required to perform a task. Determine what users need to do and then craft policies for them that let the users perform only those tasks.

It's more secure to start with a minimum set of permissions and grant additional permissions as necessary, rather than starting with permissions that are too lenient and then trying to tighten them later.

Defining the right set of permissions requires some research to determine what is required for the specific task, what actions a particular service supports, and what permissions are required in order to perform those actions.

For more information, see the following:

Configure a strong password policy for your users

If you allow users to change their own passwords, require that they create strong passwords and that they rotate their passwords periodically. On the Account Settings page of the IAM console, you can create a password policy for your account. You can use the password policy to define password requirements, such as minimum length, whether it requires non-alphabetic characters, how frequently it must be rotated, and so on.

For more information, see Setting an Account Password Policy for IAM Users.

Enable MFA for privileged users

For extra security, enable multifactor authentication (MFA) for privileged IAM users (users who are allowed access to sensitive resources or APIs). With MFA, users have a device that generates a unique authentication code (a one-time password, or OTP) and users must provide both their normal credentials (like their user name and password) and the OTP. The MFA device can either be a special piece of hardware, or it can be a virtual device (for example, it can run in an app on a smartphone).

For more information, see Using Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) in AWS.

Use roles for applications that run on Amazon EC2 instances

Applications that run on an Amazon EC2 instance need credentials in order to access other AWS services. To provide credentials to the application in a secure way, use IAM roles. A role is an entity that has its own set of permissions, but that isn't a user or group. Roles also don't have their own permanent set of credentials the way IAM users do. In the case of Amazon EC2, IAM dynamically provides temporary credentials to the EC2 instance, and these credentials are automatically rotated for you.

When you launch an EC2 instance, you can specify a role for the instance as a launch parameter. Applications that run on the EC2 instance can use the role's credentials when they access AWS resources. The role's permissions determine what the application is allowed to do.

For more information, see Using an IAM Role to Grant Permissions to Applications Running on Amazon EC2 Instances.

Delegate by using roles instead of by sharing credentials

You might need to allow users from another AWS account to access resources in your AWS account. If so, don't share security credentials, such as access keys, between accounts. Instead, use IAM roles. You can define a role that specifies what permissions the IAM users in the other account are allowed, and from which AWS accounts the IAM users are allowed to assume the role.

For more information, see Roles Terms and Concepts.

Rotate credentials regularly

Change your own passwords and access keys regularly, and make sure that all IAM users in your account do as well. That way, if a password or access key is compromised without your knowledge, you limit how long the credentials can be used to access your resources. You can apply a password policy to your account to require all your IAM users to rotate their passwords, and you can choose how often they must do so.

For more information about setting a password policy in your account, see Setting an Account Password Policy for IAM Users.

For more information about rotating access keys for IAM users, see Rotating Access Keys (AWS CLI, Tools for Windows PowerShell, and AWS API).

Remove unnecessary credentials

Remove IAM user credentials (that is, passwords and access keys) that are not needed. For example, an IAM user that is used for an application does not need a password (passwords are necessary only to sign in to AWS websites). Similarly, if a user does not and will never use access keys, there's no reason for the user to have them.

You can generate and download a credential report that lists all IAM users in your account and the status of their various credentials, including passwords, access keys, and MFA devices. For passwords and access keys, the credential report shows how recently the credentials have been used. Passwords and access keys that have not been used recently might be good candidates for removal.

For more information about IAM credential reports, see the section called “Getting Credential Reports”.

In addition to using credential reports, you can also determine when a password or access key was last used by using these IAM APIs:

Use policy conditions for extra security

To the extent that it's practical, define the conditions under which your IAM policies allow access to a resource. For example, you can write conditions to specify a range of allowable IP addresses that a request must come from, or you can specify that a request is allowed only within a specified date range or time range. You can also set conditions that require the use of SSL or MFA (multifactor authentication). For example, you can require that a user has authenticated with an MFA device in order to be allowed to terminate an Amazon EC2 instance.

For more information, see Condition in the IAM Policy Elements Reference.

Keep a history of activity in your AWS account

Take advantage of the logging features available in AWS services. By examining log files of activity in your AWS account, you can see what actions users have taken in your account and what resources have been used, along with details like the time and date of actions, what the source IP was for an action, which actions failed due to inadequate permissions, and so on.

Logging is supported in multiple ways. AWS CloudTrail provides logging across AWS services. Amazon CloudWatch is a monitoring service for your AWS cloud resources and the applications you run on AWS, and you can set alarms in CloudWatch based on metrics that you define. Amazon S3 and Amazon CloudFront have their own logging solutions.

For more information, see the following topics in the AWS documentation:

Video presentation about IAM best practices

The following video includes a conference presentation that covers these best practices and shows additional details about how to work with the features discussed here.