Permissions required to access IAM resources - AWS Identity and Access Management

Permissions required to access IAM resources

Resources are objects within a service. IAM resources include groups, users, roles, and policies. If you are signed in with AWS account root user credentials, you have no restrictions on administering IAM credentials or IAM resources. However, IAM users must explicitly be given permissions to administer credentials or IAM resources. You can do this by attaching an identity-based policy to the user.


Throughout the AWS documentation, when we refer to an IAM policy without mentioning any of the specific categories, we mean an identity-based, customer managed policy. For details about policy categories, see Policies and permissions in IAM.

Permissions for administering IAM identities

The permissions that are required to administer IAM groups, users, roles, and credentials usually correspond to the API actions for the task. For example, in order to create IAM users, you must have the iam:CreateUser permission that has the corresponding API command: CreateUser. To allow an IAM user to create other IAM users, you could attach an IAM policy like the following one to that user:

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": "iam:CreateUser", "Resource": "*" } }

In a policy, the value of the Resource element depends on the action and what resources the action can affect. In the preceding example, the policy allows a user to create any user (* is a wildcard that matches all strings). In contrast, a policy that allows users to change only their own access keys (API actions CreateAccessKey and UpdateAccessKey) typically has a Resource element. In this case the ARN includes a variable (${aws:username}) that resolves to the current user's name, as in the following example:

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": [ { "Sid": "ListUsersForConsole", "Effect": "Allow", "Action": "iam:ListUsers", "Resource": "arn:aws:iam::*:*" }, { "Sid": "ViewAndUpdateAccessKeys", "Effect": "Allow", "Action": [ "iam:UpdateAccessKey", "iam:CreateAccessKey", "iam:ListAccessKeys" ], "Resource": "arn:aws:iam::*:user/${aws:username}" } ] }

In the previous example, ${aws:username} is a variable that resolves to the user name of the current user. For more information about policy variables, see IAM policy elements: Variables and tags.

Using a wildcard character (*) in the action name often makes it easier to grant permissions for all the actions related to a specific task. For example, to allow users to perform any IAM action, you can use iam:* for the action. To allow users to perform any action related just to access keys, you can use iam:*AccessKey* in the Action element of a policy statement. This gives the user permission to perform the CreateAccessKey, DeleteAccessKey, GetAccessKeyLastUsed, ListAccessKeys, and UpdateAccessKey actions. (If an action is added to IAM in the future that has "AccessKey" in the name, using iam:*AccessKey* for the Action element will also give the user permission to that new action.) The following example shows a policy that allows users to perform all actions pertaining to their own access keys (replace account-id with your AWS account ID):

{ "Version": "2012-10-17", "Statement": { "Effect": "Allow", "Action": "iam:*AccessKey*", "Resource": "arn:aws:iam::account-id:user/${aws:username}" } }

Some tasks, such as deleting a group, involve multiple actions: You must first remove users from the group, then detach or delete the group's policies, and then actually delete the group. If you want a user to be able to delete a group, you must be sure to give the user permissions to perform all of the related actions.

Permissions for working in the AWS Management Console

The preceding examples show policies that allow a user to perform the actions with the AWS CLI or the AWS SDKs.

As users work with the console, the console issues requests to IAM to list groups, users, roles, and policies, and to get the policies associated with a group, user, or role. The console also issues requests to get AWS account information and information about the principal. The principal is the user making requests in the console.

In general, to perform an action, you must have only the matching action included in a policy. To create a user, you need permission to call the CreateUser action. Often, when you use the console to perform an action, you must have permissions to display, list, get, or otherwise view resources in the console. This is necessary so that you can navigate through the console to make the specified action. For example, if user Jorge wants to use the console to change his own access keys, he goes to the IAM console and chooses Users. This action causes the console to make a ListUsers request. If Jorge doesn't have permission for the iam:ListUsers action, the console is denied access when it tries to list users. As a result, Jorge can't get to his own name and to his own access keys, even if he has permissions for the CreateAccessKey and UpdateAccessKey actions.

If you want to give users permissions to administer groups, users, roles, policies, and credentials with the AWS Management Console, you need to include permissions for the actions that the console performs. For some examples of policies that you can use to grant a user for these permissions, see Example policies for administering IAM resources.

Granting permissions across AWS accounts

You can directly grant IAM users in your own account access to your resources. If users from another account need access to your resources, you can create an IAM role, which is an entity that includes permissions but that isn't associated with a specific user. Users from other accounts can then use the role and access resources according to the permissions you've assigned to the role. For more information, see Providing access to an IAM user in another AWS account that you own.


Some services support resource-based policies as described in Identity-based policies and resource-based policies (such as Amazon S3, Amazon SNS, and Amazon SQS). For those services, an alternative to using roles is to attach a policy to the resource (bucket, topic, or queue) that you want to share. The resource-based policy can specify the AWS account that has permissions to access the resource.

Permissions for one service to access another

Many AWS services access other AWS services. For example, several AWS services—including Amazon EMR, Elastic Load Balancing, and Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling—manage Amazon EC2 instances. Other AWS services make use of Amazon S3 buckets, Amazon SNS topics, Amazon SQS queues, and so on.

The scenario for managing permissions in these cases varies by service. Here are some examples of how permissions are handled for different services:

  • In Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling, users must have permission to use Auto Scaling, but don't need to be explicitly granted permission to manage Amazon EC2 instances.

  • In AWS Data Pipeline, an IAM role determines what a pipeline can do; users need permission to assume the role. (For details, see Granting Permissions to Pipelines with IAM in the AWS Data Pipeline Developer Guide.)

For details about how to configure permissions properly so that an AWS service is able to accomplish the tasks you intend, refer to the documentation for the service you are calling. To learn how to create a role for a service, see Creating a role to delegate permissions to an AWS service.

Configuring a service with an IAM role to work on your behalf

When you want to configure an AWS service to work on your behalf, you typically provide the ARN for an IAM role that defines what the service is allowed to do. AWS checks to ensure that you have permissions to pass a role to a service. For more information, see Granting a user permissions to pass a role to an AWS service.

Required actions

Actions are the things that you can do to a resource, such as viewing, creating, editing, and deleting that resource. Actions are defined by each AWS service.

To allow someone to perform an action, you must include the necessary actions in a policy that applies to the calling identity or the affected resource. In general, to provide the permission required to perform an action, you must include that action in your policy. For example, to create a user, you need add the CreateUser action to your policy.

In some cases, an action might require that you include additional related actions in your policy. For example, to provide permission for someone to create a directory in AWS Directory Service using the ds:CreateDirectory operation, you must include the following actions in their policy:

  • ds:CreateDirectory

  • ec2:DescribeSubnets

  • ec2:DescribeVpcs

  • ec2:CreateSecurityGroup

  • ec2:CreateNetworkInterface

  • ec2:DescribeNetworkInterfaces

  • ec2:AuthorizeSecurityGroupIngress

  • ec2:AuthorizeSecurityGroupEgress

When you create or edit a policy using the visual editor, you receive warnings and prompts to help you choose all of the required actions for your policy.

For more information about the permissions required to create a directory in AWS Directory Service, see Example 2: Allow a User to Create a Directory.