Best practices for IAM policies - AWS Key Management Service

Best practices for IAM policies

Securing access to AWS KMS keys is critical to the security of all of your AWS resources. KMS keys are used to protect many of the most sensitive resources in your AWS account. Take the time to design the key policies, IAM policies, grants, and VPC endpoint policies that control access to your KMS keys.

In IAM policy statements that control access to KMS keys, use the least privileged principle. Give IAM principals only the permissions they need on only the KMS keys they must use or manage.

The following best practices apply to IAM policies that control access to AWS KMS keys and aliases. For general IAM policy best practice guidance, see Security best practices in IAM in the IAM User Guide.

Use key policies

Whenever possible, provide permissions in key policies that affect one KMS key, rather than in an IAM policy that can apply to many KMS keys, including those in other AWS accounts. This is particularly important for sensitive permissions like kms:PutKeyPolicy and kms:ScheduleKeyDeletion but also for cryptographic operations that determine how your data is protected.

Limit CreateKey permission

Give permission to create keys (kms:CreateKey) only to principals who need it. Principals who create a KMS key also set its key policy, so they can give themselves and others permission to use and manage the KMS keys they create. When you allow this permission, consider limiting it by using policy conditions. For example, you can use the kms:KeySpec condition to limit the permission to symmetric encryption KMS keys.

Specify KMS keys in an IAM policy

As a best practice, specify the key ARN of each KMS key to which the permission applies in the Resource element of the policy statement. This practice restricts the permission to the KMS keys that principal requires. For example, this Resource element lists only the KMS keys the principal needs to use.

"Resource": [ "arn:aws:kms:us-west-2:111122223333:key/1234abcd-12ab-34cd-56ef-1234567890ab", "arn:aws:kms:us-west-2:111122223333:key/0987dcba-09fe-87dc-65ba-ab0987654321" ]

When specifying KMS keys is impractical, use a Resource value that limits access to KMS keys in a trusted AWS account and Region, such as arn:aws:kms:region:account:key/*. Or limit access to KMS keys in all Regions (*) of a trusted AWS account, such as arn:aws:kms:*:account:key/*.

You cannot use a key ID, alias name, or alias ARN to represent a KMS key in the Resource field of an IAM policy. If you specify an alias ARN, the policy applies to the alias, not to the KMS key. For information about IAM policies for aliases, see Controlling access to aliases

Avoid "Resource": "*" in an IAM policy

Use wildcard characters (*) judiciously. In a key policy, the wildcard character in the Resource element represents the KMS key to which the key policy is attached. But in an IAM policy, a wildcard character alone in the Resource element ("Resource": "*") applies the permissions to all KMS keys in all AWS accounts that the principal's account has permission to use. This might include KMS keys in other AWS accounts, as well as KMS keys in the principal's account.

For example, to use a KMS key in another AWS account, a principal needs permission from the key policy of the KMS key in the external account, and from an IAM policy in their own account. Suppose that an arbitrary account gave your AWS account kms:Decrypt permission on their KMS keys. If so, an IAM policy in your account that gives a role kms:Decrypt permission on all KMS keys ("Resource": "*") would satisfy the IAM part of the requirement. As a result, principals who can assume that role can now decrypt ciphertexts using the KMS key in the untrusted account. Entries for their operations appear in the CloudTrail logs of both accounts.

In particular, avoid using "Resource": "*" in a policy statement that allows the following API operations. These operations can be called on KMS keys in other AWS accounts.

When to use "Resource": "*"

In an IAM policy, use a wildcard character in the Resource element only for permissions that require it. Only the following permissions require the "Resource": "*" element.


Permissions for alias operations (kms:CreateAlias, kms:UpdateAlias, kms:DeleteAlias) must be attached to the alias and the KMS key. You can use "Resource": "*" in an IAM policy to represent the aliases and the KMS keys, or specify the aliases and KMS keys in the Resource element. For examples, see Controlling access to aliases.


The examples in this topic provide more information and guidance for designing IAM policies for KMS keys. For general AWS KMS best practice guidance, see the AWS Key Management Service Best Practices (PDF). For IAM best practices for all AWS resources, see Security best practices in IAM in the IAM User Guide.