Identity and access management - Games Industry Lens

Identity and access management

GAMESEC01: How do you manage player identity and access management?

When developing a game, you must determine how you will provide players with access to your game and related services. This decision is influenced by player acquisition and monetization strategy, player experience, and other factors such as the existing capabilities that might be provided by your game publishing partners. For example, a game might require purchases and require a player to create a user profile to associate real-money payment methods with their account.

Alternatively, a game may desire to reduce the barrier to entry for first-time player experiences by removing the need to create a user account before playing the game, thereby improving the chance that a player will try the game for the first time. Typically, games will implement one or more combinations of player identity and access management approaches for their game.

Unauthenticated or anonymous access: This access level is useful in situations where a game does not require a player to create a new user account or link with their identity on social networks and gaming platforms. This is the simplest and quickest way for player to start to play a game and is particularly useful in mobile games where a game developer may want to reduce the barrier to entry for the initial first time experience. In this access scenario, if you want to identify usage from the game installation, you can do so by programming the game client to generate and store a unique identifier onto the player's device that is used to identify the player across game sessions on their device and allow analytics reporting on usage over time. At a later date, if a player chooses to create an account, then you can associate their new user account to their previously generated unique identifier to link the player's historical usage such as stats and game achievements to their new player identity. If a player does not eventually create and link an account, the device that the player uses to interact with the game can be uniquely identified, but any recoverable information about the player is not collected and stored. Thus, if the player breaks the device, the previous stored data associated with the device is also lost and might not be recoverable.

Authentication with username and password: A game may allow players to create their own user accounts with a username and password that is stored within the game's backend. Typical reasons for this are when a game developer is collaborating with a game publisher who already has an existing player account system that the developer can integrate with, or when a developer who may publish their own games wants to simplify the player experience by allowing players to create a single user account for access across all of the game they publish.

Authentication and account linking with third-party social networks and gaming platforms: It is common for online games and games with social features to provide third-party identity provider federation as a way to simplify the player experience. Instead of asking players to create a username and password combination to authenticate, you can use identity federation to allow players to authenticate using their third-party accounts with social networks and gaming platforms. This login process simplifies sign-in and registration experience and it provides a convenient alternative to mandatory account creation and a frictionless method for players to access games. For game developers, federated login can offer a streamlined player verification workflow and may also provide a more reliable way to manage player data for personalization because you do not need to ask players to provide you with certain data that they likely have already provided to the third-party identity provider. Additionally, these platforms provide integration with additional social features such as allowing you to link players with their friends.

The following best practices can help you to incorporate secure access control for your game:

GAMESEC_BP01: Requests to game backend services are authenticated.

Any requests sent to game backend services should be authenticated to prevent unwanted requests to your game backend.

You should provide an authentication service for players to login, which should return secure short-lived tokens, such as JSON Web Token (JWT), to the game client when a player successfully authenticates. These tokens can include claim assertions containing player attributes and other relevant metadata that can be used in subsequent requests sent from the game client to your game backend to authenticate requests and authorize them in the context of the authenticated player. You have the option to either design and build your own player authentication system, which would require ongoing improvement and maintenance, or you can take advantage of the scalable and secure user sign-up, sign-in, and access control features provided by Amazon Cognito. Amazon Cognito User Pools allows you to create a user directory and provides APIs that you can integrate into your game for sign-up, sign-in, password reset workflows, and it can be integrated with third-party identity providers. Application Load Balancers and Amazon API Gateway both provide integrations with Cognito to easily integrate user authentication for requests sent to your custom game backends hosted with these services.

If your game supports anonymous access and you cannot authenticate a player, you can use a client authentication approach to provide a secure experience when integrating with your game backend. If your game client uses AWS services, then requests to these services must be signed using credentials. To provide credentials to your game client for unauthenticated users, you can use the AWS SDK to retrieve short-lived credentials from Amazon Cognito Identity Pools that can be used to sign your requests to AWS services. These credentials can be refreshed from your game client. In addition to directly integrating with the AWS SDK from the game client, you can also build your own game backend, using a service such as Amazon API Gateway, which supports custom authorization. By designing your own game backend service, you can gain authoritative control over all requests with custom server-side logic. For more information on building a backend service for games hosted using Amazon GameLift, refer to Design your backend service.

GAMESEC_BP02: Player requests to join a multiplayer game should be validated by your game backend service.

Typically, in multiplayer games, a player will join a game session by selecting an option directly from a list of available sessions, or they will submit a request to find a match, which places the responsibility on the game developer to locate an eligible game session and provide the connection information, usually an IP address and port, back to the player's game client. The implementation may vary depending on the genre of game you are developing, but regardless, it is a security best practice to perform server-side validation of a player’s game join request.

For example, in a session-based multiplayer game, a request from a player to join a game session should be validated by your game server software with your game backend matchmaking service before authorizing their connection to the server. When a player requests to join a game session, the game server should check the request for a unique identifier, such as a player session ID and server-generated ticket that was previously provided to the game client by your game backend matchmaking service. Upon initiating the connection to the game server, your server-side software can use this information to verify with the matchmaking service that the player's connection request is valid, and ensure that the player is not joining a spot previously reserved in the game session for another player. For games hosted using Amazon GameLift, refer to the GameLift documentation for an example of how this type of server-side validation can be implemented.

GAMESEC_BP03: Player user accounts that require passwords should enforce a strong security policy.

If a game provides players with the ability to create a user account with a password, you should require that passwords adhere to strong policies. For example, Amazon Cognito User Pools provides support for defining password requirements for user accounts.

GAMESEC_BP04: Provide an option for players to setup multi-factor authentication (MFA) on their accounts.

Player accounts can be a valuable asset to bad actors, particularly in games that support in-game currency and purchases. Due to the pervasiveness of player account hacking and social engineering against game developer player support teams, it is important to provide players with the option to configure multi-factor authentication (MFA) for their user account to enhance the security of their accounts.

When a player accesses their account using MFA, they are challenged with a temporary code that is sent to their email, phone number, or a purpose-built multi-factor authentication mobile app, which they must enter to login within a limited time frame to successfully authenticate. MFA can also be used to protect an account that is attempting to authenticate from a new geo-location, accounts that have been flagged by player support for potential malicious activity, and even for accounts that have not logged into the game for an extended period of time. For example, Amazon Cognito User Pools provides support for configuring multi-factor authentication on user directories.

GAMESEC02: How do you prevent unauthorized access to game content?

Modern games include a significant amount of content, including downloadable content (DLC), which is an important aspect of player engagement and game monetization. Players expect an ongoing stream of new characters, levels, and challenges, requiring game developers to keep up with this constant demand for fresh content in order to retain players. The variety and the size of the content can vary greatly depending on the type of the game and also the device the game is played on whether it is PC, console, or mobile. It is important to ensure that game content is protected from unauthorized access.

GAMESEC_BP05: Restrict access of downloadable content to authorized clients and users.

Access to game content should be restricted to authorized applications and clients.

Consider using Amazon S3 as a cost-effective and scalable origin for storing downloadable game content, and Amazon CloudFront to provide globally performant content delivery to players. Both services provide built-in mechanisms for restricting access to data that is stored.

When you need to grant access to S3 content, there are several best practices that should be considered. By default, only the AWS account that created an S3 bucket can access the objects stored within it. To grant access to your internal applications and to manage content stored in Amazon S3 buckets, use Identity and Access Management (IAM) to create policies that provide appropriate access. IAM Roles can be associated with federated users, systems, or applications hosted in services, such as Amazon EC2, Lambda, and container-based applications hosted in Amazon EKS and Amazon ECS. For example, you might use the AWS SDK or AWS CLI to publish and manage game content assets in S3 buckets. To support this use case, you can create an IAM Role with appropriate access to read and write game content to your S3 buckets and associate it the EC2 Instances that host your software and scripts.

Resource-based policies can also defined for your bucket, and for specific objects. S3 Bucket Policies are associated with the S3 bucket and can be used to restrict access to the bucket and objects within it, as well as grant access to your S3 resources from other accounts. For example, in scenarios where multiple teams or separate game development studios are working on the same game content and require the same access to centrally hosted content in S3, you can use an S3 bucket policy to define permissions for cross-account access to the S3 resources. Consider using S3 Access Points which can simplify managing data access to shared data by creating access points with names and permissions specific to each application or sets of applications. The Amazon S3 documentation contains additional best practices for access control in Amazon S3.

It is recommended to generate temporary URLs that grant short term access to your content. Amazon S3 provides support for generating presigned URLs, which allow object owners to share objects with others by generating a presigned URL using their own security credentials within their backend that grant time-limited permission to download the objects. By doing so, the end user or application that is being granted access is not required to have an account or IAM permissions, and instead uses the presigned URL to access the content. This is a best practice that is commonly used in a variety of games use cases, such as granting authorized players access to downloadable content that they have been entitled to, and providing temporary access to limited time game content. Presigned URLs can also be used to provide temporary permissions to upload content to your S3 bucket, for example to provide a player with access to upload client logs to assist your player support team during troubleshooting a player support case. provides best practices for limiting presigned URL capabilities.

S3 Block Public Access is a set of security controls that ensures S3 buckets and objects do not have public access by overriding the settings defined by specific users to enable centralized control across your S3 access points, buckets, and AWS accounts.

While your applications, game developers, artists, and other personnel may need direct access to the content in S3 buckets for development and management purposes, it is recommended to use a content delivery network to provide access to content available publicly to players or other users over the internet. This improves download performance and reduces costs by caching frequently accessed content. Amazon CloudFront can globally distribute your content by caching and delivering it closer to your players while reducing the load on your game’s download origin, such as Amazon S3.

Rather than serving your public content directly from S3 buckets, it is recommended to keep this content private and serve it publicly using CloudFront, which can be configured to require that players access your private content, for example a new game download for paid players only, using either signed URLs or signed cookies. You then develop your application either to create and distribute signed URLs to authenticated users, or to send set-cookie headers that set signed cookies for authenticated users. When you create signed URLs or signed cookies to control access to your files, you can specify an ending date and time, after which the URL is no longer valid. Optionally, you can also specify the IP address or range of addresses of the computers that can be used to access your content, which is useful if you want to restrict access to specific game development studio partners or contractor networks. Use signed URLs in the cases where you want to restrict access to individual files or your users are using a client that doesn't support cookies. Use signed cookies in the cases where you want to provide access to multiple restricted files, or you don't want to change your current URLs. Signed URLs take precedence over signed cookies.

GAMESEC_BP06: Limit origin access to authorized content delivery networks (CDNs).

You should prevent users from circumventing your content delivery networks to directly access content from your origin, such as your Amazon S3 buckets. It is important to restrict access to your origin to only your authorized CDNs, which helps to reduce data transfer costs from unnecessarily serving content out of the origin. It also improves security posture by ensuring that all public access to your origin content flowed through the same entry point, where you can deploy edge security controls such as AWS WAF layer-7 filtering, injection and inspection of security-related HTTP request parameters, and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) protections. To implement these controls for an S3 origin, you can use Amazon CloudFront origin access identity (OAI) which ensures that all requests to your S3 objects are originating from your CloudFront Distribution. It is recommended to associate AWS WAF with your CloudFront distribution in order to provide layer-7 filtering. However, if you are serving content from additional CDNs, you can configure the CDN to insert one or more custom HTTP headers into origin requests which can be inspected by AWS WAF to ensure that the incoming traffic originated from your authorized CDN provider. This approach is also useful to prevent users from circumventing your CDN providers when your origin is hosted behind an Application Load Balancer (ALB). ALBs can be associated with AWS WAF for layer-7 protections, and AWS WAF can be configured to insert a custom HTTP header that can be inspected by your ALB to ensure that incoming traffic to the load balancer was first processed and inspected by AWS WAF.

GAMESEC_BP07: Implement geo-restrictions to prevent unauthorized access.

When a player requests your content, CloudFront serves the requested content from the nearest edge location, regardless of where the player is located. However, there may be scenarios where you need to restrict how your content is accessible by users in specific parts of the world. For example, you may have a rolling game deployment strategy that releases content in phases on a country-by-country basis, or you may have to abide by country-specific access controls. You can use geo restriction, also known as geo blocking, to prevent players in specific geographic locations from accessing content that you're distributing through a CloudFront distribution. You can use the CloudFront geo restriction feature to restrict access to all of the files that are associated with a distribution and to restrict access at the country level. Alternatively, you can use a third-party geolocation service to restrict access to a subset of the files that are associated with a distribution or to restrict access at a finer granularity than the country level.

Using CloudFront geo restriction, you can allow your players to access your content only if they're in one of the countries on an allow list of approved countries and prevent your players from accessing your content if they're in one of the countries on a deny list of banned countries. If a request is received from a blocked geographic location, CloudFront will return 403 Forbidden HTTP status code to the player.

GAMESEC_BP08: Restrict access to content with digital rights management (DRM) solutions.

In addition to the access-control based approach, you can also take an encryption-based approach by encrypting your private content and distributing the decryption keys to authorized players using a digital rights management (DRM) solution. DRM solutions are recommended in situations where you want to allow players to download game content early, but you do not want them to be able to be able to access or play the content until a predetermined time. For example, this is common in situations, typically in PC games, where players are allowed to pre-order a game and configure their game client to automatically begin downloading the encrypted files early so that it is downloaded and ready to be played when the game is officially released. After the game is released, the player's game client can request decryption keys from the DRM backend solution so that it can decrypt the previously downloaded files and begin playing the game. DRM systems are also used as a way to prevent unauthorized re-distribution and manipulation of games after they have been downloaded and installed by an authorized player. DRM systems require integration with the origin for exchanging encryption keys and authorizing players to retrieve the decryption key. Commercial DRM systems providers offer a range of solutions with particular features and support for different devices.