Break glass access - Organizing Your AWS Environment Using Multiple Accounts

Break glass access

The organization management account is used to provide break glass access to AWS accounts within the organization. Break glass (which draws its name from breaking the glass to pull a fire alarm) refers to a quick means for a person who does not have access privileges to certain AWS accounts to gain access in exceptional circumstances by using an approved process.

The use cases for break glass access include:

  • Failure of the organization’s IdP.

  • A security incident involving the organizations’ IdP(s).

  • A failure involving IAM Identity Center.

  • A disaster involving the loss of an organization’s entire cloud or IdP teams. It is important that access to these roles is monitored, and alarms and alerts are triggered when the roles are used to access the environment.

In the case of an incident requiring remediation, we recommend that a user with access to an administrative federated role within the AWS account perform the required remediation. In cases where this user is unavailable to carry out a time sensitive action, we recommend that a highly-restricted group or set of groups be preconfigured within your IdP, each providing appropriate federated access into the appropriate set of AWS accounts. A user can either be added into one of these groups using a high-priority and temporary change request, or a select group of privileged and trusted users can be prepopulated into these groups.

Security teams investigating an incident would use this mechanism to access a read-only role in an impacted account, or use the read-only access mechanism provided through the security tooling account. In summary, common high-priority irregular access scenarios need to be incorporated into standard federated access processes and procedures.


AWS Organizations Service Control Policies do not apply to the organization management account, and administrator access to this account would grant privileged status to the entire organization, given the trust relationship to the management account. Therefore, access to break glass IAM users must be tightly controlled, but accessible through a predefined and strict process. This process often involves one trusted individual having access to the password, and a different trusted individual having access to the hardware multi-factor authentication (MFA) key, meaning it typically requires two people to access any one set of break glass credentials.

Human access to AWS accounts within the organization should be provided using federated access. Although the use and creation of AWS IAM users is highly discouraged, break glass users are an exception.

To ensure human break-glass access to your environment, we recommend that you create the following in your AWS organization:

  • At least two IAM users with IAM login credentials to prevent lockdown in case one of them is not available, and additional users depending on your operating model. Do not create unnecessary IAM privileged users in your management account. These users will assume roles in the member accounts in your organization through trust policies.

  • A break glass role that is deployed to all the accounts in the organization, and that can only be assumed by the break glass users from the management account. These roles are needed to allow access from the management account to apply and update guardrails, to troubleshoot and resolve issues with the automation tooling from the security tooling account, or to remediate security and operational issues in one of the member accounts in the AWS organization. When setting up these roles in your organization, you need to ensure they can be used in emergency situations, bypassing established controls under the situations described earlier in the paragraph, such as service control policies.


If you are currently using AWS Identity Center and you are not using an external IdP (you are using the IAM Identity Center store or your domain service for your identity source), you can use this break glass access in case of Identity Center failure. Review how to set up emergency access for your IAM Identity Center.

We strongly recommend configuring these users with a hardware-based MFA device, which can be used in exceptional circumstances to gain access to the organization management account or sub-accounts within the organization by assuming a role.

While we recommend the use of the organization management account for break glass access, some organizations might choose to add a dedicated break glass account. This does not eliminate the need for organizational break glass users in the organization management account.