Security Audit

AWS Vulnerability Scanning – A Complete Guide

Published on: June 20, 2022

AWS Vulnerability Scanning – A Complete Guide

AWS or Amazon or Amazon Web Services is the world’s most popular cloud platform at this point with data centers spread across the globe. AWS has made it incredibly easy and cost-effective for enterprises to host large amounts of data in the cloud. It is one of the primary cogs enabling the big data analytics revolution. In 2020, 61% of businesses migrated their assets into the cloud and AWS had a 76% share of that.

While it would be hard to imagine a pan-earth digital transformation without AWS, it has its share of problems. Yes, we are going to talk about the security of your data in the cloud and how AWS vulnerability scanning plays a crucial role in it.

S3 buckets are simple and scalable storage units offered by AWS and it is a raging success among enterprise owners as well as developers for their ease of use. But it is also the most common cause of AWS security breaches.

In 2021, a COVID-19 test service center in Utah exposed the personal information of more than 50,000 patients due to an S3 bucket misconfiguration. Similar mishaps have taken place all around the world and affected millions of people. For instance, a company called SeniorAdvisor exposed the information of 3 million senior citizens due to an S3 misconfiguration. 

Security in the cloud is a complex phenomenon. It is guided by complicated rules and regulations, the cloud environment is difficult to test for security errors, and most importantly, the vulnerabilities in the cloud are often ignored. We will help you wrap your head around AWS security and the part AWS vulnerability scanning plays in it.   

Isn’t cloud security handled by the cloud provider?

Yes and no. A cloud provider like AWS takes care of certain aspects of the security of your cloud platform and infrastructure. You as a cloud service customer are responsible for certain other aspects of security. This is called the shared responsibility model of cloud security. Your responsibilities are usually determined by the type of service program you are in and the service level agreement between the cloud provider and the cloud customer. 

If you think about it, if AWS were to provide vulnerability management for its clients, it would soon turn into a data-privacy nightmare as the cloud provider would require root-level credentials to all its client servers. Hence, it is recommended that an enterprise extend its corporate vulnerability management policies to IP addresses hosted on AWS. 

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Type of Cloud ServiceSecurity Responsibilities of Cloud ProvidersSecurity Responsibilities of Clients
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)Virtualization. Network, Infrastructure, PhysicalUser Access, Data, Application, Operating System
Platform as as Service (PaaS)Operating System, Virtualization, Network, Infrastructure, PhysicalUser Access, Data, Application
Software as a Service (SaaS)Application, Operating System, Virtualization, Network, Infrastructure, PhysicalUser Access, Data

Security in the cloud – the responsibilities of the AWS customer  

The security and compliance responsibilities of the AWS customer are determined by the services that the customer has opted for. 

For instance, if you opt for Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) which is categorized as infrastructure as a service (IaaS), you will be responsible for managing and configuring the guest operating systems – you will have to apply the patches where required, and ensure the security of all the applications running on each instance. You will also have to configure the firewall provided by AWS.

In the cases of AWS S3 and DynamoDB, AWS takes care of the operating system, the infrastructure layers, and the platforms. The customer, who in this case, accesses the endpoints to store and manage data, is responsible for data security – encryption of the data, setting up permissions, classifying the assets, etc.

Each of these areas that are controlled by the customers can incur potential security threats unless they are carefully managed and regularly monitored. This is where AWS vulnerability scanning can help out.

Read Also: AWS Penetration Testing: A DIY Guide for Beginners

What is AWS vulnerability scanning?

AWS vulnerability scanning is the process of detecting vulnerabilities in the AWS deployments – applications running on AWS, and the data management processes. You can use an automated vulnerability scanner to detect anomalies, deviation from security best practices, and security misconfigurations in the cloud.

The scope of the vulnerability scan is determined by the service level agreement between the cloud provider and the cloud customer and the policies placed by AWS regarding security testing.   

Read also: Complete Guide on AWS Security Audit 

What is the process of AWS vulnerability assessment?

There are three main steps to a successful AWS vulnerability assessment. The first step is to choose a vulnerability scanner that suits your needs as well as AWS guidelines. The second step is the scan itself. Finally, you analyze the detected vulnerabilities and fix them according to a priority index. We will walk you through each of these steps. 

Choose the right vulnerability scanner

The easiest procedure for AWS vulnerability scanning is installing an instance of a virtual vulnerability scanner directly into AWS. You need to choose a scanner that is designed to work within the AWS shared responsibility model. There are vulnerability scanners that run automated scans while maintaining adherence to the policies set by AWS so that you do not end up violating any of the guidelines.

Running the scan

Once the scanner is installed and set up, you can run or schedule a scan. It will probe the AWS deployments by referencing a vulnerability database to find vulnerabilities and loopholes in your systems. The scanner will detect

  • Errors in code: Mistakes in software code can allow attackers to attach an endpoint to extract data, or erase data from your software.
  • Security misconfiguration: A security misconfiguration is an erroneous security control that could lead to a breach.
  • Unpatched software: Software patches are often released to tackle security vulnerabilities. Running outdated, unpatched software can lead to a breach.

Other than these a vulnerability scanner can detect malicious IPs and domains that might be trying to cause harm, issues related to access control, and S3 bucket misconfigurations.  

There are certain tests that AWS does not allow you to run like

  • DDoS attacks or simulations
  • protocol flooding
  • resource request flooding

Analyzing and Fixing the vulnerabilities

A good vulnerability scanner gives you a list of vulnerabilities indexed according to their risk scores. The risk score is a combination of the CVSS score of a vulnerability and the potential damage it can cause in that particular situation. The risk score should take both the general and the situational aspects of a vulnerability to make an accurate positioning.

You can base your remediation plan on the risk scores associated with vulnerabilities and allocate the resources in a way that does not engage the developers too much and yet manages to cope with the most critical vulnerabilities.

When it comes to fixing the vulnerabilities, you get some recommended steps from the vulnerability scan report itself. If you can also get some help from security experts in terms of reproducing and fixing the issues, the job becomes way easier for your developers. 

5 things to keep in mind while choosing an AWS vulnerability scanning tool

We will not talk about the price or the reviews here, nor the usual bits about the number of tests and the timeline for the vulnerability scan. We will shed light on some scarcely mentioned issues that can have quite an impact on your AWS vulnerability scanning experience.

  1. A tool with a CXO-friendly dashboard can save hours of your time. It lets you monitor vulnerabilities, assign remediations, and collaborate with security experts, all from a single place. It helps you move faster, taxes your brain less, and makes life easier for all stakeholders.
  2. Look for a scanner that evolves. The CVEs are evolving, and new vulnerabilities are emerging constantly. A tool that does not review and revamp the scanner rules regularly, falls behind.
  3. A tool that has a strong security team behind it comes in handy. Your developers will face some issues while trying to fix vulnerabilities. A little support at that point from security experts can make things smoother.
  4. Actionable reports and step-by-step guidelines for remediation can help you move ahead with vulnerability management faster. 
  5. Compliance-specific scans add a lot of value to your AWS vulnerability scanning routine.   

Read also: Checklist for AWS Security Audit 

Astra’s vulnerability scanner for vulnerability assessment in the cloud

The vulnerability scanner by Astra Security is a perfect solution for your AWS vulnerability scanning needs. It is optimized for cloud-based application security testing. It fits in your CI/CD pipeline. It makes it super simple to schedule scans or set up continuous scanning. 

Compliance-specific scans with Astra
Compliance-specific scans with Astra

Here’s what you can do with Astra’s vulnerability scanner

  • Manage, monitor, and assign vulnerabilities in one place 
  • Get step-by-step guidelines to reproduce vulnerabilities
  • Collaborate with security experts
  • Get accurate figures to understand the potential damage caused by a vulnerability
  • Run compliance-specific scans to accelerate compliance readiness.

With more than 3000 tests, assured zero false positives, CI/CD integration, and the best-in-class human support, Astra’s vulnerability scanner is quite unbeatable. The outstanding reviews and widespread clientele attest to the same.

Conclusion

Security scans in the cloud environment are difficult given the nature of the policies and the sensitiveness of the assets involved. However, it is a necessary practice and you need to do it regularly. AWS vulnerability scanning comes across as a tricky but necessary task that all businesses using the AWS EC2 or S3 services need to conduct. Having a strong grasp of the particulars of the process helps you a lot. A vulnerability scanning solution that is optimized for the task and can be deployed and scaled easily is what you need to make things easier.       

Let experts find security gaps in your cloud infrastructure

Pen-testing results that comes without a 100 emails, 250 google searches and painstaking PDFs.

What is the timeline for AWS security testing?

It takes 4-7 days to complete an AWS security testing, then half as much time to rescan the systems post-remediation.

What is the cost for AWS vulnerability scanning?

The cost for vulnerability scanning for AWS can be anywhere between $100 and $500.

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Saumick Basu

Saumick is a Technical Writer at Astra Security. He loves to write about technology and has deep interest in its evolution. Having written about spearheading disruptive technology like AI, and Machine Learning, and code reviews for a while, Information Security is his newfound love. He's ready to bring you along as he dives deeper.
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