An Introductory Guide to AWS Identity and Access Management

An Introductory Guide to AWS Identity and Access Management

This introductory guide to AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) offers a concise overview of how AWS secures cloud resources through the management of identities, access, and permissions. It emphasizes the system's key components and best practices, essential for anyone looking to strengthen their cloud security framework.

Brandon Carroll
Amazon Employee
Published Mar 29, 2024
In the rapidly evolving landscape of cloud computing, securing access to resources stands as a top concern for organizations worldwide. AWS addresses this necessity through its what's know as the Identity and Access Management (IAM) service. This guide digs into the basics of IAM, offering insights into its critical role in enhancing cloud security and operational efficiency.

Understanding IAM: The Three Pillars

Identity Management at its core involves defining who can interact with AWS resources. IAM meticulously categorizes identities into users, groups, and roles:
  • IAM Users represent individuals or applications, each equipped with unique credentials but operating under a single AWS account umbrella.
  • IAM Groups serve as collections of IAM users, simplifying the management of permissions.
  • IAM Roles stand apart by not being directly associated with specific identities; they're designed for temporary access, embodying the principle of least privilege by allowing entities to assume roles as needed.
Access Management in IAM focuses on delineating what authenticated users can and cannot do. Through the employment of identity-based and resource-based policies, IAM establishes a comprehensive framework for permissions:
Resource Management is about defining accessible resources within AWS's ecosystem. In managing thousands of workloads, IAM enables precise control over resource accessibility, ensuring only authorized access.

Key Features of IAM

IAM boasts a number of features designed for secure, granular access management:
  • Free Usage: IAM's powerful capabilities come without additional cost.
  • Shared Account Access: Facilitates controlled access sharing within an AWS account.
  • Granular Permissions: Enables detailed specification of permissions.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Enhances security by requiring multiple forms of verification.
  • Identity Federation: Allows for centralized access management using existing corporate credentials or web identity providers.

IAM Best Practices

There are several best practices for utilizing IAM effectively. While I won't get into them in detail in this post, here are a few that are essential to understand and implement:
  • Limit Root User Use: The root user possesses unrestricted access, thus its use should be minimal, secured with MFA, and reserved for essential account-level tasks. You should also use a group mailbox when you sign up so that you can control access to the account if admins leave or if the team and account responsibilities change.
  • Employ Strong Security Measures: Including strong passwords, MFA, and configuring security settings for account recovery.
  • Role-based Access: Use IAM roles for temporary, secure delegation of permissions without the need for long-term credentials.

Policy Management and Evaluation

Central to IAM's operation is its policy system, which uses JSON syntax to define permissions. These policies enforce the principle of least privilege, advocating for minimal access levels necessary for tasks. Moreover, IAM incorporates advanced mechanisms like permission boundaries, session policies, and policy evaluation logic, offering nuanced control over access permissions.

Embracing Identity Federation

Identity Federation is a cornerstone of IAM, facilitating secure and efficient management of federated access. By supporting integration with a range of identity providers, IAM enables organizations to manage access centrally, eliminating the need for multiple IAM users and simplifying access using existing credentials.


By offering detailed control over who can access what and how within your cloud environment, IAM empowers you to harness the power of the cloud securely. Through adherence to best practices and leveraging the full spectrum of IAM features, you can ensure your AWS resources remain protected while fostering an environment of innovation and growth.

Any opinions in this post are those of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of AWS.