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Establishing Identity Assurance in AWS (Web Console, EC2 and PowerShell) using Centrify

11 April,19 at 11:50 AM


Centrify recently commissioned a study with Forrester Research that yielded some important information about the state of Security.  Bottom-line, we have decided to throw money and resources to the problems around information security rather than rethinking our approach, the results are more breaches and exposures.

You can access the study results here:


A key conclusion on over 200 organizations surveyed is that those with higher Identity and Access Management (IAM) maturity were breached 50% less while maintaining operational efficiency. 


As you read the previous paragraph, you may ask yourself: what is the first step the journey to the continuous improvement required for IAM maturity?  As illustrated in the model below,

a the key component is to establish identity assurance with technologies like MFA or PKI, however this is challenging enough because many organizations have not achieved this on-premises, much less in IaaS/PaaS platforms like Amazon AWS.


This is where Centrify can help.  This article is about guiding you on how to use the Centrify platform to establish identity assurance in several use cases:  

  • Accessing the AWS Consoles with shared accounts (like Amazon root) or Federated identities
  • Accessing EC2 instances locally (Linux or Windows)
  • Accessing AWS commands via the CLI (E.g. PowerShell or Python)

Please note that identity assurance concepts apply to both users and systems (due to API access);  in this use case we'll focus on interactive (user) use cases.  For system/system or app/app, other mechanisms like PKI or Kerberos can be used and we can cover in another entry.


The Centrify Advantage

The biggest advantage for Centrify lies in it's platform and integrations, as a company that covers both Identity as a Service (IDaaS) as well as Privileged Identity Management (PIM) we understand that everything starts with Identity Consolidation.   This is not the "legacy" (metadirectory/connector-based mid-2000s) identity consolidation, this is the "straight-to-the-source" standards based approach using Federation in the IDaaS side, plus direct-integration (with Kerberos) in the case of heterogeneous OS platforms.  We add to this a series of services:

  • A policy service
  • A multi-factor authentication engine (that includes modern and legacy-based support)
  • A risk-based engine (analytics) 

Our native integrations with Active Directory make us a prime vendor to consolidate capabilities;  here's an example, if an organization wants to secure access to a web app, integrate a non-windows platform to a central directory like AD and get MFA, they may engage 3 distinct vendors, however Centrify can help with world-class solutions on the three areas.  Let's look at a the examples.


Securing Shared or Federated Access to the AWS Console

Centrify Identity Service provides several turn-key templates to help with shared or federated (via SAML or using the AWS API) SSO for Amazon Web Services.  We have covered these integrations here:


However, the powerful policy engine and the support for multiple authentication profiles makes this integration simple and flexible.  


Here's a quick demo on how this integration is enabled and the user experience:


Notice how we achieved our goals:  identity consolidation and assurance while maintaining usability.


Securing Access to Linux and Windows AWS EC2 Instances

Centrify Server Suite provides native integration with Active Directory, regardless of your deployment model. 


By leveraging AD (hosted by you or in AWS), you are eliminating the duplication of identity sources caused by SSH keys with the addition of DirectAuthorize technology that provides role-based access control and privilege elevation and is fully-integrated with the policy and authentication profiles provided by Identity Service or Privilege Service.  We have discussed these integrations here:

Provided the Identity Service/Privilege Service setup is correct and the proper PKI trust is in place, for Access and Privilege elevation, all we need to do is set up the proper checkbox at the role, UNIX command or Windows desktop or application.


Here's the user experience that meets the requirements for identity assurance via MFA for both Linux and Windows in the context of access and privilege elevation.



Notice how we achieved our goals:  identity consolidation and assurance while maintaining usability.


Securing Access to AWS CLI (e.g. PowerShell)

Administration of AWS Services is often performed via the AWS CLI (implemented via Windows PowerShell or UNIX CLI).

If you're using Centrify Identity Service with SAML federation into AWS, you can implement the SSO plugin provided with the template.



Here's the user experience in PowerShell.  Note that the experience will be based on the authentication profile that applies to the user by policy.



If you have multiple roles, you get to select them:


Finally, the authentication token is stored in the $me variable and the user can move-on to use AWS PowerShell commandlets.   See the pattern here?  Identity assurance with MFA and role-based access without compromising usability and achieving this with with a single solution set.



A cliché of business schools is the statement "you can't manage what you can't measure"; but since we're dealing with IT security, you may want to track how we are performing towards our goal of consistent identity assurance, in these AWS examples, we can use AWS CloudWatch metrics to measure the percentage of access in the proper context (e.g. Console, EC2, etc) is performed with assurance.  Therefore a good metric to track would be:



MFA events are tracked for Linux, Windows and Identity Platform, this allows you to be creative and get information from CloudWatch or from Identity Service.


Note the CloudWatch widgets above.  In my Linux space, I have a ratio of close to 60% identity assurance (4 out of 7 successful logins were with MFA), however my track record on the sample data I created on Windows is much better (100%).  You use the same approach for privilege elevation via Centrify-enhanced sudo or Centrify Agent for Windows.


In the case of Identity Service or Privilege Service, the platform provide dashboards and reports like the Security Overview - User Logins


These dashboards allow for reviewing information within 7 days or 24 hours and to look at specific date-time ranges. 



Identity assurance is closer than what you think, with the "barriers of entry" for MFA solutions going down, it's all about working with the right partner and Centrify excels at securing apps, endpoints, infrastructure and secrets; finally, the obvious challenge is organizational dynamics;   If you still have groups opposed to centralizing directories or maintaining legacy infrastructure, you can split the project in several phases and attack the platforms that are easier from a people/process standpoint.  Once you can demonstrate identity assurance within those applications or infrastructure, it's going to be hard for those "holding on to the past" to ignore that the best practices are here to stay. The model applies to all aspects of any risk-sensitive information technology area and like every other framework it's not a silver bullet; new threats, attack vectors, compliance requirements and tools are introduced, therefore this has to evolve as well.


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