What is AWS STS (Security Token Service)
Updated on 26th Nov, 22 24 Views

When creating cloud-native applications, security should come first. That is where AWS STS comes into the picture. The only difference between the temporary security credentials and the long-term security access key credentials given to IAM (Identity and Access Management) users is that the temporary security credentials have a shorter lifecycle.

Let’s have a look at what we’ll be discussing in this blog:

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Before we start learning about AWS STS, it is important to learn what AWS is…

What is AWS?

AWS or Amazon Web Services is an extensive cloud computing platform offered by Amazon. It was launched in 2006.

AWS offers a mixture of service models, namely:

  • IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service)
  • PaaS (Platform as a Service)
  • SaaS (Software as a Service)

AWS provides businesses and software developers with a wide range of tools and solutions that may be deployed in data centers in up to 190 different nations. AWS services are available to organizations of all types, including nonprofits, government entities, and educational institutions.

Okay, so now that we know what AWS is, let’s get started with AWS STS!

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What is AWS STS?

AWS STS enables users to ask for temporary security credentials for their AWS resources. AWS provides it for IAM users who have verified their identity or verified AWS users (federated users).

Trusted users can be given temporary access to make use of AWS STS with the help of the following:

  • AWS Console
  • AWS SDK
  • AWS CLI (Command Line Interface)
  • AWS API Requests
  • Other AWS Services

The temporary credentials provided by AWS STS work just like regular credentials. It’s just that the regular security access key credentials that are allocated to IAM users are long-term, while the access for the temporary credentials is shorter.

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To help you understand better, here is a brief description of how AWS STS works.

How does AWS STS work?

Applications make API requests to the AWS STS endpoint for credentials. The access keys are dynamically generated by STS when a request is made, instead of being stored with the user. These credentials expire after the stipulated time. After this, the user can request new credentials if they still have permission to do so.

The expired credentials cannot be reused. This doesn’t put your resources to risk as the access isn’t compromised. Users don’t need to embed security tokens within their code anymore. The lifecycle for the STS token can only be determined by the user. It can last anywhere between 15 minutes to 36 hours.

We have seen how AWS STS works. Let us now have a look at why users prefer using the same.

Why AWS STS?

AWS STS also makes access delegation much easier through IAM roles.

The main objective of STS is to issue temporary security credentials for AWS resources. These credentials work exactly like long-term keys but with some special characteristics:

  • These expire after a short, stipulated period of time.
  • These are dynamically issued.

This helps ensure the security of the application and smooth development. This also helps in cross-account access and delegation.

Security Token Service helps in solving two problems for AWS resource owners:

  • It helps in regularly rotating access keys which is among the best practices in IAM.
  • With STS, owners don’t have to distribute access keys to external parties or store them in their apps.

Here are some AWS STS Use Cases to help you understand the concept better.

AWS STS Use Cases

AWS STS Use Cases

AWS Security Token Service is mostly for identity federation, EC2-related instances that need access by other apps, and cross-account access.

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Let’s study these use cases one by one in detail:

Identity Federation Use Case

You can use AWS STS to grant access to AWS resources for authenticated users in the enterprise network. With enterprise identity federation, you don’t need to create new AWS identities or require any new login credentials.

Third-party online identity managers like Google, Amazon, Facebook, or other compatible services can authenticate external web identities. With the web identity federation, you don’t need to distribute security credentials for long-term access to AWS resources anymore.

EC2 Instance STS Credentials

If your apps are running on an EC2 instance and they require AWS resources access, you can give temporary access credentials with the help of AWS Security Token Service. You can do this by associating the EC2 instance with an IAM role as this will let the app request credentials. Once the credentials are granted, they will be available to all apps hosted on the EC2 instance. This means you don’t have to store any long-term security credentials in the instance anymore.

Cross-Account Access using AWS STS

Multiple AWS accounts are maintained by companies. They use cross-account roles and IAM identities to allow users using one account to access the resources from another. The permissions can easily be delegated to an IAM user who can use it to request temporary access using AWS Security Token Service’s temporary credentials.

After understanding the use cases of AWS STS, it’s time to look at its examples.

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Examples of AWS STS

Here are a few examples of AWS STS that will help you understand its importance in the real world.

  • Transfer of Power

Web applications are occasionally created by hired professionals rather than internally. Once they have taken over the application, they can no longer rely on producers due to the nature of various businesses. As a result, they demand that the final transfer of power be done so in STS form. Once the owners are in charge, they are free to modify the credentials as they see fit.

This guarantees their property’s maximum security.

  • Threats Of Corporate Espionage

Threats of espionage are another circumstance in which security tokens can be useful. You can easily lock down everything and limit access to the top brass through STS if you have any questions about whether someone inside your firm is capable of disclosing sensitive information.

By using these techniques, you may rapidly determine who has access, who logged in, and when and if a breach occurred from where it started.

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Conclusion

The main factor behind the world’s rapid advancement in the twenty-first century is generally acknowledged to be web technology.

In this blog, we have seen how AWS STS has been hugely contributing to this advancement, how it works, and why it is an important service offered by AWS.

We also discussed some AWS STS use cases and understood how it helps AWS users provide temporary credentials to external parties without compromising on security.

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