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How to shift AWS security left: 10 ways to empower your developers

How do you empower developers and make the easy choices the right choices? Here are 10 strategies for shifting security left in your AWS environment.

Jun 08, 2023 • 5 Minute Read

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  • Software Development
  • AWS
  • Business
  • Security

In this post, Don Magee — veteran cloud architect, security engineer extraordinaire, and Cloud Security Lead at Stedi — shares some essential shift-left security strategies and lessons learned around building a better security posture. This content is based on Don's Securing Your AWS Environment ACG webinar. Any mistakes are on the part of the editor.

You can do everything in your power to reduce your blast radius, ensure compliance, and secure your environment. But one of the best moves for improving security is to help developers make the right choices and solid IT training programs

And the best way to get a developer to make the right choice is to make the right choice the easy choice — make it easier to do things the right way than the wrong way. In this way, you can empower your developers and shift AWS security to the left in your AWS environment.

WFH Security

Securing Your AWS Environment

In this free, on-demand webinar, Don Magee gives a detailed breakdown of taking complex AWS environments from zero to secure.

Shift-left strategies to improve DevOps security

Why empower your developers? Because centralized management leads to less developer engagement and fewer deploys.

We don’t want the security team to take over parts of developers’ jobs or building IAM rules for them. That slows developers down and makes their jobs harder.

Instead, find tools that make developers' lives easier. The goal is to stop centralization and ensure developers are part of the process. You can accomplish this by giving teams direct feedback.

Developers are best when they can make their own decisions. Don’t just say "no." Be transparent about what is being done and why. Then, audit the results and redirect as required.

Is cloud security a concern of yours? With the AWS Security Certification your team will be equipped with ninga-level security skills and ready for any complex AWS project.

1. Use CloudFormation Guard

CloudFormation Guard is easy to use and allows you to write rules (that are somewhat similar to AWS Config). Engineers can run CloudFormation Guard on CloudFormation locally or in the CI/CD process.

  • Allows engineers to check compliance locally or in the pipelines
  • Parity to AWS Config rules
  • Can auto-generate some types of rules

2. Provide reference examples

  • IaC templates for building common resources with secure-by-default configurations
  • Use modules for more complex items such as VPCs

At Stedi, they build a lot of reference examples that engineers can look at. This includes a top 10 list of the most common misconfigurations and how to fix them.

3. Investigate boundary permissions

Boundary permissions create limits on IAM roles that can be created by engineers.

These boundary permissions are essentially a "cannot do " policy that has to be attached to any role you make on your team. So you can say, "You're allowed to make all the roles you want . . . as long as this boundary permission is attached."

These permissions can be all the things you know you don't want your engineers to get into — like making roles that can have administrator access. You trust your people to do the right thing, but you can help ensure they don't accidentally do the wrong thing.

4. Use SCPs to prevent mistakes by limited EC2 instance sizes or banning regions

Building on that last point, you can use SCPs to take things a step further.

At Stedi, all denies are piped into Slack, so engineers can see when something is going wrong. This way, they don't have to say, "I can't deploy. What's going on?" They can look in the channel and see, "Oh, I just tried to deploy in EU-West 2, which is a banned region." They can see they were in the wrong region and then change it.

5. Ensure developers are building alarms into their deployments

We want to make sure developers are building alarms for their systems and their health. They're responsible for them. That's why it's DevOps. But any system that goes to production needs to be observable.

6. Look at security outside of AWS

There's a lot to cover here, but here's a quick list of things to consider.

  • Use secret detection tools
  • Provide common paths for sensitive things like secrets management, encryption, and deployment tools
  • Managed everything as code, even if it means building your own resource providers
  • Review the OWASP Top 10 at
  • Perform security awareness training for all staff
  • Use AWS Organizations to segment sensitive systems
  • Leverage third-party cloud security tools
  • Leverage third-party assessments
  • Build a vulnerability management program

7. Start by writing a document

So where do you start in all of this? You begin with writing. If you can’t explain it and get buy-in on it, you probably can’t build it. Write up how you’re going to approach security and build it — the controls, everything.

Amazon has some great examples around that with their PR/FAQ process and their one-pagers and six-pagers. You can also find videos on that. Try it — it works!

8. Keep all infrastructure out of the management account

No infrastructure in the management account. None!

9. Use org-formation

org-formation is probably the single greatest open-source for managing AWS account out there. Check it out!

  • Standardized critical infrastructure and account creation
  • Enforces minimum security policies
  • Allows Stedi to provision new fully compliant accounts in under 10 minutes

10. Use Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)

Use a CSPM. Config is similar to that. But there are a lot of third-party, open-source, and paid options. That will give you an audit log and full visibility into all resources, compliance rules, and auto-remediation of critical concerns.

Rules to remember for securing your AWS environment

  • Remember: you can’t secure what you can’t see.
  • Reduce public access by default.
  • Build rules in Config or your favorite CSPM.
  • Get feedback directly to your engineers.
  • Trust, but verify.
  • Design for operational efficiency at any scale.
  • Build systems with components that self-improve over time.
  • Take no extraordinary measures.
  • Build only for current requirements.
  • Build extraordinary things.

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