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How to Secure Amazon RDS

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Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) is one of the most popular Database-as-a-Service products offered by AWS, a fully managed database management service that includes data migration, patching, backup, and recovery.

Amazon RDS empowers organizations to handle the complexity of managing large relational databases by providing an industry-standard relational database with affordable, ultra-reliable, and scalable capacity as well as simplified management of typical database administration tasks. The big challenge, however, is that Amazon RDS does not guarantee security “in” the cloud. Rather, according to the AWS shared responsibility model, AWS is responsible for the security “of” the cloud, while you, the customer, are responsible for security “in” the cloud. So what does this mean for Amazon RDS?

  • Security “of” the cloud – AWS is responsible for protecting the infrastructure that runs AWS services in the AWS cloud (in this case, Amazon RDS).
  • Security “in” the cloud – You are responsible for the sensitivity of your data, the requirements of your organization, and all applicable laws and regulations, as determined by the AWS RDS service you use.

This article discusses Amazon RDS security, including security risks that customers face when using Amazon RDS. It also introduces several best practices that customers can implement to ensure security “in” the Amazon RDS cloud service.

What Is Amazon Relational Database Service?

Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) is a set of managed cloud database services offered by Amazon Web Services. It is a web service that was created to simplify the process of setting up, maintaining, and scaling relational databases in the cloud. Amazon RDS is a fully managed relational database service that was initially launched in 2009 to support MySQL. It now offers six database engine options, including MySQL, MariaDB, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and the AWS-exclusive Aurora database. Each of these database engines has a unique set of supported features, and each version of a DB engine can include new custom features.

Amazon RDS uses automation to simplify the management of various relational databases, and it enables high database availability through the creation of multiple instances. Like most AWS services, Amazon RDS uses a pay-as-you-go pricing model that includes hosting and operations options, billable storage, and data transfer operations. By offering various pricing options, Amazon RDS makes sure that customers only pay for active instances and the amount of storage they use. Amazon RDS also offers other salient features, including automated scalability, backup, recovery, patching, updates, monitoring, performance, and security.

Is Amazon RDS Secure?

Although Amazon RDS has no inherent security flaws, the answer to whether it is secure or not is both “yes” and “no.” AWS is well known for providing robust security features in its services and infrastructure. However, as previously stated, the AWS shared responsibility model clearly states that you, the customer, are responsible for any data you upload to Amazon RDS. AWS, on the other hand, prioritizes the security configurations of managed services as well as the physical infrastructure, software, and hardware that host AWS RDS.

The good news is that AWS RDS offers several security features to help customers secure their data and meet compliance requirements. Furthermore, the database engines that AWS RDS supports include built-in security features that can be configured to secure the stored data resources.

Security Risks and Concerns in Amazon RDS

When working with Amazon RDS, users can make a variety of mistakes that jeopardize the security of their stored data. Some of the security concerns and risks that Amazon RDS users face include:

  • Lack of visibility: Security and compliance teams may occasionally lose track of the databases in their organization’s AWS accounts, especially given how inexpensive it is to spin up new databases in AWS RDS. As organizational use cases expand, users may struggle to maintain awareness of database instances, including the sensitivity level of the data and the applicable compliance requirements. It is impossible for teams to secure data if they are not aware of it.
  • Suboptimal monitoring: Even if users have visibility into all of their databases, they will still need to keep an eye on their entire data estate to ensure that no data transactions or activities compromise data security or compliance. Given the sheer volume of data events involved in a cloud service, simply reviewing the audit logs may not be sufficient.
  • Misconfigurations in Identity and Access Management: One of the biggest security risks in Amazon RDS is misconfigured access controls that allow unauthorized access to sensitive data.
  • Lack of accountability: In the age of data governance and privacy compliance requirements, Amazon RDS users must still track and report on their public cloud resources. Users can struggle with data accountability concerns, particularly when it comes to user- and application-level database events. For example, they might not know what data they have, where it is, who has accessed it, when an event occurred, or why an event occurred.
  • Lack of data encryption: If data within Amazon RDS is not encrypted both at rest and in transit, sensitive data may be exposed to unauthorized parties.

How to Secure Amazon RDS: Best Practices

There are two approaches to Amazon RDS security. You can use Amazon RDS features or integrate third-party mechanisms to secure RDS.

Amazon RDS Security Features

  • Identity and Access Management: Amazon RDS provides customers with granular control over who has access to their data, along with the ability to delegate access to RDS resources based on IAM roles. Users can also integrate a variety of authentication mechanisms into their databases.
  • Amazon RDS Encryption: AWS RDS encrypts customer data both at rest and in transit using industry-standard encryption algorithms. Depending on their database engines, customers can choose data encryption options that help them achieve security while maintaining product performance and iteration speed.
  • Auditing: Amazon RDS allows customers to configure an audit log to capture all database activities, including user- and application-level activity. This allows users to quickly look up any security concerns.

Third-Party Mechanisms to Secure Amazon RDS

Customers can also secure their AWS RDS services by integrating them with third-party solutions that provide additional security capabilities. Here are some examples:

  • Integrating with CloudWatch for monitoring: CloudWatch gives customers visibility into their Amazon RDS environment and allows them to monitor various metrics within their databases (such as disk space consumption, network traffic, database connections, queue depths, and so on). Constant monitoring allows them to detect any anomalous events within their RDS environment.
  • Using CloudTrail for audit logging: Customers can configure CloudTrail to log all activities performed by a user, role, or AWS service.

And which solution could be better for you? That will always depend on your situation and your environment, but if you want to know more about these two examples, you can dig more in CloudWatch vs. CloudTrail comparison and judge by yourself.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, managing relational database systems in the cloud has become much simpler thanks to Amazon RDS. Due to its extensive feature set and long-term advantages, Amazon RDS has ushered in a new era of cloud Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) to assist organizations in gaining operational efficiency, improving data workloads as well as data reliability and integrity, and ultimately decreasing time-to-insight. According to the AWS shared security responsibility model, Amazon RDS is not inherently insecure, but to secure it fully, customers must uphold their end of the bargain by protecting the data they upload.