AWS CLI – MFA with aws-vault

Previously I’ve covered why it’s important to protect AWS Key Pairs, how to enforce MFA to aid that protection, and how to continue working with the key pairs once MFA is required. If you missed the initial article post, all is available here.

Everything in that article works, but as with a lot of security it’s a bit of a trade-off between working securely, and working efficiently. It’s certainly more secure than cleartext keys being the only defense between you and an adversary raiding your cloud environment, but from a dev/ops’ perspective? It’s additional steps before anyone can do anything productive. Who wants a workflow that requires a couple of minutes unproductive work before we can do actual work? How can we improve?

Automate all the things

Once understood; the workflow for generating temporary keys is relatively simple. It just requires a fair amount of copy/pasting, which is tedious for anyone. Surely it can be automated, jumping into my favoured Python, with Boto imported, it can be.

The guts of the requirement is a single get_session_token call to AWS’ Security Token Service (STS), in this case using AWS’ Boto3 library for Python to handle the creation of an API client.

    temp_session = client.get_session_token(
        SerialNumber = conf["tokenSerial"],
        TokenCode = token

Once we have our temporary credentials, a handful of quick print statements will re-purpose received credentials ready for inclusion into ~/.aws/credentials file:

    print("aws_secret_access_key = %s" %(temp_session["Credentials"]["SecretAccessKey"]))
    print("aws_access_key_id = %s" %(temp_session["Credentials"]["AccessKeyId"]))
    print("aws_session_token = %s" %(temp_session["Credentials"]["SessionToken"]))

A fullly working CLI script is available in Gist form here

Enter AWS-Vault

The quick script above serves our needs, and is an improvement over manually setting serial-token ARNs etc. manually everytime we want to do some work. But now we know how to leverage the available SDKs and understand how the underlying process works, lets stop naively assuming we’re inventing the wheel for the first time and review some existing utilities.

AWS-Vault as a project has been around for roughly 5 years, and is still evolving and improving today. Among many other capabilities, it handles the usecase outlined above (without relying on a script, written in an evening), and is cross platform covering Windows, OSX and Linux (although there’s no prepackaged bundle for dpkg based platforms, my ‘nix of choice).

Once installed, aws-vault is aware of your existing .aws/config file, limiting the configuration steps required to get up and running (no need to duplicate serial-token ARNs to conf[] as with my quick scripts). Just be aware, that as aws-vault is .aws/config aware, it will also modify the same config file as needed whilst you interact with the vault; just in case, backups are (as always) recommended.

The first thing you need to do is add base credentials for your source user, in my case:

>aws-vault add infosanity-demo
Enter Access Key ID: AKIAsomekeyhere
Enter Secret Access Key: 
Added credentials to profile "infosanity-demo" in vault

Once securely (aws-vault integrates with OS’ native secure key store, such as KeyChain or Windows Credential Manager. No more keys in plaintext files littering your HDD) stored within the utility, you can see the credentials you have available:

>aws-vault list
Profile                  Credentials              Sessions
=======                  ===========              ========
infosanity-demo          infosanity-demo          -

And start working with AWS, letting aws-vault handle management of temporary access keys in the background. For example using aws-vault’ exec to wrap your usual command, in this case aws cli client itself to verify our identity, and then confirming aws-vault’s session state.

>aws-vault exec infosanity-demo aws sts get-caller-identity
Enter token for arn:aws:iam::<redacted>:mfa/infosanity_demo: 858178
    "UserId": "AIDA<redacted>",
    "Account": "<redacted>",
    "Arn": "arn:aws:iam::<redacted>:user/infosanity_demo"

>aws-vault list   
Profile                  Credentials              Sessions
=======                  ===========              ========
infosanity-demo          infosanity-demo          sts.GetSessionToken:59m53s

With aws-vault up and running, you’re ready to leverage all the power of aws’ APIs and associated IaC frameworks (such as my favoured CDK). Safe in the knowledge that your access credentials are securely managed in the background, and (hopefully) reducing both the likelihood and impact of access keys accidentally sneaking into a source code commit, or accidental(?) tweet….).


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