Hey I'm Jon, CTO at Sym, and I've been building support for AWS Session Manager into our access management products. We're finding that many people still don't know about the features of Session Manager and how it can help them simplify their infrastructure, so I thought I'd share a bit of what we've learned.
AWS Systems Manager Session Manager enables SSH access that is managed solely with IAM permissions. This approach has major benefits for infrastructure owners:
You can use Session Manager to access instances via the AWS Console, or if you install the AWS CLI Plugin, then you can also start sessions from your local workstation.
Beyond simplifying your infrastructure, Session Manager comes with a bunch of additional helpful features. I'll highlight two of those here.
You can take advantage of conditional IAM policies to partition access to your instances in interesting ways. This statement, for example, only grants session access to instances that are tagged as part of the Analytics department:
You can enable logging of what people are actually doing on instances when they SSH in. Logs can got to S3 or, if you've got CloudWatch logs set up on your instances, to CloudWatch logs.
In either case, each user's session gets logged with a Session ID that includes the user's name, such as firstname.lastname@example.org. From the Session ID you can get other metadata about the session, such as the EC2 instance, Start Time, and End Time:
You can dig in to the details of a session and see what commands someone ran like so:
The AWS Systems Manager Agent needs to be installed on your instances. The agent comes by default on Amazon Linux or can be installed on most other OSes.
You also need to ensure your instances have permission to talk to Session Manager. You can use the AWS-provided AmazonSSMManagedInstanceCore Managed Policy for this, or craft your own policy.
If you want a quick way to try Session Manager out, the terraform-okta-ssm-modules repo has examples to get you started.
Disney Streaming released SSM Helpers, which includes a command-line wrapper for SSH access with lots of extra features.
Hope you learned something! I'd love to learn how you're using Session Manager or what other features/integrations you'd like to see us explore. There are additional Session Manager features like port forwarding that I plan to write about soon. Please send me a Twitter DM (@firstmorecoffee) or email (email@example.com) with your feedback.
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