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Encrypting messages published to Amazon SNS with AWS KMS

Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS) is a fully managed pub/sub messaging service for decoupling event-driven microservices, distributed systems, and serverless applications. Enterprises around the world use Amazon SNS to support applications that handle private and sensitive data. Many of these enterprises operate in regulated markets, and their systems are subject to stringent security and compliance standards, such as HIPAA for healthcare, PCI DSS for finance, and FedRAMP for government. To address the requirements of highly critical workloads, Amazon SNS provides message encryption in transit, based on Amazon Trust Services (ATS) certificates, as well as message encryption at rest, using AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS) keys. 

Message encryption in transit

The Amazon SNS API is served through Secure HTTP (HTTPS) and encrypts all messages in transit with Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificates issued by ATS. These certificates verify the identity of the Amazon SNS API server whenever an encrypted connection is established. A certificate authority (CA) issues the certificate to a specific domain. Thus, when a domain presents a certificate issued by a trusted CA, the API client can determine that it’s safe to establish a connection.

Message encryption at rest

Amazon SNS supports encrypted topics. When you publish messages to encrypted topics, Amazon SNS uses customer managed KMS keys (CMK), powered by AWS KMS, to encrypt your messages. Amazon SNS supports customer-managed as well as AWS-managed CMKs. As soon as Amazon SNS receives your messages, the encryption takes place on the server, using a 256-bit AES-GCM algorithm. The messages are stored in encrypted form across multiple Availability Zones (AZs) for durability and are decrypted just before being delivered to subscribed endpoints, such as Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) queues, AWS Lambda functions, and HTTP and HTTPS webhooks.


  • Amazon SNS encrypts only the body of the messages that you publish. It doesn’t encrypt message metadata (identifier, subject, timestamp, and attributes), topic metadata (name and attributes), or topic metrics. Thus, encryption doesn’t affect the operations of Amazon SNS, such as message fanout and message filtering.
  • Amazon SNS doesn’t retroactively encrypt messages that were published before server-side encryption (SSE) was enabled for the topic. In addition, any encrypted message retains its encryption even if you disable the encryption of its topic. It can take up to a minute for encryption to be effective after enabled.
  • Amazon SNS uses envelope encryption internally. It uses your configured CMK to generate a short-lived data encryption key (DEK) and then reuses this DEK to encrypt your published messages for 5 minutes. When the DEK expires, Amazon SNS automatically rotates to generate a new DEK from AWS KMS.

Applying encrypted topics in a use case

You can use encrypted topics for a variety of scenarios, especially for processing sensitive data, such as personally identifiable information (PII) and protected health information (PHI).

The following example illustrates an electronic medical record (EMR) system deployed in several clinics and hospitals. The system manages patients’ medical histories, diagnoses, medications, immunizations, visits, lab results, and doctors’ notes.

The clinic’s EMR system is integrated with three auxiliary systems. Each system, hosted on an Amazon EC2 instance, polls incoming patient records from an Amazon SQS queue and takes action:

  • The Billing system manages the clinic’s revenue cycles and processes accounts receivable and reimbursements.
  • The Scheduling system keeps patients informed of their upcoming clinic and lab appointments and reminds them to take their medications.
  • The Prescription system transmits electronic prescriptions to authorized pharmacies and tracks medication-filling history.

When a physician inputs a new record into a patient’s file, the EMR system publishes a message to an Amazon SNS topic. The topic in turn fans out a copy of the message to each one of the three subscribing Amazon SQS queues for parallel processing. When the message is retrieved from the queue, the Billing system invoices the patient, the Scheduling system books the patient’s next clinic or lab appointment, and the Prescription system orders the required medication from an authorized pharmacy.

The Amazon SNS topic and all Amazon SQS queues described in this use case are encrypted using AWS KMS keys that the clinic creates. The communication among services is based on HTTPS API calls. This end-to-end encryption protects patients’ medical records by making their content unavailable to unauthorized or anonymous users while messages are either in transit or at rest.

Creating, subscribing, and publishing to encrypted topics

You can create an Amazon SNS encrypted topic or an Amazon SQS encrypted queue by setting its attribute KmsMasterKeyId, which expects an AWS KMS key identifier. The key identifier can be a key ID, key ARN, or key alias. You can use the identifier of either a customer-managed CMK, such as alias/MyKey, or the AWS-managed CMK in your account, whose alias is alias/aws/sns.

The following code snippets work with the AWS SDK for Java. You can use these code samples for the healthcare system scenario in the previous section.

First, the principal publishing messages to the Amazon SNS encrypted topic must have access permission to execute the the Amazon SNS operation Publish. The principal can be either an IAM user or an IAM role. The following IAM policy grants the required access permission to the principal. Replace the account ID in the Resource with your own.

  "Version": "2012-10-17",
  "Statement": {
    "Effect": "Allow",
    "Action": [
    "Resource": " arn:aws:sns:us-east-1:123456789012:Patient-Records"

If you want to use a customer-managed CMK, a CMK needs to be created and secured by granting the publisher access to the same AWS KMS operations GenerateDataKey and Decrypt. The access permission is granted using KMS key policies. The following JSON document shows an example policy statement for the customer-managed CMK used by the healthcare system. For more information on creating and securing keys, see Creating Keys and Using Key Policies in the AWS Key Management Service Developer Guide.

  "Version": "2012-10-17",
  "Id": "EMR-System-KeyPolicy",
  "Statement": [
      "Sid": "Allow access for Root User",
      "Effect": "Allow",
      "Principal": {"AWS": "arn:aws:iam::123456789012:root"},
      "Action": "kms:*",
      "Resource": "*"
      "Sid": "Allow access for Key Administrator",
      "Effect": "Allow",
      "Principal": {"AWS": "arn:aws:iam::123456789012:user/EMRAdmin"},
      "Action": [
      "Resource": "*"
      "Sid": "Allow access for Key User (SNS IAM User)",
      "Effect": "Allow",
      "Principal": {"AWS": "arn:aws:iam::123456789012:user/EMRUser"},
      "Action": [
      "Resource": "*"
      "Sid": "Allow access for Key User (SNS Service Principal)",
      "Effect": "Allow",
      "Principal": {"Service": ""},
      "Action": [
      "Resource": "*"

The following snippet uses the CMK to create an encrypted topic, three encrypted queues, and their corresponding subscriptions.

// Create API clients

String userArn = "arn:aws:iam::123456789012:user/EMRUser";

AWSCredentialsProvider credentials = getCredentials(userArn);

AmazonSNS sns = new AmazonSNSClient(credentials);
AmazonSQS sqs = new AmazonSQSClient(credentials);

// Create an attributes collection for the topic and queues

String keyId = "arn:aws:kms:us-east-1:123456789012:alias/EMRKey"; 

Map<String, String> attributes = new HashMap<>();
attributes.put("KmsMasterKeyId", keyId);

// Create an encrypted topic

String topicArn = sns.createTopic(
    new CreateTopicRequest("Patient-Records")

// Create encrypted queues

String billingQueueUrl = sqs.createQueue(
    new CreateQueueRequest("Billing-Integration")

String schedulingQueueUrl = sqs.createQueue(
    new CreateQueueRequest("Scheduling-Integration")

String prescriptionQueueUrl = sqs.createQueue(
    new CreateQueueRequest("Prescription-Integration")

// Create subscriptions

Topics.subscribeQueue(sns, sqs, topicArn, billingQueueUrl);
Topics.subscribeQueue(sns, sqs, topicArn, schedulingQueueUrl);
Topics.subscribeQueue(sns, sqs, topicArn, prescriptionQueueUrl);

Next, the following code composes a JSON message and publishes it to the encrypted topic.

// Publish message to encrypted topic

String messageBody = "{\"patient\": 2911, \"medication\": 151}";
String messageSubject = "Electronic Medical Record - 3472";

    new PublishRequest()


Publishing messages to encrypted topics isn’t different from publishing messages to standard, unencrypted topics. Your publisher needs access to perform AWS KMS operations GenerateDataKey and Decrypt on the configured CMK. All of the encryption logic is offloaded to Amazon SNS, and the message is delivered to all subscribed endpoints.

A copy of the message is now available in each subscribing queue. The final code snippet retrieves the messages from the encrypted queues.

// Retrieve messages from encrypted queues

List<Message> messagesForBilling = sqs.receiveMessage(
    new ReceiveMessageRequest(billingQueueUrl)).getMessages();

List<Message> messagesForScheduling = sqs.receiveMessage(
    new ReceiveMessageRequest(schedulingQueueUrl)).getMessages();

List<Message> messagesForPrescription = sqs.receiveMessage(
    new ReceiveMessageRequest(prescriptionQueueUrl)).getMessages();


Retrieving messages from encrypted queues isn’t different from retrieving messages from standard, unencrypted queues. All of the decryption logic is offloaded to Amazon SQS.

Enabling compatibility between encrypted topics and event sources

Several AWS services publish events to Amazon SNS topics. To allow these event sources to work with encrypted topics, you must first create a customer-managed CMK and then add the following statement to the policy of the CMK.

    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [{
        "Effect": "Allow",
        "Principal": {"Service": ""},
        "Action": ["kms:GenerateDataKey*", "kms:Decrypt"],
        "Resource": "*"

You can use the following example service principals in the statement. (Updated November 2019: CloudWatch Alarms are now supported.)

Other Amazon SNS event sources require you to provide an IAM role, as opposed to their service principal, in the KMS key policy. This set of event sources includes the following:

Once the CMK key policy has been configured, you can enable encryption on the topic using the CMK, and then provide the encrypted topic’s ARN to the event source.

Publishing messages privately to encrypted topics through VPC endpoints

In addition to encrypting messages in transit and at rest, you can further harden the security and privacy of your applications by publishing messages to encrypted topics privately, without traversing the public Internet. Amazon SNS supports VPC endpoints via AWS PrivateLink. You can use VPC endpoints to privately publish messages to both standard and encrypted topics from a virtual private cloud (VPC) subnet. When you use AWS PrivateLink, you don’t have to set up an internet gateway, network address translation (NAT) device, or virtual private network (VPN) connection. For more information, see Publishing to Amazon SNS topics from Amazon Virtual Private Cloud in the Amazon Simple Notification Service Developer Guide.

Auditing the usage of encrypted topics

You can use AWS CloudTrail to audit the usage of the AWS KMS keys applied to your Amazon SNS topics. AWS CloudTrail creates log files that contain a history of AWS API calls and related events for your account. These log files include all AWS KMS API requests made with the AWS Management Console , SDKs, and Command Line Tools, as well as those made through integrated AWS services. You can use these log files to get information about when your CMK was used, the operation that was requested, the identity of the requester, and the IP address that the request came from. For more information, see Logging AWS KMS API calls with AWS CloudTrail in the AWS Key Management Service Developer Guide.


Amazon SNS provides a full set of security features to protect your data from unauthorized and anonymous access, including message encryption in transit with Amazon ATS certificates, message encryption at rest with AWS KMS keys, message privacy with AWS PrivateLink, and auditing with AWS CloudTrail. Moreover, you can subscribe Amazon SQS encrypted queues to Amazon SNS encrypted topics to establish end-to-end encryption in your messaging use cases.

Amazon SNS encrypted topics are available in all AWS Regions where AWS KMS is available. For pricing details, see AWS KMS pricing and Amazon SNS pricing. There is no increase in Amazon SNS charges for using encrypted topics, beyond the AWS KMS request charges incurred. For more information, see Protecting Amazon SNS Data Using Server-Side Encryption (SSE) in the Amazon Simple Notification Service Developer Guide.

Get started today by creating your Amazon SNS encrypted topics via the AWS Management Console and AWS SDKs.