Use IAM to share your AWS resources with groups of AWS accounts in AWS Organizations
September 19, 2023: This post has been update to correct an explanation of multivalued condition keys.
You can now reference Organizational Units (OUs), which are groups of AWS accounts in AWS Organizations, in AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) policies, making it easier to define access for your IAM principals (users and roles) to the AWS resources in your organization. AWS Organizations lets you organize your accounts into OUs to align them with your business or security purposes. Now, you can use a new condition key, aws:PrincipalOrgPaths, in your policies to allow or deny access based on a principal’s membership in an OU. This makes it easier than ever to share resources between accounts you own in your AWS environments.
For example, you might have an Amazon S3 bucket you need to share with developers and applications from accounts that are members of a specific OU. To accomplish this, you can specify the aws:PrincipalOrgPaths condition and set the value to the organizational unit ID of the caller in the resource-based policy attached to the bucket. When a principal tries to access the bucket, AWS verifies that their account’s OU matches the one specified in the policy. With this condition, permissions automatically apply when you add accounts to the OU without any additional updates to the policy.
In this post, I introduce the new condition key, and show you how to use it in two examples. In the first example you will see how to use the aws:PrincipalOrgPaths condition key to grant multiple AWS accounts access to a resource, without needing to maintain a list of account IDs in your policy. In the second example, you will see how to add a guardrail to your administrative roles that prevents access to powerful actions unless coming from a protected OU in your organization.
AWS Organizations Concepts
Before I walk through the condition, let’s review some important concepts from AWS Organizations.
AWS Organizations allows you to group a set of AWS accounts into an organization that you can manage centrally. Once the accounts have joined the organization, you can group them into organizational units (OUs), allowing you to set policies that help you meet your security and compliance requirements. You can create multiple OUs within a single organization, and you can create OUs within other OUs to form hierarchical relationships between your accounts. When you create an organization, AWS Organizations creates your first account container automatically. It has a special name, called a root. All OUs you create exist inside the root.
Organizations, roots, and OUs use a different format for their identifiers. You can see the differences in the table below:
|Resource||ID Format||Example Value||Globally Unique|
Organization IDs are globally unique, meaning no organizations share Organization IDs. OU and Root IDs are not globally unique. This means another customer’s organization OU may have the same ID as those from your organization. OU and Root IDs are unique within an organization. Therefore, you should always include the organization identifier when specifying an OU to make sure it is unique to your organization.
Control access to resources based on OU
You use condition keys in the condition element of an IAM policy. A condition is an optional IAM policy element you can use to specify circumstances under which the policy grants or denies permission. A condition includes a condition key, operator, and value for the condition.
|aws:PrincipalOrgPaths||The paths of the principals’ OU from AWS Organizations||All string operators||Paths of AWS Organization IDs and organizational unit IDs|
The aws:PrincipalOrgPaths condition key is a global condition, meaning you can use it in conjunction with any AWS action. When you use it in the condition element of your IAM policy, it validates the organization, root, and OUs of the principal performing the action on the resource. For example, let’s say a principal was a member of an OU with the id ou-abcd-zzyyxxww inside a root r-abcd in the organization o-1122334455. When the principal makes a request on the resource, its aws:PrincipalOrgPaths value is:
The path includes the organization ID to ensure global uniqueness. This ensures only principals from your organization can access your AWS resources. You can use any string operator, such as StringEquals, with the condition. You can also use the wildcard characters (* and ?) when providing a path.
Here’s a sample condition statement from a policy that uses the key to validate that a principal is from either ou-1 or ou-2:
As shown in the example above, you can use the ForAnyValue qualifier in your conditions to specify you’re checking membership of one OU path. For more information, see Single-valued vs. multivalued condition keys in the IAM documentation.
In the next section, I’ll go over an example of how to use the new condition key to protect resources in your account from access outside of a given OU.
Example: Grant S3 bucket access to all principals in an OU in your organization
This example demonstrates how you can use the new condition key to share resources with groups of accounts. By placing the accounts into an OU and granting access based on membership, you can grant targeted access without having to list and maintain all the AWS account IDs in your permission policies.
Consider an example where I want to grant my Machine Learning team permissions to access an S3 bucket training-data that contains images that the team will use to train their machine learning models. I’ve set up my organization such that all AWS accounts owned by my Machine Learning team are part of a specific OU with the ID ou-machinelearn. For the purpose of this example, my organization ID is o-myorganization.
For this example, I want to allow users and applications from the Machine Learning OU or any OU beneath it to have permissions to read the training-data S3 bucket. Any other AWS accounts should not have the ability to view the resource.
To grant these permissions, I author an S3 bucket policy for my training-data resource as shown below.
In the policy above, I assert that principals trying to read the contents of the training-data bucket must be either a member of the OU that corresponds to the ou-machinelearn ID I provided (my Machine Learning OU Identifier), or a member of any OUs that are children of it. For the aws:PrincipalOrgPaths value, I used two asterisk (*) wildcards. I used the first asterisk (*) between my organization ID and my OU ID because OU IDs are unique within my organization. This means specifying the full path is not necessary to select the OU I need. The second asterisk (*), at the end of the path, is used to specify that I want to allow all child OUs to be included in my string comparison. If I didn’t want to include the child OUs, I could remove the wildcard character.
With this policy on the bucket, any principals in the Machine Learning OU may read objects inside the bucket if the user or role has the appropriate S3 permissions. Note that if this policy did not have the condition statement, it would be accessible by any AWS account. As a best practice, AWS recommends only granting access to the principals that need it. As for next steps, I could edit the Principal section of the policy to restrict access to specific principals in my Machine Learning accounts. For more information, see Specifying a Principal in a Policy in the S3 documentation.
Example: Restrict access to an IAM role to only accounts in an OU in my organization
The next example will show how to use aws:PrincipalOrgPaths to add another layer of security to your existing IAM role trust policies, ensuring only members of specific OUs may assume your roles.
For this example, say my company requires that only network security engineers can create or manage AWS Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) resources in my accounts. The network security team has a dedicated OU, ou-netsec, for their workloads. I have the same organization ID as the previous example, o-myorganization.
Each account in my organization has a dedicated IAM role, VPCManager, with the permissions needed to manage VPCs. I want to ensure that only my network security team, who use principals that are tagged as such, has access to the role. To do this, I edited the role trust policy for VPCManager, which defines who can access an IAM role. In this case, I added a condition to the policy to require that anyone assuming the role must come from an account in ou-netsec.
This is the trust policy I created for VPCManager:
I started by adding the Effect, Principal, and Action to allow principals from three network security accounts to assume the role. To ensure they have the right job role, I added a condition to require the JobRole=NetworkAdmin tag must be applied to principals before they can assume the role. Finally, as an added layer of security, I added the second condition that requires anyone assuming the role must come from an account in the network security OU. This final step ensures that I specified the correct account IDs for my network security accounts—even if I accidentally provided an account that is not part of my organization, members of that account won’t be able to assume the role because they aren’t part of ou-netsec.
Though only members of the network security team may assume the role, it’s still possible for any principals with IAM permissions to modify it. As next steps, I could apply a Service Control Policy (SCP) that protects the role from modification and prevents other roles in the account from modifying VPCs. For more information, see How to use service control policies to set permission guardrails in the AWS Security Blog.
AWS offers tools to control access for individual principals, accounts, OUs, or entire organizations—this helps you manage permissions at the appropriate scale for your business. You can now use the aws:PrincipalOrgPaths condition key to control access to your resources based on OUs configured in AWS Organizations. For more information about these global condition keys and policy examples, read the IAM documentation.
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