Scale your workforce access management with AWS IAM Identity Center (previously known as AWS SSO)
AWS Single Sign-On (AWS SSO) is now AWS IAM Identity Center. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is changing the name to highlight the service’s foundation in AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), to better reflect its full set of capabilities, and to reinforce its recommended role as the central place to manage access across AWS accounts and applications. Although the technical capabilities of the service haven’t changed with this announcement, we want to take the opportunity to walk through some of the important features that drive our recommendation to consider IAM Identity Center your front door into AWS.
If you’ve worked with AWS accounts, chances are that you’ve worked with IAM. This is the service that handles authentication and authorization requests for anyone who wants to do anything in AWS. It’s a powerful engine, processing half a billion API calls per second globally, and it has underpinned and secured the growth of AWS customers since 2011. IAM provides authentication on a granular basis—by resource, within each AWS account. Although this gives you unsurpassed ability to tailor permissions, it also requires that you establish permissions on an account-by-account basis for credentials (IAM users) that are also defined on an account-by-account basis.
As AWS customers increasingly adopted a multi-account strategy for their environments, in December 2017 we launched AWS Single Sign-On (AWS SSO)—a service built on top of IAM to simplify access management across AWS accounts. In the years since, customer adoption of multi-account AWS environments continued to increase the need for centralized access control and distributed access management. AWS SSO evolved accordingly, adding integrations with new identity providers, AWS services, and applications; features for the consistent management of permissions at scale; multiple compliance certifications; and availability in most AWS Regions. The variety of use cases supported by AWS SSO, now known as AWS IAM Identity Center, makes it our recommended way to manage AWS access for workforce users.
IAM Identity Center, just like AWS SSO before it, is offered at no extra charge. You can follow along with our walkthrough in your own console by choosing Getting started on the console main page. If you don’t have the service enabled, you will be prompted to choose Enable IAM Identity Center, as shown in Figure 1.
Freedom to choose your identity source
Once you’re in the IAM Identity Center console, you can choose your preferred identity source for use across AWS, as shown in Figure 2. If you already have a workforce directory, you can continue to use it by connecting, or federating, it. You can connect to the major cloud identity providers, including Okta, Ping Identity, Azure AD, JumpCloud, CyberArk, and OneLogin, as well as Microsoft Active Directory Domain Services. If you don’t have or don’t want to use a workforce directory, you have the option to create users in Identity Center. Whichever source you decide to use, you connect or create it in one place for use in multiple accounts and AWS or SAML 2.0 applications.
Management of fine-grained permissions at scale
As noted before, IAM Identity Center builds on the per-account capabilities of IAM. The difference is that in IAM Identity Center, you can define and assign access across multiple AWS accounts. For example, permission sets create IAM roles and apply IAM policies in multiple AWS accounts, helping to scale the access of your users securely and consistently.
You can use predefined permission sets based on AWS managed policies, or custom permission sets, where you can still start with AWS managed policies but then tailor them to your needs.
Recently, we added the ability to use IAM customer managed policies (CMPs) and permissions boundary policies as part of Identity Center permission sets, as shown in Figure 3. This helps you improve your security posture by creating larger and finer-grained policies for least privilege access and by tailoring them to reference the resources of the account to which they are applied. By using CMPs, you can maintain the consistency of your policies, because CMP changes apply automatically to the permission sets and roles that use the CMP. You can govern your CMPs and permissions boundaries centrally, and auditors can find, monitor, and review them in one place. If you already have existing CMPs for roles you manage in IAM, you can reuse them without the need to create, review, and approve new inline policies.
By default, users and permission sets in IAM Identity Center are administered by the management account in an organization in AWS Organizations. This management account has the power and authority to manage member accounts in the organization as well. Because of the power of this account, it is important to exercise least privilege and tightly control access to it. If you are managing a complex organization supporting multiple operations or business units, IAM Identity Center allows you to delegate a member account that can administer user permissions, reducing the need to access the AWS Organizations management account for daily administrative work.
One place for application assignments
If your workforce uses Identity Center enabled applications, such as Amazon Managed Grafana, Amazon SageMaker Studio, or AWS Systems Manager Change Manager, you can assign access to them centrally, through IAM Identity Center, and your users can have a single sign-on experience.
If you do not have a separate cloud identity provider, you have the option to use IAM Identity Center as a single place to manage user assignments to SAML 2.0-based cloud applications, such as top-tier customer relationship management (CRM) applications, document collaboration tools, and productivity suites. Figure 4 shows this option.
IAM Identity Center (the successor to AWS Single Sign-On) is where you centrally create or connect your workforce users once, and manage their access to multiple AWS accounts and applications. It’s our recommended front door into AWS, because it gives you the freedom to choose your preferred identity source for use across AWS, helps you strengthen your security posture with consistent permissions across AWS accounts and applications, and provides a convenient experience for your users. Its new name highlights the service’s foundation in IAM, while also reflecting its expanded capabilities and recommended role.
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