AWS Security Blog

The AWS Shared Responsibility Model and GDPR

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) describes data processor and data controller roles, and some customers and AWS Partner Network (APN) partners are asking how this affects the long-established AWS Shared Responsibility Model. I wanted to take some time to help folks understand shared responsibilities for us and for our customers in context of the GDPR.

How does the AWS Shared Responsibility Model change under GDPR? The short answer – it doesn’t. AWS is responsible for securing the underlying infrastructure that supports the cloud and the services provided; while customers and APN partners, acting either as data controllers or data processors, are responsible for any personal data they put in the cloud. The shared responsibility model illustrates the various responsibilities of AWS and our customers and APN partners, and the same separation of responsibility applies under the GDPR.

AWS responsibilities as a data processor

The GDPR does introduce specific regulation and responsibilities regarding data controllers and processors. When any AWS customer uses our services to process personal data, the controller is usually the AWS customer (and sometimes it is the AWS customer’s customer). However, in all of these cases, AWS is always the data processor in relation to this activity. This is because the customer is directing the processing of data through its interaction with the AWS service controls, and AWS is only executing customer directions. As a data processor, AWS is responsible for protecting the global infrastructure that runs all of our services. Controllers using AWS maintain control over data hosted on this infrastructure, including the security configuration controls for handling end-user content and personal data. Protecting this infrastructure, is our number one priority, and we invest heavily in third-party auditors to test our security controls and make any issues they find available to our customer base through AWS Artifact. Our ISO 27018 report is a good example, as it tests security controls that focus on protection of personal data in particular.

AWS has an increased responsibility for our managed services. Examples of managed services include Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon RDS, Amazon Redshift, Amazon Elastic MapReduce, and Amazon WorkSpaces. These services provide the scalability and flexibility of cloud-based resources with less operational overhead because we handle basic security tasks like guest operating system (OS) and database patching, firewall configuration, and disaster recovery. For most managed services, you only configure logical access controls and protect account credentials, while maintaining control and responsibility of any personal data.

Customer and APN partner responsibilities as data controllers — and how AWS Services can help

Our customers can act as data controllers or data processors within their AWS environment. As a data controller, the services you use may determine how you configure those services to help meet your GDPR compliance needs. For example, AWS Services that are classified as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), such as Amazon EC2, Amazon VPC, and Amazon S3, are under your control and require you to perform all routine security configuration and management that would be necessary no matter where the servers were located. With Amazon EC2 instances, you are responsible for managing: guest OS (including updates and security patches), application software or utilities installed on the instances, and the configuration of the AWS-provided firewall (called a security group).

To help you realize data protection by design principles under the GDPR when using our infrastructure, we recommend you protect AWS account credentials and set up individual user accounts with Amazon Identity and Access Management (IAM) so that each user is only given the permissions necessary to fulfill their job duties. We also recommend using multi-factor authentication (MFA) with each account, requiring the use of SSL/TLS to communicate with AWS resources, setting up API/user activity logging with AWS CloudTrail, and using AWS encryption solutions, along with all default security controls within AWS Services. You can also use advanced managed security services, such as Amazon Macie, which assists in discovering and securing personal data stored in Amazon S3.

For more information, you can download the AWS Security Best Practices whitepaper or visit the AWS Security Resources or GDPR Center webpages. In addition to our solutions and services, AWS APN partners can provide hundreds of tools and features to help you meet your security objectives, ranging from network security and configuration management to access control and data encryption.


Chad Woolf

Chad joined Amazon in 2010 and built the AWS compliance functions from the ground up, including audit and certifications, privacy, contract compliance, control automation engineering and security process monitoring. Chad’s work also includes enabling public sector and regulated industry adoption of the AWS cloud, compliance with complex privacy regulations such as GDPR and operating a trade and product compliance team in conjunction with global region expansion. Prior to joining AWS, Chad spent 12 years with Ernst & Young as a Senior Manager working directly with Fortune 100 companies consulting on IT process, security, risk, and vendor management advisory work, as well as designing and deploying global security and assurance software solutions. Chad holds a Masters of Information Systems Management and a Bachelors of Accounting from Brigham Young University, Utah. Follow Chad on Twitter.