Advanced Strategies in Guardrails IAM Management

This document describes more advanced topics in managing Guardrails IAM. Each organization has distinct authentication/authorization requirements. Architects should incorporate information from the below documentation to build a resilient, secure Guardrails IAM management system. Additional questions can be directed to

Required Reading

Common Configuration

The most common configuration for Guardrails IAM management is to use a Guardrails Local directory (created by default on workspace initialization) and an external SAML directory. Guardrails console users authenticate using the SAML directory. The Guardrails Local directory is used in break-glass situations.

Disaster Considerations

  • At all times, a Guardrails profile with valid credentials and Turbot/Owner permissions must exist. Even if the Turbot/Owner permissions aren't active, a profile must have them. Only profiles with Turbot/Owner can grant permissions to other users.
  • Two independent directories should be attached to a workspace at all times. The most common approach is to use Guardrails Local and SAML. Customers exploring other combinations of directories that exclude the Guardrails Local directory should be exceptionally careful to guard against single points of failure.
  • Test all IAM management changes in a non-production workspace before deploying to production.

Cleanup of User Profiles

By default Guardrails API Access keys don't expire. Enterprise customers with publicly accessible ALBs or SaaS customers should be aware that even though a user can't authenticate to the Guardrails Console via SAML, their access keys will continue to work. Disabling a user's profile will deactivate their API keys.

Customers can use the Turbot > IAM > Profile > Expiration and Turbot > IAM > Profile > Expiration > Days policies to force user profile expiration after a specified period. This should be a calculated policy to exclude break-glass user profiles. Failure to exclude break-glass user profiles could result in a complete lock-out.

Auditing the Guardrails API for Enterprise Customers

Being able to trace a user's activity in the Guardrails console and in the Guardrails API is essential to accountability and security. These logs should be forwarded to a central logging solution or SIEM for storage and analysis.

The logs can be found in the /turbot/<hive_name>/api/audit log group in the CloudWatch in the Turbot Guardrails Master account. The hive name is specified in the Turbot Guardrails Enterprise Database (TED) stack. All API traffic for all workspaces hosted by a particular hive can be found in that hive's log group.

Another approach for extracting usage data is the Guardrails Firehose. Watches can be set up to send notifications on updated grants and policy changes. Of particular interest are the active_grants_created, active_grants_deleted, grant_created, grant_deleted, policy_setting_created, policy_setting_deleted, policy_setting_updated and policy_value_updated. (Be aware that the policy_value_updated notification can be extremely high volume. Setting a single policy that applies to 100K resources will result in a single policy_setting_created notification and 100K policy_value_updated notifications.)

Trade-offs between Guardrails Local vs SAML/LDAP directories

Guardrails Local directories are always available as long as the Guardrails console is accessible, but do not support MFA. SAML/Google/LDAP directories support MFA but are vulnerable to network outages and misconfigurations. Both capabilities are required.

Pre-approved privileges

From the Permissions Docs

Note that a grant does not have to be an active grant: a grant can be explicitly activated or deactivated. A grant activation can be set to expire at a specific time, allowing for time-bound temporary privilege escalation.

Architects have the option of pre-approving Guardrails users with specific permissions that can be activated and deactivated as needed. Deactivated permissions have similar function to sudo on Linux systems or "Execute as Administrator" on Windows. If elevated access is required, it's available but required deliberate effort to enable and disable.

Case Study 1: Pre-Approved Permissions

This customer identified a set of trusted administrators who would be granted elevated privileges in Guardrails. Their Guardrails environment was completely configured by Terraform. Any changes should be committed to source control then run through the usual approval processes. However, emergency changes must sometimes be made.

Their environment included:

  • Guardrails configured with a Guardrails Local and SAML directory. Group sync is not configured.
  • A mix of AWS accounts and GCP projects.
  • Shipping of API audit logs to the SIEM.

All Guardrails admins have active Turbot/Operator and deactivated Turbot/Admin permission grants. The manager responsible for Guardrails and their backup are the only ones to hold Turbot/Owner. With these permissions, the Guardrails admins are able to perform common tasks such as running controls and policy values. In emergency situations, they can activate their Turbot/Admin permissions to make immediate changes. After the emergency is complete, they deactivate their elevated privileges. Post-emergency commits ensure proper synchronization between Guardrails and change control.

Making any changes to grants will show up in the logs. Administrators that misuse their Turbot/Admin permissions can be held accountable for that action. A coming improvement will be for the SIEM to automatically open a ticket whenever it detects a user has elevated their privileges.

Case Study 2: Permissions provisioned by Ticketing System

The customer wished to prevent write access to Guardrails and AWS accounts except in cases where a ticket has been opened and assigned. They used Guardrails managed roles through AWS > Turbot > Permissions to provide access to the targeted AWS account.

Their environment included:

  • ServiceNow
  • Guardrails configured with a Guardrails Local and SAML directory. Group sync is configured for the SAML directory.
  • A number of AWS accounts.
  • Shipping of API audit logs to the SIEM.

ServiceNow had access to Guardrails via a service user with Turbot/Owner. A break-glass user in the Guardrails Local directory also had Turbot/Owner permissions. Administrators in the AWSOperations SAML group have Turbot/ReadOnly and AWS/ReadOnly at the Guardrails level. At any time, they can authenticate to Guardrails then provision read-only access into any imported account. They can also read the state of any policy or control in Guardrails.

In the event of an emergency:

  1. A ticket is opened in ServiceNow about a problem in a specific account. The ticket is assigned to an operator in the AWSOperations group.
  2. A workflow step in ServiceNow makes a GraphQL call to Guardrails to provision Turbot/Operator and AWS/Operator for the assigned operator in the specified account. The grant is time limited to 6 hours.
  3. The operator can now log into Guardrails and get an AWS console session with their elevated permissions. They are able to resolve the problem in 15 minutes.
  4. The ticket is closed. ServiceNow makes another GraphQL call to remove the operator's elevated permissions.
  5. If the ticket took longer than 6 hours to resolve, the operator must renew their permissions.

Case Study 3: Multi-team policy development

The customer has a set of teams to manage various cloud resources. Each team has a specific set of resources they manage. All teams have access to the Guardrails console and API with Turbot/Operator. Guardrails Administrators have Turbot/Owner. All policies and workspace changes must be reviewed before deployment. Creating or altering smart folders, creating new folders, importing accounts and other high risk activities are reserved for the Guardrails Admins.

Their environment included:

  • Guardrails configured with a Guardrails Local and SAML directory. Group sync is not configured for the SAML directory.
  • A number of AWS accounts spread across several production workspaces.
  • A CodeDeploy pipeline per team per workspace. Each pipeline has a Guardrails user with Turbot/Admin.
  • A collection of smart folders per team per workspace to provide flexibility in scoping policy assignment.

To enforce least privilege, all CodeDeploy pipelines were consolidated into a single pipeline per workspace. Pre-deploy checks ensured that team members only created policies in their assigned smart folders and only on their assigned resource types.

Policy Checks on Resource Team:

  • Reject any commit that performs operations other than creating/updating policies.
  • Reject any commit that enables or alters policies outside each team's assigned smart folders.
  • Reject any commit that sets policies for services and resources outside each team's assigned set.
  • Reject any commit that fails to pass terraform linting rules.

Guardrails Admin team have no such checks on their commits.

API auditing was also implemented.