This blog post covers common encryption workflows on Amazon EBS. Examples of these workflows are: setting up permissions policies, creating encrypted EBS volumes, running Amazon EC2 instances, taking snapshots, and sharing your encrypted data using customer-managed CMK.

Introduction

Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) service provides high-performance block-level storage volumes for Amazon EC2 instances. Customers have been using Amazon EBS for over a decade to support a broad range of applications including relational and non-relational databases, containerized applications, big data analytics engines, and many more. For Amazon EBS, security is always our top priority. One of the most powerful mechanisms we provide you to secure your data against unauthorized access is encryption.

Amazon EBS offers a straight-forward encryption solution of data at rest , data in transit, and all volume backups. Amazon EBS encryption is supported by all volume types, and includes built-in key management infrastructure without having you to build, maintain, and secure your own keys. We use AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS) envelope encryption with customer master keys (CMK) for your encrypted volumes and snapshots. We also offer an easy way to ensure all your newly created Amazon EBS resources are always encrypted by simply selecting encryption by default. This means you no longer need to write IAM policies to require the use of encrypted volumes. All your new Amazon EBS volumes are automatically encrypted at creation.

You can choose from two types of CMKs: AWS managed and customer managed. AWS managed CMK is the default on Amazon EBS (unless you explicitly override it), and does not require you to create a key or manage any policies related to the key. Any user with EC2 permission in your account is able to encrypt/decrypt EBS resources encrypted with that key. If your compliance and security goals require more granular control over who can access your encrypted data- customer-managed CMK is the way to go.

In the following section, I dive into some best practices with your customer-managed CMK to accomplish your encryption workflows.

Defining permissions policies

To get started with encryption, using your own customer-manager CMK, you first need to create the CMK and set up the policies needed. For simplicity, I use a fictitious account ID 111111111111 and an AWS KMS customer master key (CMK) named with the alias cmk1 in Region us-east-1.
As you go through this post, be sure to change the account ID and the AWS KMS CMK to match your own.

  1. Log on to AWS Management Console with admin user. Navigate to AWS KMS service, and create a new KMS key in the desired Region.

kms console screenshot

      2. Go to the AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) console and navigate to policies console. On create policy wizard, click on the JSON tab, and add the following policy:

{     "Version": "2012-10-17",     "Statement": [             {         "Sid": "VisualEditor0",         "Effect": "Allow",         "Action": [             "kms:GenerateDataKeyWithoutPlaintext",             "kms:ReEncrypt*",             "kms:CreateGrant"             ],             "Resource": [             "arn:aws:kms:us-east-1:<111111111111>:key/<key-id of cmk1>"              ]      }   ] }
  1. Go to IAM Users, click on Add permissions and Attach existing policies directly. Select the preceding policy you created along with AmazonEC2FullAccess policy.

You now have all the necessary policies to start encrypting data with you own CMK on Amazon EBS.

Enabling encryption by default

Encryption by default allows you to ensure that all new EBS volumes created in your account are always encrypted, even if you don’t specify encrypted=true request parameter. You have the option to choose the default key to be AWS managed or a key that you create. If you use IAM policies that require the use of encrypted volumes, you can use this feature to avoid launch failures that would occur if unencrypted volumes were inadvertently referenced when an instance is launched. Before turning on encryption by default, make sure to go through some of the limitations in the consideration section at the end of this blog.

Use the following steps to opt in to encryption by default:

  1. Logon to EC2 console in the AWS Management Console.
  2. Click on Settings- Amazon EBS encryption on the right side of the Dashboard console (note: settings are specific to individual AWS regions in your account).
  3. Check the box Always Encrypt new EBS volumes.
  4. By default, AWS managed key is used for Amazon EBS encryption. Click on Change the default key and select your desired key. In this blog, the desired key is cmk1.
  5. You’re done! Any new volume created from now on will be encrypted with the KMS key selected in the previous step.

Creating encrypted Amazon EBS volumes

To create an encrypted volume, simply go to Volumes under Amazon EBS in your EC2 console, and click Create Volume.

Then, select your preferred volume attributes and mark the encryption flag. Choose your designated master key (CMK) and voila- your volume is encrypted!

If you turned on encryption by default in the previous section, the encryption option is already selected and grayed out. Similarly, in the AWS CLI, your volume is always encrypted regardless if you set encrypted=True, and you can override the default encryption key by specifying a different one. The following image shows:

encryption and master key

Launching instances with encrypted volumes

When launching an EC2 instance, you can easily specify encryption with your CMK even if the Amazon Machine Image (AMI) you selected is not encrypted.

Follow the steps in the Launch Wizard under EC2 console, and select your CMK in the Add Storage section. If you previously set encryption by default, you see your selected default key, which can be changed to any other key of your choice as the following image shows:

adding encrypted storage to instance
Alternatively, using RunInstances API/CLI, you can provide the kmsKeyID for encrypting the volumes that are created from the AMI by specifying encryption in the block device mapping (BDM) object. If you don’t specify the kmsKeyID in BDM but set the encryption flag to “true”, then your default encryption key will be used for encrypting the volume. If you turned on encryption by default- any RunInstance call will result in encrypted volume, even if you haven’t set encryption flag to “true.”

For more detailed information on launch encrypted EBS-backed EC2 instances see this blog.

Auto Scaling Groups and Spot Instances

When you specify a customer-managed CMK, you must give the appropriate service-linked role access to the CMK so that EC2 Auto Scaling / Spot Instances can launch instances on your behalf (AWSServiceRoleForEC2Spot / AWSServiceRoleForAutoScaling). To do this, you must modify the CMK’s key policy. For more information, click here.

Creating and sharing encrypted snapshots

Now that you’ve launched an instance and have some encrypted EBS volumes, you may want to create snapshots to back up the data on your volumes. Whenever you create a snapshot from an encrypted volume, the snapshot is always be encrypted with the same key you provided for the volume. Other than create-snapshot permission, users do not need any additional key policy setting for creating encrypted snapshots.

Sharing encrypted snapshots

If you want another account at your org to create a volume from that snapshot (for use cases such as test/dev accounts, disaster recovery (DR) etc.), you can take that encrypted snapshot and share it with different accounts. To do that you need create a policy setting for the source (111111111111) and target (222222222222) accounts.

In the source account, complete the following steps:

  1. Select snapshots at the EC2 console.
  2. Click Actions- Modify Permissions
  3. Add the AWS Account Number of your target account
  4. Go to AWS KMS console and select the KMS key associated with your Snapshot
  5. In Other AWS accounts section click on Add other AWS Account and add the target account

Target account:
Users in the target account have several options with the shared snapshot. They can launch an instance directly or copy the snapshot to the target account. You can use the same CMK as in the original account (cmk1), or re-encrypt it with a different CMK.

I recommend that you re-encrypt the snapshot using a CMK owned by the target account. This protects you if the original CMK is compromised, or if the owner revokes permissions, which could cause you to lose access to any encrypted volumes that you created using the snapshot.
When re-encrypt with a different CMK (cmk2 in this example), you only need ReEncryptFrom permission on cmk1 (source). Also, make sure you have the required permissions on your target account for cmk2.

The following JSON policy document shows an example of these permissions:

{     "Version": "2012-10-17",     "Statement": [     {     "Effect": "Allow",     "Action": [             "kms:ReEncryptFrom"             ],     "Resource": [     "arn:aws:kms:us-east-1:<111111111111>:key/<key-id of cmk1>"     ]   }  ] } , {     "Version": "2012-10-17",     "Statement": [     {         "Effect": "Allow",         "Action": [             "kms:GenerateDataKeyWithoutPlaintext",             "kms:ReEncrypt*",             "kms:CreateGrant"         ],         "Resource": [         "arn:aws:kms:us-east-1:<222222222222>:key/<key-id of cmk2>"         ]    }   ] }

You can now select snapshots at the EC2 console in the target account. Locate the snapshot by ID or description.

If you want to copy the snapshot, you also must allow “kms:Describekey” policy. Keep in mind that changing the encryption status of a snapshot during a copy operation results in a full (not incremental) copy, which might incur greater data transfer and storage charges.

 

The same sharing capabilities can be apply to sharing AMI. Check out this blog for more information.

Considerations

  • A few old instance types don’t support Amazon EBS encryption. You won’t be able to launch new instances in the C1, M1, M2, or T1 families.
  • You won’t be able to share encrypted AMIs publicly, and any AMIs you share across accounts need access to your chosen KMS key.
  • You won’t be able to share snapshots / AMI if you encrypt with AWS managed CMK
  • Amazon EBS snapshots will encrypt with the key used by the volume itself.
  • The default encryption settings are per-region. As are the KMS keys.
  • Amazon EBS does not support asymmetric CMKs. For more information, see Using Symmetric and Asymmetric Keys

Conclusion

In this blog post, I discussed several best practices to use Amazon EBS encryption with your customer-managed CMK, which gives you more granular control to meet your compliance goals. I started with the policies needed, covered how to create encrypted volumes, launch encrypted instances, create encrypted backup, and share encrypted data. Now that you are an encryption expert – go ahead and turn on encryption by default so that you’ll have the peace of mind your new volumes are always encrypted on Amazon EBS. To learn more, visit the Amazon EBS landing page.
If you have feedback about this blog post, submit comments in the Comments section below. If you have questions about this blog post, start a new thread on the Amazon EC2 forum or contact AWS Support.