Deep Dive into Azure AD and AWS SSO Integration – Part 2

Deep Dive into Azure AD and AWS SSO Integration – Part 2

Welcome back folks.

Today I’ll be continuing my series on the new integration between Azure AD and AWS SSO.  In my last post I covered the challenges with the prior integration between the two platforms, core AWS concepts needed to understand the new integration, and how the new integration addresses the challenges of the prior integration.

In this post I’m going to give some more context to the challenges covered in the first post and then provide an overview of the what the old and new patterns look like.  This will help clarify the value proposition of the integration for those of you who may still not be convinced.

The two challenges I want to focus on are:

  1. The AWS app was designed to synchronize identity data between AWS and Azure AD for a single AWS account
  2. The SAML trust between Azure AD and an AWS account had to be established separately for each AWS account.

Challenge 1 was unique to the Azure Marketplace AWS app because they were attempting to solve the identity lifecycle management problem.  Your security token service (STS) needs to pass a SAML assertion which includes the AWS IAM roles you are asserting for the user.  Those roles need to be mapped to the user somewhere for your STS to tap into them.  This is a problem you’re going to feel no matter what STS you use, so I give the team that put together the AWS app together credit for trying.

The folks over at AWS came up with an elegant solution requiring some transformation in the claims passed in the SAML token and another solution to store the roles in commonly unused attributes in Active Directory.  However, both solutions suffered the same problem in that you’re forced to workaround that mapping, which becomes considerably difficult as you began to scale to hundreds of AWS accounts.

Challenge 2 plagues all STSs because the SAML trust needs to be created for each and every AWS account.  Again, something that begins to get challenging as you scale.

AWS Past Integration

AWS Past Integration

In the image above, we see an example of how some enterprises addressed these problems.  We see that there is some STS in use acting as an identity provider (idP) (could be Azure AD, Okta, Ping, AD FS, whatever) that has a SAML trust with each AWS account.  The user to AWS IAM role mappings are included in an attribute of the user’s Active Directory user account.  When the user attempts to access AWS, the STS queries Active Directory for the information.  There is a custom process (manual or automated) that queries each AWS account for a list of AWS IAM Roles that are associated with the IdP in the AWS account.  These roles are then populated in the attribute for each relevant user account.  Lastly, CloudFormation is used to push IAM Roles to each AWS account.  This could be pushed through a manual process or a CI/CD pipeline.

Yeah this works, but who wants all that overhead?  Let’s look at the new method.

Azure AD and AWS SSO Integration

Azure AD and AWS SSO Integration

In the new integration where we use Azure AD and AWS SSO together, we now only need to establish a single SAML trust with AWS SSO.  Since AWS SSO is integrated with AWS Organizations it can be used as a centralized identity source for all AWS accounts within the organization.  Additionally, we can now leverage Azure AD to manage the synchronization of identity data (users and groups) from Azure AD to AWS SSO.  We then map our users or groups to permission sets (collections of IAM policies) in AWS SSO which are then provisioned as IAM roles in the relevant AWS accounts.  If we want to add a user to a role in AWS IAM, we can add that user to the relevant group in Azure AD and wait for the synchronization process to occur.  Once it’s complete, that user will have access to that IAM role in the relevant accounts.  A lot less work, right?

Let’s sum up what changes here:

  • We can use existing processes already in place to move users in and out of groups either on-premises in Windows AD (that is syncing to Azure AD with Azure AD Connect) or directly in Azure AD (if we’re not syncing from Windows AD).
  • Group to role mappings are now controlled in AWS SSO
  • Permission sets (or IAM policies for the IAM roles) are now centralized in AWS SSO
  • We no longer have to provision the IAM roles individually into each AWS account, we can centrally control it in AWS SSO

Cool right?

In my few posts I’ll begin walking through the integration an demonstrating some the solution.


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