Ermetic Finds Majority of AWS Accounts Surveyed are Vulnerable to Ransomware

Combination of High Risk Identities and Configuration Errors Expose At Least 90% of Amazon S3 Buckets to Compromise

Ermetic, the cloud infrastructure security company, announced the results of a study conducted by its research organization into the security posture of AWS environments and their vulnerability to ransomware attacks. In virtually all of the participating organizations, Ermetic found identities that, if compromised, would place at least 90% of the S3 buckets in an AWS account at risk.

As more and more data moves to the cloud, platforms like AWS are becoming an attractive target for ransomware operators. While Amazon S3 is considered extremely reliable, a compromised identity with the right combination of entitlements can expose data objects to ransomware. Ermetic researchers found that such ransomware-vulnerable combinations are extremely common. In fact, over 70% of the environments in the study had machines that were publicly exposed to the internet and were linked to identities whose permissions could be exploited to allow the machines to perform ransomware.

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.@ErmeticSec finds majority of AWS Accounts surveyed are vulnerable to ransomware due to a combination of high risk identities and configuration errors which expose at least 90% of Amazon S3 buckets to compromise

To help organizations identify and mitigate their exposure to ransomware attacks, Ermetic is offering a free ransomware risk assessment service for AWS environments.

“Very few companies are aware that data stored in cloud infrastructures like AWS is at risk from ransomware attacks, so we conducted this research to investigate how often the right conditions exist for Amazon S3 buckets to be compromised,” said Shai Morag, CEO of Ermetic. “We found that in every single account we tested, nearly all of an organization’s S3 buckets were vulnerable to ransomware. Therefore, we can conclude that it’s not a matter of if, but when, a major ransomware attack on AWS will occur.”


Ermetic researchers identified the following findings in the organizations they evaluated which would allow ransomware to reach and execute on Amazon S3 buckets:

  • Overall, every enterprise environment studied had identities at risk of being compromised and that could perform ransomware on at least 90% of the buckets in an AWS account
  • Over 70% of the environments had machines that were publicly exposed to the internet and identities whose permissions allowed the exposed machines to perform ransomware
  • Over 45% of the environments had third party identities with the ability to perform ransomware by elevating their privileges to admin level (an astounding finding with far-reaching implications beyond the ransomware focus of this research)
  • Almost 80% of the environments contained IAM Users with enabled access keys that had not been used for 180 days or more, and had the ability to perform ransomware

It’s important to note that these findings focus on single, compromised identities. In many ransomware campaigns, bad actors often move laterally to compromise multiple identities and use their combined permissions, greatly increasing their ability to access resources.

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For this study we mapped out scenarios in which the right combination of permissions would allow an identity to perform a ransomware attack on a bucket. We then analyzed various S3 mitigation features and identified the instances in which they would (or would not) be effective. Next, we determined the most common risk factors that make identities vulnerable to compromise. Finally, we performed an analysis of the environments to identify how frequently the following three conditions were present:

  • An identity has access to a combination of permissions that would allow ransomware to execute
  • Standard AWS mitigation features were not enabled on accessible buckets
  • The identity was exposed to one or more additional risk factors that could lead to compromise, such as public exposure to the internet

Mitigation Steps

Here are several methods organizations can use to reduce the exposure of their AWS S3 buckets to ransomware:

  • Implement Least Privilege – enforce a permission strategy that only allows the bare minimum of entitlements necessary for identities to perform their business function, which will dramatically reduce the exposure of buckets to ransomware
  • Eliminate Risk Factors – apply best practices to avoid/remove common misconfigurations that can be exploited by ransomware to compromise identities and use their entitlements to execute malware
  • Use Logging and Monitoring – use tools such as CloudTrail and CloudWatch to identify sensitive actions which can provide early detection and response if a ransomware attack in is progress
  • Delete Prevention – use existing out-of-the-box features and configurations available for S3 buckets such as MFA-Delete or Object Locks to prevent malicious deletions
  • Bucket Replication – configure sensitive buckets to automatically back up their contents to a separate, secure and dedicated bucket for restore

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Amazon S3AWScloud infrastructure securityErmeticIAM UsersNewsransomware attacks