Shared responsibility:
Security "of" the cloud vs. security "in" the cloud


Security is one of the most important requirements for the smooth and efficient functioning of organizations, but many think cloud adoption is risky due to some long-standing confusion around cloud security. Organizations are often unclear about who is responsible for the security of data in the cloud. Is the service provider responsible for taking steps to safeguard the data? Or, does that responsibility fall to the organization's IT security teams?

To answer these questions, Amazon Web Services (AWS), one of the leading cloud providers, issued its Shared Responsibility Model to establish that implementation of security on the AWS cloud is not the sole responsibility of any one participant, but is shared between them and their customers. This webpage aims to break down the concepts in the AWS Shared Responsibility Model.

Security "of" the cloud vs. security "in" the cloud

While AWS claims full responsibility for the security "of" the cloud, it urges its customers to take care of the security "in" the cloud, and designates customers responsible for data security. In simple terms, imagine the AWS cloud as your office. Your proprietary security (i.e., Amazon) protects the building, mail boxes, parking, etc., and ensures that only authorized personnel enter the building. However, they do not take responsibility for letters in your mail box, or the audio system in your car, etc. The following image outlines the distribution of each participant's responsibilities in terms of cloud security.

Amazon's responsibilities

Security "of" the cloud entails protecting the infrastructure for all the services that run on the AWS cloud.

AWS hardware (global infrastructure):

The hardware platform includes regions, edge locations, and availability zones of the AWS cloud infrastructure. The security of this is achieved through constant IT maintenance and physical security protection, i.e., Amazon controls access to its data centres where the customer data resides. Providing strong physical security, AWS ensures that no one tampers with the hardware storage and, therefore, promises reduced downtime.

AWS software:

AWS helps in computation and storage by providing databases and other software needed for effective functioning of a network. AWS secures these software with the help of encryption keys, network monitoring tools, by implementing database protection principles, and more. AWS takes full responsibility for the security of the software platform across all of its services. This concept is also referred to as AWS Security Services. In addition to this, AWS is responsible for the security configuration of managed services such as Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon RDS, Amazon Redshift, etc. While these services provide the scalability and flexibility of cloud-based resources, they also provide an additional benefit of being able to be managed. Customers will just have to configure logical access controls and protect their account credentials for most of the managed services.

The customer's responsibilities

Security "in" the cloud encompasses the protection of customer data, platforms, applications, identity and access management (IAM), as well as network and firewall configuration. The amount of configuration work the customer needs to perform depends solely on the AWS cloud service that customers choose to use. If a customer chooses any of Amazon's Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), for example Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute, Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), and AWS Simple Storage Service, the customer has to perform all the necessary security and management tasks. (See how to use Amazon VPC to add extra layers of security to your AWS cloud here). These tasks include:

  Customer data protection

This includes securing data on the network side as it enters and exits the cloud service.

  Client and server side data encryption

Amazon renders the customers responsible for the client and server side data encryption that uses the AWS managed encryption key, or a private key of their choice.

  Network traffic protection

Customers are responsible for data going in and out of the server at all times.

  Platforms, applications and IAM

Customers are responsible for the protection and maintenance of the platform running in the cloud. They can use IAM tools to implement proper control systems for data and resource access.

  File system encryption

File system encryption is also the responsibility of customers. You can utilize the file system protection provided by AWS, or an independent protection system to encrypt file systems.


Shared responsibilities

AWS issues requirements for the infrastructure, but customers have to provide their own control implementation for use within the service. Here are some of the shared controls implemented in the Shared Responsibility Model.

  Patch management

AWS claims responsibility for patching and repairing damages to the infrastructure, but customers are held responsible for patching the guest operating system (guest OS), and applications.

  Awareness and training

AWS trains employees in the use of its systems, but customers are responsible for the training and continued education of their own employees.

  Configuration management

Similar to patch management, AWS takes responsibility for configuring devices within its infrastructure, and but does not retain accountability for configuring the guest OS, databases, and applications. Customers must take sole responsibility for configuring those.



Through the Shared Responsibility Model, AWS delegates specific responsibilities to the customer, and to the AWS provider. This comes in handy when organizations want to ensure the smooth and secure functioning of their resources in the cloud.

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