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Activity Aware IDS for AWS

Activity Aware IDS for AWS is a system for gaining greater visibility into your AWS Account.

When performing day-to-day operations and maintaining the security of your AWS account, it's important to stay aware of the activities being performed in your AWS account. AWS Activity Aware provides an integral part of of an overall intrusion detection and awareness strategy by gathering important information about the activities in your AWS account, and bringing them to your team in the context that makes the most sense for them, such as Slack.

In our initial release, we support CloudWatch Logs CloudTrail source, and the Slack destination, with plan to add additional sources and destinations in the future.

Table of Contents

  1. Use Cases
  2. Getting Started
  3. Contributing
  4. Development
  5. Notices

Use Cases

Intrusion Detection

According to the security team at Adobe, there are 3 major types of potential security incidents in AWS. These are:

  • Infrastructure Impact
    • Externally attacking the infrastructure to impact system performance, such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
  • Host Compromise
    • Taking control of existing resources such as Instances using techniques like command injection.
  • Account Compromise
    • Taking control of an authenticated AWS User to seize account control.

Activity Aware IDS for AWS currently focuses mainly on helping you identify potential Account Compromise activities.

For an example of how this works, imagine that you have a AWS Account IAM User named Alice, and a Malicious user named Mallory that is trying to perform actions in your account.

Alice has a set of long term credentials that give her access to a specific aspect of the AWS Account. Now suppose that Alice's credentials get compromised in some way by some malicious user Mallory. At some point Mallory will likely try to find out what she is able to do in this account, by either looking for policies that the user has, or by attempting a number of actions to see what isn't denied.

If you are following a Least Privilege approach to managing your IAM accounts, Alice likely doesn't need to see the actions afforded to her by the Policies attached to our account, or potentially, even what policies are attached to her account. If this is the case, when Mallory attempts to get the contents of an IAM Policy, she will be denied access, and a CloudTrail log for this denial will be created.

This is where Activity Aware IDS for AWS can help. In our default configuration, once CloudTrail logs the denial to the CloudWatch Logs Log Group, the CloudTrail Source will receive that message, pass a standardized version of it to the Slack Destination, which will send a notification to its configured Slack Channel. At this point your team can choose to get notifications on any activity in this channel. Once the team notices the odd activity, they will likely speak with Alice, and identify that the actions were not performed by her, and replace her credentials.

Least Privilege Debugging

Following the Principle of Least Privilege is a common recommendation for protecting your account. Finding the right set of permissions to give an account or role can be difficult.

For example, imagine that you are creating a new role for one of your services. When determining the minimum permissions that the role needs, one approach is to start with no permissions, and interact with the system until it is denied access to perform an action. At this point, like in the Intrusion Detection example above, a CloudTrail log for this denial will be created. In the default configuration of Activity Aware IDS for AWS, once CloudTrail logs the denial to the CloudWatch Logs Log Group, the CloudTrail Source will receive that message, and pass a standardized version to the Slack Destination, which will send a notification to its configured Slack Channel. At this point, you can review the denied action, and resource, and add these to the permissions of the role.

Getting Started


To receive Cloudtrail Events, Activity Aware IDS for AWS requires that CloudWatch Logs support in Cloudtrail has been enabled.

To send notifications to Slack, you will need a Slack Webhook URL.



This specifies the CloudWatch Logs Log Group from your account that you would like Activity Aware IDS to monitor the CloudTrail events in your account.

Default: CloudTrail/DefaultLogGroup

The default is set to the default used by CloudTrail when sending logs to CloudWatch Logs.


This specifies the CloudWatch Logs Filter Pattern for events you would like the CloudTrail Source to receive. More detail on the filter format can be found in the Filter and Pattern Syntax documentation.

Default: { ($.errorCode = "*UnauthorizedOperation") || ($.errorCode = "AccessDenied*") }

The Default value will send you alerts whenever an access denied error is logged by CloudTrail.

Additional examples of common filter patterns for specific CloudTrail events can be found in the CloudWatch Alarms for CloudTrail documentation.

CloudFormation Quick Install

We have packaged the lambda functions with a build of a CloudFormation template that will enable you to quickly install Activity Aware IDS for AWS. This will install all of the required Lambda functions, set up the required infrastructure and permissions, and wire up the events between the infrastructure, and the lambda functions.

Launch Giftbit AWS Activity Aware using CloudFormation

Custom Installation

If you want to customize your installation, you can do so by following the Building and Packaging sections of the Development section below.


We'd love for you to help improve Activity Aware IDS for AWS. We suggest checking out our Contributing Guide, as it will improve the likelihood of a successful contribution, and therefore a good experience.

If you find an issue with Activity Aware IDS for AWS or you'd like to make a code contribution, please create an issue for it, so that we might be able to offer guidance or suggestions to improve your experience.


├── infrastructure
│   └── cloudformation.yaml
└── src
    ├── common
    │   └── ...
    └── lambdas
        └── ...

AWS Activity Aware IDS for AWS is comprised mainly of lambda functions (inside src/lambdas) and their connection with other AWS Resources (defined by the CloudFormation Template infrastructure/cloudformation.yaml). The lambda functions themselves are split into two types: Sources and Destinations.

Sources are the recipient functions of events in an AWS account. They take these events, like CloudTrail, and convert them into a standardized message format expected by the destination lambdas.

Destinations receive the standardized messages, and convert it into the format for a specific destination, then handle the distribution of these to the specific systems, suck as Slack.


Compile the project with:

./ build

Each of the lambda functions in src/lambdas will be build separately and packaged with it's dependencies in a zip file in the dist folder. Only the source code, and dependencies referenced by each lambda will be included.

Creating a Dev Stack

Once you've performed a build, create a Development CloudFormation stack using

./ create.

This creates a new Stack called Activity-Aware-IDS-Dev. You should never develop against your primary Activity-Aware-IDS stack, as you may miss important events that occur on your account.

Invoking a Source Function

While performing Development, it's frequently helpful to be able to invoke your sources to ensure that the proper behavior occurs. You can do this by running

./ invoke <function_directory_name> <json file to invoke with>

This will execute the lambda, as though an event with the given json just occurred. Your source should then standardize the event into a message which it will pass to your destinations.


As you make changes to your resources, you can deploy these changes to your CloudFormation stack using

./ deploy

This takes the current distribution resources, and the CloudFormation template, packages them, and then updates the stack with the new template.

Updating a function

As you're developing in Activity Aware IDS, you may want to update just a single function as deploying the CloudFormation template will likely involve updating all the functions, and this will take a greater about of time.

To deploy a specific function you can run

./ upload <function_name>

This will build this function, package the deployment package, and update the associated function, without updating the other CloudFormation resources.


To package the functions, as well as the CloudFormation template, you can run

./ package

This packages the lambda functions, deploys them to S3 artifact bucket, generates a CloudFormation template with the Lambda deployment package resources, and finally uploads the CloudFormation template to S3.

By packaging the resources, it allows for easily creating CloudFormation Stacks in multiple accounts, such as we have demonstrated in CloudFormation Quick Install.


This software the CloudFormation KMS Custom Resource by Benjamin D. Jones to encrypt the Slack Webhook URL. See library-license.txt.


Activity Aware IDS for AWS is a system for gaining greater visibility into your AWS Account.







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