Create custom Ubuntu AMIs the hard (secure) way
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Latest commit b9dde31 Nov 20, 2015

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Create custom Ubuntu AMIs the hard (secure) way

build-ubuntu-ami is a simple tool for making secure, custom Ubuntu images for Amazon EC2 from your local computer.

Why the hard way?

Booting and logging in to a system offers many opportunities to leak secret credentials (even if you delete them). Creating an AMI from a pristine image rather than a running root volume obviates the need to remove leaked credentials.

This program is based on Eric Hammond's blog post Creating Public AMIs Securely for EC2, and his shell script alestic-git-build-ami.

For convenience, this script does not need an AWS EC2 private key & cert for credentials. It uses the AWS Access Key ID and Secret Access Key instead.


# Using rubygems
gem install build-ubuntu-ami


build-ubuntu-ami relies on Fog. You will need to configure a ~/.fog file, like so:

  :aws_access_key_id: A..your key here...Z
  :aws_secret_access_key: A..........your key here...............Z

Basic Usage

if you have not registered an SSH keypair named 'default' with AWS, you will need to supply a -k argument.

See examples of custom build scripts.

# Create a custom AMI from

# Show options
build-ubuntu-ami -h

# Example output
$ build-ubuntu-ami -k aaron-rsa -g aaron-test -b demoami
  region: us-east-1
  flavor: m1.small
  brand: demoami
  size: 20
  codename: lucid
  key_name: aaron-rsa
  group: aaron-test
  arch: amd64
  canonical ami: ami-0baf7662
  kernel: aki-427d952b
  description: demoami-lucid-amd64-20120609-0938
Launching server...
Launched i-dcf145a5;; waiting for it to be available.
Attaching volume vol-597aef37
waiting for user_data to complete and server to shut down...
Follow along by running:
  ssh -l ubuntu 'tail -f /var/log/user.log'
Detaching volume
Waiting for volume to detach...
Taking snapshot demoami-lucid-amd64-20120609-0938 root volume from vol-597aef37
Creating snapshot snap-a4b6e8db
Registered imageId ami-abcdef01
Deleting vol-597aef37
Terminating i-dcf145a5

How it works

build-ubuntu-ami uses the ruby fog library to:

  1. Boot an EC2 instance from the Canonical Ubuntu AMI
  2. Download and mount a copy of the Canonical Ubuntu root volume image
  3. Run your custom script in a chrooted environment on that image
  4. Attach an new EBS volume
  5. Copy the customized boot image to the EBS volume
  6. Register an AMI using the customized EBS volume as the root volume.

Since you never booted or logged in to the customized EBS volume, there is reduced risk of leaking confidential information.


If you're running into an issue where you need to run CLI commands, its helpful to ssh to the instance and enter into the chroot environment. Do the following:

$ cd /mnt/$IMAGE_NAME $ sudo chroot . /bin/bash