AWS Certification: Pearson VUE and PSI

With the announcement a few weeks back I thought I’d look back on where I can send my team to get certified. For the last few years, AWS Certification has only had their testing via PSI, and in Perth, that meant one venue, with two kiosks. Prior to that, there were more test centres (with Kryterion as the test provider, as per previous blog post in 2017).

But now Pearson VUE are in the mix along side PSI, and the expansion is great.

There are now an additional 6 locations to get certified in Western Australia, including the first one outside of Perth by some 300+ kms:

  • North Metropolitan TAFE, 30 Aberdeen St, Northbridge
  • DDLS Perth, 553 Hay Street
  • ATI-Mirage, Cloisters 863 Hay Street
  • Edith Cowan, Joondalup
  • North Metro TAFE, 35 Kendrew Crescent, Joondalup
  • Market Creations, 7 Chapman Road, Geraldton

Geraldton is several hours drive north from Perth, at around 420kms (260mi), with a population around 40,000. The rest of Western Australia north of that is probably only another 60,000 people in total across Karratha (16k), Carnarvon, Exmouth, Port Headland, Dampier, and Exmouth.

Lets get some perspective on these distances, for my foreign friends:

For comparisons, check out this. Suffice to say, its a bloody long way. My wife lived for a while in Carnarvon, half way up the coast; that was around 10 hours driving to get there.

It would be interesting to see Busselton (pop 74k), and Albany, both to the south have some availability hereto help get people services without having to trek for days, or not bother at all.

S3 Public Access: Preventable SNAFUs

It’s happened again.

This time it is Facebook who left an Amazon S3 Bucket with publicly (anonymously) accessible data. 540 million breached records.

Previously, Verizon, PicketiNet, GoDaddy, Booz Allen Hamilton, Dow Jones, WWE, Time Warner, Pentagon, Accenture, and more. Large, presumably trusted names.

Let’s start with the truth: objects (files, data) uploaded to S3, with no options set on the bucket or object, are private by default.
Someone has to either set a Bucket Policy to make objects anonymously accessible, or set each object as Public ACL for objects to be shared.

Lets be clear.

These breaches are the result of someone uploading data and setting the acl:public-read, or editing a Bucket’s overriding resource policy to facilittate anonymous public access.

Having S3 accessible via authenticated http(s) is great. Having it available directly via anonymous http(s) is not, but historically that was a valid use case.

This week I have updated a client’s account, that serves a static web site hosted in S3, to have the master “Block Public Access” enabled on their entire AWS account. And I sleep easier. Their service experienced no downtime in the swap, no significant increase in cost, and the CloudFront caching CDN cannot be randomly side-stepped with requests to the S3 bucket.

Serving from S3 is terrible

So when you set an object public it can be fetched from S3 with no authentication. It can also be served over unencrypted HTTP (which is a terrible idea).

When hitting the S3 endpoint, the TLS certificate used matches the S3 endpoint hostname, which is something like Now that hostname probably has nothing to do with your business brand name, and something like may at least give some indication of affiliation of the data with your brand. But with the S3 endpoint, you have no choice.

Ignoring the unencrypted HTTP; the S3 endpoint TLS configuration for HTTPS is also rather loosely curated, as it is a public, shared endpoint with over a decade of backwards compatibility to deal with. TLS 1.0 is still enabled, which would be a breach of PCI DSS 3.2 (and TLS 1.1 is there too, which IMHO is next to useless).

Its worth noting that there are dual-stack IPv4 and IPv6 endpoints, such as

So how can we fix this?

CloudFront + Origin Access Identity

CloudFront allows us to select a TLS policy, pre-defined by AWS, but permitting us to restrict available protocols and ciphers. This lets us remove “early crypto” and be TLS 1.2 only.

CloudFront also permits us to use a customer specific name, for SNI enabled clients for no additional cost, or a dedicated IP address (not worth it, IMHO).

Origin Access Identities give CloudFront a rolling API keypair that the service can use to access S3. Your S3 bucket then has a policy permitting this Identity access to the host.

With this access in place, you can then flick the “Block Public Access” setting account-wide, possibly on the bucket first, then the account-wide settings last.

One thing to work out is your use of URLs ending in “/”. Using Lambda@edge, we convert these to a request for “/index.html”. Similaly URL paths that end in “/foo” with no typical suffix get mapped to “/foo/index.html”.

Governance FTW?

So, have you checked if Block Public Access is enabled in your account(s). How about a sweep through right now?

If you’re not sure about this, contact me.

20 Years of [Memoirs]

Memoirs of LCA

On the first night I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand for 2019, a group of around a dozen attendees went to dinner. Amongst them were Steve Hanley and Hugh Blemmings, whom I have known since the early 2000’s at various LCAs around the region. They asked for some memoirs of LCA – something small; what follows was my throughts, far longer than expected

Continue reading “20 Years of [Memoirs]”

New Years Resolution: update your installed apps

Time to update installed applications on your workstation

While everyone is making promises to themselves for the new year, its probably time to do some well earnde maintenance on your own laptop: applying the current versions of applications installed on your laptop.

How? Easy.

Linux Package Updates

If you have a Linux system, its probably as simple as apt-get update && apt-get upgrade. You’ll need to look out for major Linux distribution updates (eg, Debian Jessie -> Stretch), as well as any package updates that have dependencies on new, previously not locally installed libraries.

If you’re prompted for configuration file changes, you’ll want to merge any local settings into the package-provided config files.

Windows Applications

One method is to look at your own list of installed applications. Click the start button, and search for “Add or Remove Applications”. The list should appear, such as below.

List of Apps on windows 10 system

Then its a case of finding the current version of each application you have. Unfortunately there is no easy way to automate this, given the lack of a consistent repository, download URL or metadata where new installers are available form. So, search for the app, find the download, and then run it.

Some of my favourite ones to update are:

  • Tortoie SVG and GIT tools
  • Java (to 11)
  • Postgres (local database for testing)
  • Putty (this ones critical, so should already be up to date)
  • Gimp (image editing)
  • Acrobat reader (or try uninstalling this and reading PDFs in your up-to-date Chrome/Firefox browser)
  • AWS command line (
  • OpenVPN
  • Wireshark

It’s also nice to remove applications you no longer need installed. This lowers your risk, and future maintenance tasks like this one.

5 AWS Trends and Wishes for early 2019

AWS is the largest public Cloud provider in the world, and it is constantly evolving at a rapid clip, and using the scale of its service to reap the benefits from the economies that can be brought to bear at that scale.

The IT industry is itself evolving, with new patterns, protocols, and approaches being created in and out of the cloud. AWS is well placed to embrace many of these trends; things like WebSockets, IPv6, and more. But not everything is “done”in AWS; it’s all a continuous work-in-progress to stay current; but AWS’s approach (independent Service Teams, loose coupling, well-documented API interfaces)  and track record puts it far ahead of the competition in the race to stay current.

I’ve been using AWS for >10 years now, hold 8 AWS Certifications at this point in time, served nearly 3 years as the only Solution Architect with a “depth” in Security for Australia & New Zealand, have been a Cloud Warrior for 2 years, and now an AWS Ambassador. I’ve developed and delivered critical government solutions in Australia that the entire population depends upon every day, so have a reasonably deep understanding of the requirements that organisations have around their digital systems. With nearly 20 years as a Debian Linux developer, and >20 years delivering online services, my experience puts me in reasonable position to understand the ecosystem.

Here’s a list of things I foresee becoming commonplace in early 2019:

  • Organisation CloudTrail: enforcing company wide API logging standards, leading to better analysis of CloudTrail logs and the activity they expose
  • Enforced patterns around serving static content via S3: blocked public access by default, enabled only by CloudFront and Origin Access Identity to serve content stored in S3. side effect: appropriate TLS Certificates, and TLS Protocol and Cipher enforcement.
  • Virtual Private Cloud: enforced company-wide standards on routing: Transit Gateway from a corporate “production services”account”, once DirectConnect is supported by Transit Gateway
  • CloudFront and ALB set to HTTPS only (possibly with HTTP-> HTTPS redirect), with TLS 1.2 only!

5 Things I’d still like to see in AWS:

  • Improved health checks for Network and Application Load Balancers, similar to the existing ELB (Classic).
  • ECDSA certificates from Amazon Certificate Manager
  • TLS 1.3 on ALB, CloudFront, and the ability to restrict TLS Protocols to TLS 1.2+, or TLS 1.3+.
  • VPC: IPv6-only comms for intra-VPC services (RDS, ElastiCache, ALB/ELB, RedShift, etc.), IPv6-only subnets leading to IPv6-only VPCs, helped by service discounts for adopting IPv6-only
  • In Australia: AWS finally added to the ASD Protected Cloud list, without a Consumer Guide!

None of these are surprises to those who have extensively used AWS and hold those valuable AWS certifications.  These items don’t preclude your immediate extensive usage of the Cloud; they present visibility of the continuing evolution that is required in IT.