~ 5 min read

Allowing non AWS workloads to access AWS services using AWS IAM Roles Anywhere

AWS IAM Roles Anywhere is a feature that allows non AWS workloads (servers, containers, apps etc.) to obtain temporary security credentials in IAM. These workloads can use the same IAM policies and IAM roles that AWS compute resources use with AWS applications to access AWS cloud.


All compute instances that run within AWS can access the AWS IAM service to generate temporary credentials which can then be used to access the rest of the AWS cloud. The ability to access the IAM service to generate credentials is usually done via instance profiles attached to the compute instance and accessible via the Instance Metadata Service (IMDS). For computes running on a different cloud provider or even on premise, it was required to use long term credentials to perform actions on AWS.

AWS Roles Anywhere as a feature within AWS IAM solves this by allowing admins to set up a PKI infrastructure that can be used to authenticate non AWS workloads and generate credentials on the fly so that these instances appear to be a part of AWS (at least from the point of credential generation).

In this article we will take a look at how we can setup a simple PKI using AWS released code and enable apps to generate AWS IAM credentials from a non AWS workload at run time. The generated credentials will have the ReadOnlyAccess and IAMAccessAnalyzerReadOnlyAccess permission to ensure we begin with read only credentials. We can alway add or remove privileges by updating the role from IAM.

AWS User Session Token Temporary Access Mechanism

To set up a non AWS workload and eventually generate the temporary access token, some prerequisites have to be met.

  1. The machine where the IAM credentials will be generated should be a non AWS workload. You could technically perform the steps in the next section on an AWS instance but that will defeat the purpose of this feature
  2. The machine should have outbound/egress connectivity to the Internet. Specifically to the AWS IAM and STS API endpoints.

How to set up the instance and generate credentials

We have used an Ubuntu 20.04 virtual machine running locally for this example.

  1. Download the aws_signing_helper binary from https://docs.aws.amazon.com/rolesanywhere/latest/userguide/credential-helper.html. Options for other operating systems are available here.

  2. Clone the git repo at https://github.com/aws/rolesanywhere-credential-helper to obtain PKI certificate creation scripts. We will use this to create a server certificate and a private key which are required to run the aws_signing_helper binary to generate temporary assume role tokens

  3. To build the aws_signing_helper binary, follow the steps listed under “Building the aws_signing_helper binary” and then continue here

  4. Under https://us-east-1.console.aws.amazon.com/rolesanywhere/home/ , create a new “Trust Anchor”.

  5. Click “Create a trust anchor” and give a name to the anchor. This could be anything you choose that describes the connection.

  6. We will use our own CA, so select “External certificate bundle.” Under “External certificate bundle,” paste your CA certificate, which can be obtained by following the steps under the ”Generate CA certificate for Trust Anchor” section in this document.

    Generate CA certificate for Trust Anchor

  7. Click “Create trust anchor” and note its ARN

  8. Once the Trust Anchor is created click on “Create a Profile” under the “Profiles” section

  9. Give the profile a name and follow the steps under the “Create an IAM Role that trusts the IAM Roles Anywhere Service Principal” section in this document

  10. Add the role that we just created and again attach the ReadOnlyAccess and IAMAccessAnalyzerReadOnlyAccess permission policies under “Session policies - optional

    Attach role and policies

  11. Note the profile ARN, once the profile is created

  12. Run the following command next, if all steps under “Create an IAM Role that trusts the IAM Roles Anywhere Service Principal” have been completed. This command will generate the AWS Keys, Secret Keys and Session Token.

./aws_signing_helper credential-process --certificate ../../credential-process-data/client-cert.pem --private-key ../../credential-process-data/client-key.pem --trust-anchor-arn <TRUST-ANCHOR-ARN> --profile-arn <PROFILE-ARN> --role-arn <ROLE-ARN> | jq

AWS signing helper

Note: various variables have been exported prior to running the command for brevity

Generate CA certificate for Trust Anchor

  1. From the cloned github repo, run ./generate-credential-process-data.sh
  2. This creates the certificate bundle in the credential-process-data folder
  3. Copy the contents of root-cert.pem to be used as the External Certificate bundle
  4. Note the names of the client-cert.pem and client-key.pem in the same folder, as these are required as arguments when running the aws_signing_helper binary
  5. Copy the client-cert.pem and client-key.pem to the local folder where the aws_signing_helperbinary is present.

Create an IAM Role that trusts the IAM Roles Anywhere Service Principal

  1. Create a new IAM role under https://us-east-1.console.aws.amazon.com/iamv2/home?#/roles
  2. Under “Use Case”, from the drop down, select “Roles Anywhere” and click Next
  3. Attach the ReadOnlyAccess and IAMAccessAnalyzerReadOnlyAccess permission policies
  4. Give the role a name and click “Create Role” to create it
  5. Note the role ARN

Building the aws_signing_helper binary

  1. Follow the instructions at https://github.com/aws/rolesanywhere-credential-helper#building to build the binary locally
  2. You will need Go 1.18 or above
  3. After successfully compiling using make release, you will find the aws_signing_helper binary in build/bin/

How to use

Using AWS CLI Configure

  1. On the terminal use aws configure --profile &lt;new-profile-name>
  2. Provide the value for AWS Access Key ID
  3. Provide the value for AWS Secret Access Key
  4. Provide the value for Default region name

AWS CLI Configure profile

  1. Open the ~/.aws/credentials file and add the following line in the correct profile section


AWS Profile credentials file

Using Exported Environment Variables

  1. On the terminal export the following variables

    export AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID=<aws_access_key>
    export AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY=<aws_secret_access_key>
    export AWS_SESSION_TOKEN=<aws_session_token>
    export AWS_DEFAULT_REGION=<region>

Finally, you can run aws sts get-caller-identity --profile &lt;profile-name> to check if the credentials have been configured properly or not.

AWS CLI profile configured