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What is AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM)?

AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) uses a set of tools, policies, processes, and protocols used to manage identities and control access to resources within AWS. IAM allows admins to manage permissions to systems and the workforce.

Users in AWS refer to employees, partners, or contractors with access to your AWS environment. Access refers to the actions permitted to a user. These include creating, viewing, deleting, changing files, etc. Furthermore, different sets of users can be further segmented depending on their roles in an organization.

AWS IAM controls which users can access business systems, when they can get it, and what they can do. It follows a granular approach in providing access controls and permissions within your environments.

What are the Major Components of AWS IAM?

AWS IAM consists of the following identities:


An IAM user is any person who can interact with your AWS resources for whatever purpose, either through the AWS console or CLI. You can create a user and assign them credentials, permitting them to access your AWS resources.


An IAM group is a set of users and permissions assigned to those users. They offer a convenient way to manage user permissions by categorizing them according to responsibilities or job roles. Since users within a group fall under the same category, they can manage all their permissions at once. IAM groups are especially important for large enterprises with lots of employees.


An IAM role is an identity that you can create and assign specific permissions. These permissions determine what an identity can do and can’t do in AWS.

An AWS role is not associated with a specific person but can be assumed by anyone who needs it. Also. IAM roles don’t have long-term access keys or passwords associated with them. Once a user assumes a role, it gives temporary security credentials for the session.


IAM policies are sets of rules attached to identities and define their permissions for actions. An IAM policy can be attached to a role, group, or user.

There are two types of policies:

  • Inline Policies

These are policies applied directly to IAM identities. They are used for specific objectives and are non-reusable.

  • Managed Policies

These types of policies are attached to multiple entities. That covers various use cases and can be matched and mixed to give generalized access to groups, users, and roles.

AWS recommends managed policies are they are more standardized and you can reuse them.


Permissions enable AWS users to perform actions on resources. You can assign permission to users, groups, and roles in two ways:

  • Identity-Based policies
  • Resource-based policies

Identity-based policies are attached directly to roles, groups, or users, while resource-based policies are attached to AWS resources such as EC2 Instances, S3 buckets, and more.

What Are the Main Features of AWS IAM?

AWS IAM gives account owners and administrators complete control over the cloud environment. Here are some features of the AWS IAM:

Multifactor authentication (MFA)

IAM multifactor authentication is w users take more than one step for authentication before accessing AWS resources. It combines various user-known credentials such as passwords, biometrics, or a security token such as OTP.

IAM enhances security as it controls user access. Unauthorized users find it hard to bypass security credentials, protecting your organization from hacking, ransomware, and other cyber attacks.
Besides security, IAM helps achieve compliance. Most regulatory standards like GDPR and HIPAA require companies to implement the IAM best practices.

Password Policy

A password policy is a set of rules that dictate how users can create and manage passwords. A password policy dictates the following instances:

  • Minimum number of characters
  • Password strength
  • Use of personal details
  • A mix of alphabets and special characters
  • Password expiration period
  • Password reuse

The user can customize the default password policy to fit their business needs.

Shared Access to the AWS account

With AWS IAM, you can grant some users permission to perform admin actions without sharing your access key and password credentials. This is especially important if you are operating in an immensely tiered organization or running multiple accounts.

Granular Permissions

You can grant different users with different permissions for different resources. You can grant some users complete access to S3 and others access to EC2. For others, you can grant view-only permissions and nothing else.

The Bottom Line

Managing AWS requires using the right tools, policies, and services. You can rely on IAM to control access to your cloud resources or use third-party tools such as nOps.

At nOps, we provide the ultimate AWS management tool to help you orchestrate various activities in AWS. You can use nOps to check users without MFA using IAM roles and IAM groups alongside other security and compliance capabilities.

Start your nOps free trial today or schedule a demo to see it live in action.