Centrify recently commissioned a study with Forrester Research that yielded some important information about the state of Security.  Bottom-line, we have decided to throw money and resources to the problems around information security rather than rethinking our approach, the results are more breaches and exposures.

You can access the study results here:


A key conclusion on over 200 organizations surveyed is that those with higher Identity and Access Management (IAM) maturity were breached 50% less while maintaining operational efficiency. 


As you read the previous paragraph, you may ask yourself: what is the first step the journey to the continuous improvement required for IAM maturity?  As illustrated in the model below,

a the key component is to establish identity assurance with technologies like MFA or PKI, however this is challenging enough because many organizations have not achieved this on-premises, much less in IaaS/PaaS platforms like Amazon AWS.


This is where Centrify can help.  This article is about guiding you on how to use the Centrify platform to establish identity assurance in several use cases:  

  • Accessing the AWS Consoles with shared accounts (like Amazon root) or Federated identities
  • Accessing EC2 instances locally (Linux or Windows)
  • Accessing AWS commands via the CLI (E.g. PowerShell or Python)

Please note that identity assurance concepts apply to both users and systems (due to API access);  in this use case we'll focus on interactive (user) use cases.  For system/system or app/app, other mechanisms like PKI or Kerberos can be used and we can cover in another entry.


The Centrify Advantage

The biggest advantage for Centrify lies in it's platform and integrations, as a company that covers both Identity as a Service (IDaaS) as well as Privileged Identity Management (PIM) we understand that everything starts with Identity Consolidation.   This is not the "legacy" (metadirectory/connector-based mid-2000s) identity consolidation, this is the "straight-to-the-source" standards based approach using Federation in the IDaaS side, plus direct-integration (with Kerberos) in the case of heterogeneous OS platforms.  We add to this a series of services:

  • A policy service
  • A multi-factor authentication engine (that includes modern and legacy-based support)
  • A risk-based engine (analytics) 

Our native integrations with Active Directory make us a prime vendor to consolidate capabilities;  here's an example, if an organization wants to secure access to a web app, integrate a non-windows platform to a central directory like AD and get MFA, they may engage 3 distinct vendors, however Centrify can help with world-class solutions on the three areas.  Let's look at a the examples.


Securing Shared or Federated Access to the AWS Console

Centrify Identity Service provides several turn-key templates to help with shared or federated (via SAML or using the AWS API) SSO for Amazon Web Services.  We have covered these integrations here:


However, the powerful policy engine and the support for multiple authentication profiles makes this integration simple and flexible.  


Here's a quick demo on how this integration is enabled and the user experience:

Notice how we achieved our goals:  identity consolidation and assurance while maintaining usability.


Securing Access to Linux and Windows AWS EC2 Instances

Centrify Server Suite provides native integration with Active Directory, regardless of your deployment model. 


By leveraging AD (hosted by you or in AWS), you are eliminating the duplication of identity sources caused by SSH keys with the addition of DirectAuthorize technology that provides role-based access control and privilege elevation and is fully-integrated with the policy and authentication profiles provided by Identity Service or Privilege Service.  We have discussed these integrations here:

Provided the Identity Service/Privilege Service setup is correct and the proper PKI trust is in place, for Access and Privilege elevation, all we need to do is set up the proper checkbox at the role, UNIX command or Windows desktop or application.


Here's the user experience that meets the requirements for identity assurance via MFA for both Linux and Windows in the context of access and privilege elevation.


Notice how we achieved our goals:  identity consolidation and assurance while maintaining usability.


Securing Access to AWS CLI (e.g. PowerShell)

Administration of AWS Services is often performed via the AWS CLI (implemented via Windows PowerShell or UNIX CLI).

If you're using Centrify Identity Service with SAML federation into AWS, you can implement the SSO plugin provided with the template.



Here's the user experience in PowerShell.  Note that the experience will be based on the authentication profile that applies to the user by policy.


If you have multiple roles, you get to select them:


Finally, the authentication token is stored in the $me variable and the user can move-on to use AWS PowerShell commandlets.   See the pattern here?  Identity assurance with MFA and role-based access without compromising usability and achieving this with with a single solution set.



A cliché of business schools is the statement "you can't manage what you can't measure"; but since we're dealing with IT security, you may want to track how we are performing towards our goal of consistent identity assurance, in these AWS examples, we can use AWS CloudWatch metrics to measure the percentage of access in the proper context (e.g. Console, EC2, etc) is performed with assurance.  Therefore a good metric to track would be:



MFA events are tracked for Linux, Windows and Identity Platform, this allows you to be creative and get information from CloudWatch or from Identity Service.


Note the CloudWatch widgets above.  In my Linux space, I have a ratio of close to 60% identity assurance (4 out of 7 successful logins were with MFA), however my track record on the sample data I created on Windows is much better (100%).  You use the same approach for privilege elevation via Centrify-enhanced sudo or Centrify Agent for Windows.


In the case of Identity Service or Privilege Service, the platform provide dashboards and reports like the Security Overview - User Logins


These dashboards allow for reviewing information within 7 days or 24 hours and to look at specific date-time ranges. 



Identity assurance is closer than what you think, with the "barriers of entry" for MFA solutions going down, it's all about working with the right partner and Centrify excels at securing apps, endpoints, infrastructure and secrets; finally, the obvious challenge is organizational dynamics;   If you still have groups opposed to centralizing directories or maintaining legacy infrastructure, you can split the project in several phases and attack the platforms that are easier from a people/process standpoint.  Once you can demonstrate identity assurance within those applications or infrastructure, it's going to be hard for those "holding on to the past" to ignore that the best practices are here to stay. The model applies to all aspects of any risk-sensitive information technology area and like every other framework it's not a silver bullet; new threats, attack vectors, compliance requirements and tools are introduced, therefore this has to evolve as well.


Related Articles

Using Centrify Audit Trail for UNIX/Linux with AWS CloudWatch

[Labs] Using Centrify Audit Trail for Windows with AWS CloudWatch

[Security Corner] Reviewing your Access and Privilege Management Model with Centrify tools: 


As more and more organizations run infrastructure in IaaS platforms like Amazon AWS, there's an increased need to enhance security operations and prove effective implementation of security controls.  AWS provides a solution set that includes CloudWatch.  


About CloudWatch

As defined by Amazon "CloudWatch monitors your Amazon Web Services (AWS) resources and the applications you run on AWS in real time. You can use CloudWatch to collect and track metrics, which are variables you can measure for your resources and applications." 

For more information, check out the Getting Started guide for CloudWatch:


The goal of this article, is to provide some initial guidance to leverage AWS CloudWatch to collect, track and measure Centrify Audit Trail events in Windows systems running in AWS.

For a companion article that covers UNIX/Linux instances, click here:


About Centrify Audit Events

Centrify Audit Events (CentrifyAuditTrail) is the cross-platform framework used by Centrify Server Suite to document and provide access, privilege and audit trail event data. When a Centrify-enabled service is invoked, an audit trail event is written to UNIX syslog or Windows event log.  These events are documented in the  Audit Events Administrator's Guide for the current version of Server Suite.  The types or content of the events vary depending on the edition (Standard or Enterprise)


For more information, check out the current guide for Server Suite 2017:



For this lab, you'll need:

  • An AWS Account with the proper VPC setup, privileges in CloudWatch and IAM
  • Active Directory (run by you or managed by Amazon) and the proper VPC name resolution and communications
  • A Centrify zone, sample users and access/privilege setup
  • At least one Windows system joined to Active Directory and the Centrify zone
  • The Windows system should have some Centrify data (e.g. access, privilege elevations) present in the application event log.

Centrify AWS Lab:  You'll need to be at Standard Edition level to follow this lab, more info here:


Implementation Overview

  1. Set-up your AWS Windows Instances for CloudWatch Logs (use AWS's docs)
  2. Verify Centrify Audit Trail events in the CloudWatch log group
  3. Identify Access and Privilege-related Metrics provided by Centrify
  4. Create the Filters and Assign a Metric
  5. Create a Dashboard
  6. Create an Alarm


Set-up your AWS Linux Instances for CloudWatch Logs

For information on this topic, please review AWS's documentation:


Note that Centrify Audit Trail resides in the Windows Application log.  To gather the proper event data, make sure you are capturing information and warning messages, this is configured by modifying the AWS.EC2.Windows.CloudWatch.json file in the proper location based on your deployment (stand alone or using SSN service) and under teh ApplicationEventLog stanza, setting the Levels to 7 as illustrated below:


    "Id": "ApplicationEventLog",
    "FullName": "AWS.EC2.Windows.CloudWatch.EventLog.EventLogInputComponent,AWS.EC2.Windows.CloudWatch",
    "Parameters": {
        "LogName": "Application",
        "Levels": "7"

Once you have the Windows logs logs for your instances in the corresponding Log Group, please proceed to the next section.


Verify Centrify Audit Trail events in the CloudWatch log group

  1. Go to your CloudWatch console:
  2. Click on Logs > Click on the log group for your Windows instances (e.g. "Default-Log-Group"  or the group you are using for your Windows event logs)
  3. Click on Search log group and in filter events, type "AUDIT_TRAIL"
  4. Verify the results.
    If you have a Windows system that was joined to the Centrify zone, there will be event data about access, privileges and other activities.

Now you have verified that your systems are streaming syslog data with Centrify Audit Trail information.


Identify Access and Privilege-related Metrics provided by Centrify

The Centrify Agent for Windows™ provides access control,multi-factor authentication and role-based privileged elevation; this component is called DirectAuthorize.  DirectAuthorize controls how users access the system and what commands they can run. The implementation of privilege elevation leverages roles defined in Active Directory and the DirectAuthorize client for Windows.



The metrics that you'll track will depend in your objectives and in your maturity level.  For illustration purposes, let's track successful and unsuccessful access and privilege elevation in my Windows EC2 instances. After reviewing the Centrify Audit events guide, I identify the following events:


Access Control

Windows Remote Login Success:  These events are recorded when an authorized user from the Centrify zone is succesfully granted access to the Windows system;  the Centrify Event Id is 6003.
You can leverage the Audit Trail admin guide for a full catalog.


Windows Remote Login Failure:  The opposite of the event above, it's a warning stating that the user was not authorized to log in from the current station.  This may denote an attempt at lateral movement. The Event Id is 6011.

Privilege Elevation

Run with Privilege Success:  Indicates successful privilege elevation the Centrify Agent for Windows; this may be a privileged desktop or an application; the event ID is 6012.

Run with Privilege Success:  Indicates an unsuccessful attempt at privilege elevation the Centrify Agent for Windows; this may be a privileged desktop or an application and could be user error or an abuse attempt; the event ID is 6018.



Create the Filters and Assign a Metric

  1. Go to your CloudWatch console:
  2. Click on Logs and select the radio buttion next to your log group (e.g. Default-Log-Group)
  3. Click Create Metric Filter
    • In filter pattern, type: centrifyEventID=6003
    • Press "Assign Metric" 
  4. In Filter Name, type a unique name for the filter
  5. In Metric details, create a new namespace (e.g. CentrifyAuditTrail) or browse for it if you already have it.
  6. In Metric name, give it a descriptive metric.
  7. Press Assign Metric.
  8. Repeat the process for all the metrics you've identified.

Create a Dashboard

Before creating a dashboard, you may want to plan how to visualize the data.  In some instances it's useful to see the aggregate data (# of events), in others it's useful to see a trend (graphs overlapped with time).

Once you have thought of how to visualize the data, it's time to get started with your Dashboard. 


  1. Go to your CloudWatch console:
  2. Click on Dashboards > Create Dashboard and give it a name, then press Create Dashboard
  3. To add aggregated information, select the Number widget
  4. Select your Namespace, Dimension and check the metric(s) to be measured
  5. Go to the graphed metrics tab, and select the proper statistic and period  (e.g. sum and 1 day) and press Update Widget.
  6. Once you have the Widget in the dashboard, adjust the size and label.

Repeat the process with the trend using with a line or stacked area.


Below is a simple dashboard that includes the metrics above.


Create an Alarm

A meaningful alarm could be based on a pattern outside expected behavior, an availability issue or another event (or aggregation of events) based on the risk that wants to be corrected.  This example is for illustration purposes only.

Example:  The threshold for attempted abouse of privilege elevation feature of the Centrify Agent for Windows for  3 or more attempts within a 5 minute period, when this happens, an email should be triggered to the members of the Security Operations distribution list.

  1. Go to your CloudWatch console:
  2. Click Browse Metrics and next to Centrify-dzdo-Denied, click the alarm icon.
  3. In create alarm:
    Name: Alarm-DZWin-Privilege-Abuse
    Whenever: is equal or greater than 3 for 1 consecutive period
    Period: 5 minutes
    Statistic: Sum
  4. Actions
    Whenever this alarm state is Alarm
    Create a new list (

Trigger the alarm

  1. Sign-in to your Windows instance with your administrator
  2. For any application in your desktop, right click and select "Run with Privilege" 
  3. You should get this message:
  4. Repeat 3 more times.  This should trigger the alarm.
  5. Review the Dashboard.  After a few minutes, the alarm will return to normal and you'll be notified


We have only scratched the surface of the capabilities provided by AWS CloudWatch, however in the context of Identity and Access Management, the enrichment of security operations via logs, alerts and dashboards should be done via standard tools; otherwise if each tool duplicates these capabilties, then security operations won't know where to go first.  Centrify provides native plugins for Splunk, IBM QRadar and HP ArcSight.  These tools provide both operational data as well as like the following privilege command pie chart.


Related Articles

[Using Centrify Audit Trail for UNIX/Linux with AWS CloudWatch]

[Security Corner] Reviewing your Access and Privilege Management Model with Centrify tools:  

Setting a Centrify AWS Test Lab:
Using AWS OpsWorks (Chef 12) to deploy Centrify DirectControl on EC2 Linux instances:

Centrify Audit Trail Administrator's guide (2017): 

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