Skip to content

Article by Nick Frichette.

Brute Force IAM Permissions

When attacking AWS you may compromise credentials for an IAM user or role. This can be an excellent step to gain access to other resources, however it presents a problem for us; How do we know what permissions we have access to? While we may have context clues based on the name of the role/user or based on where we found them, this is hardly exhaustive or thorough.

This leaves us with basically one option, brute force the permissions. To do this, we will try as many safe API calls as possible, seeing which ones fail and which ones succeed. Those that succeed are the permissions we have available to us. There are several tools to do this, however, here we will be covering enumerate-iam by Andrés Riancho.

To use enumerate-iam, simply pull a copy of the tool from GitHub, provide the credentials, and watch the magic happen. All calls by enumerate-iam are non-destructive, meaning only get and list operations are used. This reduces the risk of accidentally deleting something in a client's account.

user@host:/enum$ ./ --access-key $AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID --secret-key $AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY --session-token $AWS_SESSION_TOKEN
2020-12-20 18:41:26,375 - 13 - [INFO] Starting permission enumeration for access-key-id "ASIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA"
2020-12-20 18:41:26,812 - 13 - [INFO] -- Account ARN : arn:aws:sts::012345678912:assumed-role/role-b/user-b
2020-12-20 18:41:26,812 - 13 - [INFO] -- Account Id  : 012345678912
2020-12-20 18:41:26,813 - 13 - [INFO] -- Account Path: assumed-role/role-b/user-b
2020-12-20 18:41:27,283 - 13 - [INFO] Attempting common-service describe / list brute force.
2020-12-20 18:41:34,992 - 13 - [INFO] -- codestar.list_projects() worked!
2020-12-20 18:41:35,928 - 13 - [INFO] -- sts.get_caller_identity() worked!
2020-12-20 18:41:36,838 - 13 - [INFO] -- dynamodb.describe_endpoints() worked!
2020-12-20 18:41:38,107 - 13 - [INFO] -- sagemaker.list_models() worked!

Updating APIs

With an attack surface that evolves as rapidly as AWS, we often have to find and abuse newer features. This is one area where enumerate-iam shines. The tool itself has a built in feature to read in new AWS API calls from the JavaScript SDK, and use that information to brute force. After downloading enumerate-iam, perform the following steps to update the API lists.

cd enumerate_iam/
git clone

This will create or update a file named under enumerate-iam.

OPSEC Considerations

One thing to note is that this tool is very noisy and will generate a ton of CloudTrail logs. This makes it very easy for a defender to spot this activity and lock you out of that role or user. Try other methods of permission enumeration first, or be willing to lose access to these credentials before resorting to brute-force.