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Introduction to User Data

Instance user data is used to run commands when an EC2 instance is first started or after it is rebooted (with some configuration). Because this script is typically used to install software and configure the instance, this can be an excellent source of information for us as attackers. After gaining access to an EC2 instance you should immediately grab the user data script to gain information on the environment.


Although it should not be done, credentials/secrets often end up being stored in user data. From the AWS docs, "Although you can only access instance metadata and user data from within the instance itself, the data is not protected by authentication or cryptographic methods. Anyone who has direct access to the instance, and potentially any software running on the instance, can view its metadata. Therefore, you should not store sensitive data, such as passwords or long-lived encryption keys, as user data."

How to Access EC2 User Data

User data can be accessed at from the EC2 instance.


Version two of the metadata service has added protections against SSRF and requires the user to create and use a token. You can access it via the following.

user@host:~$ TOKEN=`curl -X PUT "" -H "X-aws-ec2-metadata-token-ttl-seconds: 21600"`
user@host:~$ curl -H "X-aws-ec2-metadata-token: $TOKEN" -v


Another option to gather user data is via the API. If you escalate privileges in an account, or simply compromise a user/role with sufficient permissions, you can query the AWS API to view the user data of specific EC2 instances. This requires you to know the instance-id of the target EC2 instance. To query the user data we will use the describe-instance-attribute action. The result will be base64 encoded.

user@host:~$ aws ec2 describe-instance-attribute --instance-id i-abc123... --attribute userData