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AWS Inspector: Full Guide with Features, Benefits, and Pros and Cons

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AWS Inspector: Full Guide with Features, Benefits, and Pros and Cons

Meet AWS Inspector, your built-in, automated, security co-pilot for all your Amazon apps and services. This easy-to-launch tool connects to all your integrated AWS products and analyzes them for software vulnerabilities and unforeseen network exposure. 

Once you enable Inspector and launch it, the vulnerability management service scans your AWS environment for deployed workloads in AWS EC2, Lambda functions, and container images in Amazon ECR. Once security issues and other risks are detected, any flags get compiled into a “findings” report and prioritized by level of severity. 

With Inspector’s continuous scanning and alert features, you have the tools you need to quickly identify underlying issues with your workloads, immediately come up with a game plan for remediating exposures, and always meet compliance requirements and security best practices. Inspector is also integrated with Amazon EventBridge and Security Hub so as to further streamline your security workflow. 

This security monitoring service is designed so that even small IT teams can get a secure handle on quite large development environments. If you’re interested in learning everything you need to know to activate this robust and easily scalable service in your AWS ecosystem, you’ve come to the right place! 

5 Must-know Facts about AWS Inspector

  • AWS Inspector is an automated vulnerability management service that scans your EC2 instances, Lambda functions, and container workloads for issues that could lead to security breaches.   
  • Inspector automatically organizes its “findings” based on the level of severity in the Inspector dashboard. 
  • With Inspector’s risk scoring system, your teams can easily prioritize which issues to cover first. Inspector also provides recommendations on how to mitigate security issues that arise in your workload.  
  • “Suppression rules” allow you to customize rules for filtering out certain Inspector findings that you may not deem critical to the integrity of your systems. 
  • For increased functionality and delivery of timely alerts, AWS Inspector is integrated with AWS Security Hub and EventBridge. 

What is AWS Inspector: Explained

Created and maintained by Amazon, AWS Inspector automatically dives into your AWS resources upon launching, scanning for any potential issues in your workloads that could lead to unintended network exposure or other breaches. Inspector then alerts your organization upon discovery of these issues so that your team can take action to manage deficiencies in your workloads. 

Keep in mind, though, that while AWS Inspector is an important element in any overarching security strategy, Inspector is not necessarily the same thing as using a security product that actively repels hackers and viruses. In other words, Inspector identifies issues that could lead to security breaches, but it does not proactively block security breaches and other malicious intrusions. AWS does boast plenty of security tools to perform these jobs, though—including AWS Shield and Nitro, to name a couple. 

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AWS Inspector is a valuable tool for scanning your EC2 instances for security vulnerabilities.

©whiteMocca/Shutterstock.com

How does AWS Inspector Work?

Once your EC2 workloads, Lambda functions, and ECR images are deployed, and Inspector is activated, Inspector provides continuous monitoring of all your projects so that vulnerabilities are surfaced as your organization’s cloud environment evolves. Inspector delivers robust security scanning by checking your projects against security data within the National Vulnerability Database as well as other compliance, regulations, and best practices as articulated by Amazon and other relevant organizations. 

During this continuous scanning, you have the freedom to customize how—and how often—you receive alerts from your Inspector. And since Inspector automatically orders its alerts by severity, it’s easy to prioritize which issues you want your teams to follow up on. As an added feature in customizability and continuous optimization, you also have the tools needed to create custom “suppression rules”—or user-defined rules that tell Inspector to ignore certain vulnerabilities. 

If all that wasn’t enough, AWS Inspector also has a large base of third-party partners and experts who have used Inspector to build turnkey solutions for your business needs. Trusted brands like IBM, Deloitte, and many others are available here to provide your team with greater workflow efficiencies and advanced reports, and vulnerability mitigation. 

We’ve touched on a few different components of Inspector, so let’s hone in on some of them in more detail. 

Findings

On your Inspector Dashboard, every vulnerability the Inspector surfaces are automatically organized into a section called “Findings.” Here, you can sort through findings by vulnerability, by instance, by container image, or by repository. However you have your findings filtered, AWS Inspector automatically sorts its discoveries by the level of severity, with “Critical” being the highest. 

When you click on a finding, Inspector will give you detailed information about the vulnerability, including an explanation of how your instance could invite outside interference. You can also export Inspector’s findings into a CSV file. This will aid in your exploration or let you fine-tune the findings into a generalized report. 

Another important feature of the findings includes the ability to create “suppression rules” around Inspector’s scanning activity. Suppression rules allow you to automatically exclude certain findings from Inspector’s report that adhere to user-defined criteria. 

These suppression rules won’t stop Inspector from discovering vulnerabilities, but they will be filtered out of the findings that you see so that you can better prioritize your remediation processes. If need be, you can always access these suppressed findings through the Inspector console. 

Alerts

Sometimes, you need stakeholders to be aware of system vulnerabilities. You don’t want to require everyone to navigate to the Inspector console to see the findings. Fortunately, with Inspector, you have the option to set up unique alerts to send out to relevant staff. 

For instance, you could use Amazon SNS and Eventbridge to customize an email topic around vulnerabilities and then schedule the dissemination of that email—say, on a weekly cadence. By using a Lambda function, you can get pretty specific about what details the email alert will include and how to sort it. 

Patch Manager

Let’s face it, AWS Inspector would only be partially complete if it didn’t provide an easy pathway to remediating flaws in your instances as they surface. That’s where the Path Manager comes in. This component of Inspector lets you set up automated processes for patching instances with security updates. 

Once you’ve defined rules governing which patches you want to be installed to which instances, Inspector will then scan your resources to ensure the patches go through. Any instances that Inspector flags as “not compliant” with any known patches, will mark appropriately and send to your dashboard for further review. 

How to use AWS Inspector

We hope we’ve given you a sense of AWS Inspector’s critical role in keeping your EC2 instances, Lambda functions, and container images free from outside interference. Now, we want to go over the basic process for activating Inspector in your account. 

To activate Inspector, you need to have an AWS account, and if you’re the one enabling Inspector, you need to have an IAM user identity with administrator permissions. That’s pretty much the only prerequisite. (Well, and ideally, you would also have an interest in cloud computing, because otherwise, your Inspector isn’t going to have much work to do!) 

Once you log into your administrator role, all you need to do is open the Inspector console, hit “Get Started,” and then hit Activate. Once you activate Inspector, it automatically begins scanning your instances, ECRs, and Lambda functions. Within moments, Inspector’s discoveries will start populating in the “findings” section of your dashboard. And you barely had to lift a finger! 

Oh, we should also mention something here about pricing. If you’re totally new to Inspector (not to AWS, just Inspector), you get to try the service free for 15 days before you pay anything. During the trial period, perhaps you should start getting an estimate on how much this service will cost you. To do that, you can use Amazon’s pricing calculator. Cost varies based on usage. 

How to learn AWS Inspector

Getting the most out of AWS Inspector does occasionally require light coding, and there’s likely to be some level of intricacy in managing findings on an ongoing basis. So, we’d say that using Inspector involves a moderate degree of complexity. 

With the right resources and guidance, though, you need not feel in over your head. When you’re just starting out, the best place to turn to is Amazon’s documentation, or user guide for explaining the ins and outs of the service. Where appropriate, this guide even provides you with sample code for using JSON to manage Eventbridge schema or to create customized alerts. 

If you want some hands-on practice with Inspector, you might also check out this workshop, in which you play the role of security analyst setting up a system of vulnerability detection. 

Keep in mind that you don’t need to become a master of Inspector on day one—especially considering that Inspector will automatically scan for vulnerabilities right away. Take your time with learning it, experiment with what works for you and what doesn’t, and focus your learning on the areas that matter to you the most. 

AWS Inspector: When is it Not The Best Choice?

AWS Inspector is a largely user-friendly solution for managing vulnerabilities within your cloud environment. If you’re computing with Amazon, Inspector is a pretty obvious choice, if for no other reason than for how easy it is to set up. It starts scanning your environment with a few clicks of a button. 

That said, everyone’s needs and preferences are different. AWS Inspector is not always the perfect solution. The most obvious impediment to using Inspector is that the AWS ecosystem has a choke hold on it. In other words, you can’t use it with other services. If you’re computing through Google Cloud, should you be using Inspector to detect vulnerabilities? Definitely not. 

On top of potential vendor issues, some users might also find barriers in the lack of hands-on support or functionality. To the latter point, some in the technical field feel that other security solutions deliver greater sophistication and granularity. 

With these factors in mind, let’s go over some alternatives to AWS Inspector. 

Microsoft Defender for Cloud 

If you’re performing cloud computing through Microsoft, then this is the obvious choice for you. Microsoft’s vulnerability detector offers a similar pay-as-you-go pricing structure to Amazon. On top of that, it ranks highly among users across multiple vectors, including especially its effectiveness in continuous monitoring and suggesting remediation. 

As a direct competitor to Amazon, Microsoft has been sure to offer every feature that you’d find on AWS Inspector. Therefore, if your tech team prefers using Microsoft’s cloud services, don’t fear missing out on intuitive automation tools and reporting features. 

Still, though, Microsoft Defender faces some of the same pitfalls that we find with Inspector: lack of advanced functions and lack of direct customer support. 

Nessus

This is a more expensive product, but you get what you pay for. Namely, hands-on support from security professionals and best-in-class, advanced functionality. If you opt for the “Advanced Support” license, you get access to Nessus’ customer support agents 24/7, 365 days a year. These professionals are on standby to help your team get the most out of Nessus’ vulnerability management features. 

Like any good security solution, Nessus automatically scans your environments for vulnerabilities, indicates the level of severity, and offers suggestions for remediation. Where Nessus really stands out, though, is in its robust suite of expertly-crafted templates. These you can use to make your monitoring system better targeted to your particular environment. 

AWS Inspector: Release History

Amazon announced Amazon Inspector’s release on October 7, 2015, marketing it as an “automated security assessment service.” The problem Amazon sought to solve: a growing size and complexity of systems, configurations, and applications—without the manpower available to manually check the integrity of these resources. Inspector cut through the need for extra IT security staff by automating many of these processes. 

After Inspector’s initial release, Amazon added several new features, including “assessment reporting, support for proxy environments, and integration with Amazon CloudWatch Metrics.” And in 2021, Amazon unveiled a completely revamped version of Inspector. 

The new Amazon Inspector includes the automatic discovery of all the AWS resources your organization is using. Amazon also added support for container-based workloads, integration with Amazon EventBridge and Security Hub, and improved Inspector’s risk scoring accuracy. 

AWS Inspector: Full Guide with Features, Benefits, and Pros and Cons FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is AWS Inspector for?

Inspector is used for scanning your AWS instances for vulnerabilities and security holes. It is essential if you have a complex cloud infrastructure.

What are the advantages of using Amazon Inspector?

Inspector’s low cost and ease of use make it an attractive option for regular scans on AWS resources. It can be run on production machines with minimal impact on CPU or network usage, providing better data for analysis.

What is the difference between AWS Guard and Inspector?

Amazon Inspector evaluates your EC2 instances’ application settings and configurations for security, while Amazon GuardDuty analyzes your entire AWS environment to detect potential threats.

Is Amazon Inspector worth it?

Since it is so cheap and easy to use, it is definitely worth using AWS Inspector, especially if you have a significant number of EC2 instances. Between providing valuable security assessments and helping identify vulnerabilities in your application settings and configurations, Amazon Inspector is a good measure to enhance your overall security posture and reduce the risk of potential threats.

How does Amazon Inspector's performance compare to other scanners?

Amazon Inspector tends to find fewer vulnerabilities than traditional tools. In some cases, it may miss serious vulnerabilities and misconfigurations. You should use Inspector in addition to comprehensive vulnerability scanners for a more complete assessment.

Can Amazon Inspector replace traditional vulnerability scanners?

No, Amazon Inspector should not be used as a substitute for traditional vulnerability scanners like Nessus or Qualys. It has limited detection capabilities and lacks some features, such as scheduling scans and comprehensive vulnerability descriptions. However, it can be a valuable supplementary tool for scanning AWS resources.

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