If you're not aware of AWS IAM Web Service, I'd suggest you to read What is AWS IAM? before going through the FAQ.

  • You can use AWS IAM to securely control individual and group access to your AWS resources. You can create and manage user identities ("IAM users") and grant permissions for those IAM users to access your resources. You can also grant permissions for users outside of AWS ( federated users).

  • A user is a unique identity recognized by AWS services and applications. Similar to a login user in an operating system like Windows or UNIX, a user has a unique name and can identify itself using familiar security credentials such as a password or access key. A user can be an individual, system, or application requiring access to AWS services.

  • IAM supports multiple methods to:

    • Create and manage IAM users.
    • Create and manage IAM groups.
    • Manage users' security credentials.
    • Create and manage policies to grant access to AWS services and resources.
  • A group is a collection of IAM users. Manage group membership as a simple list:

    • Add users to or remove them from a group.
    • A user can belong to multiple groups.
    • Groups cannot belong to other groups.
    • Groups can be granted permissions using access control policies. This makes it easier to manage permissions for a collection of users, rather than having to manage permissions for each individual user.
    • Groups do not have security credentials, and cannot access web services directly; they exist solely to make it easier to manage user permissions.
  • Users are global entities, like an AWS account is today. No region is required to be specified when you define user permissions. Users can use AWS services in any geographic region.

  • You can enforce strong passwords by requiring minimum length or at least one number. You can also enforce automatic password expiration, prevent re-use of old passwords, and require a password reset upon the next AWS sign-in.

  • All limits are on the AWS account as a whole. For example, if your AWS account has a limit of 20 Amazon EC2 instances, IAM users with EC2 permissions can start instances up to the limit. You cannot limit what an individual user can do.

  • An IAM role is an IAM entity that defines a set of permissions for making AWS service requests. IAM roles are not associated with a specific user or group. Instead, trusted entities assume roles, such as IAM users, applications, or AWS services such as EC2.

  • You assume an IAM role by calling the AWS Security Token Service (STS) AssumeRole APIs (in other words, AssumeRole, AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity, and AssumeRoleWithSAML). These APIs return a set of temporary security credentials that applications can then use to sign requests to AWS service APIs.

  • An IAM user has permanent long-term credentials and is used to directly interact with AWS services. An IAM role does not have any credentials and cannot make direct requests to AWS services. IAM roles are meant to be assumed by authorized entities, such as IAM users, applications, or an AWS service such as EC2.

  • You can add an IAM role as an additional parameter in an Auto Scaling launch configuration and create an Auto Scaling group with that launch configuration. All EC2 instances launched in an Auto Scaling group that is associated with an IAM role are launched with the role as an input parameter.

  • You must grant an IAM user two distinct permissions to successfully launch EC2 instances with roles:

    • Permission to launch EC2 instances.
    • Permission to associate an IAM role with EC2 instances.
  • Use IAM groups to collect IAM users and define common permissions for those users. Use managed policies to share permissions across IAM users, groups, and roles. For example, if you want a group of users to be able to launch an Amazon EC2 instance, and you also want the role on that instance to have the same permissions as the users in the group, you can create a managed policy and assign it to the group of users and the role on the Amazon EC2 instance.

  • Managed policies can only be attached to IAM users, groups, or roles. You cannot use them as resource-based policies.

  • Using policies, you can specify several layers of permission granularity. First, you can define specific AWS service actions you wish to allow or explicitly deny access to. Second, depending on the action, you can define specific AWS resources the actions can be performed on. Third, you can define conditions to specify when the policy is in effect (for example, if MFA is enabled or not).

  • Temporary security credentials consist of the AWS access key ID, secret access key, and security token. Temporary security credentials are valid for a specified duration and for a specific set of permissions. Temporary security credentials are sometimes simply referred to as tokens. Tokens can be requested for IAM users or for federated users you manage in your own corporate directory.

  • You can call the GetFederationToken, AssumeRole, AssumeRoleWithSAML, or AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity STS APIs.

  • IAM users can request temporary security credentials for their own use by calling the AWS STS GetSessionToken API. The default expiration for these temporary credentials is 12 hours; the minimum is 15 minutes, and the maximum is 36 hours.
    You can also use temporary credentials with Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)-Protected API Access.

  • Temporary security credential cannot be revoked prior to its expiration. When requesting temporary credentials, we recommend the following:

    • When creating temporary security credentials, set the expiration to a value that is appropriate for your application.
      Because root account permissions cannot be restricted, use an IAM user and not the root account for creating temporary security credentials. You can revoke permissions of the IAM user that issued the original call to request it. This action almost immediately revokes privileges for all temporary security credentials issued by that IAM user.
  • You cannot restrict the temporary security credentials to a particular region or subset of regions, except the temporary security credentials from AWS GovCloud (US) and China (Beijing), which can be used only in the respective regions from which they originated.

  • AWS STS endpoints are active by default in all regions and you can start using them without any further actions.

  • With identity federation, external identities are granted secure access to resources in your AWS account without having to create IAM users. These external identities can come from your corporate identity provider (such as Microsoft Active Directory or from the AWS Directory Service) or from a web identity provider (such as Amazon Cognito, Login with Amazon, Facebook, Google, or any OpenID Connect-compatible provider).

  • Federated users (external identities) are users you manage outside of AWS in your corporate directory, but to whom you grant access to your AWS account using temporary security credentials. They differ from IAM users, which are created and maintained in your AWS account.

  • Federated users can access the AWS management console in the following ways:

    • One way is by programmatically requesting temporary security credentials (such as GetFederationToken or AssumeRole) for your federated users and including those credentials as part of the sign-in request to the AWS Management Console. After you have authenticated a user and granted them temporary security credentials, you generate a sign-in token that is used by the AWS single sign-on (SSO) endpoint. The user’s actions in the console are limited to the access control policy associated with the temporary security credentials.

    • Alternatively, you can post a SAML assertion directly to AWS sign-in ( The user’s actions in the console are limited to the access control policy associated with the IAM role that is assumed using the SAML assertion.

  • When you request temporary security credentials for your federated user using an AssumeRole API, you can optionally include an access policy with the request. The federated user’s privileges are the intersection of permissions granted by the access policy passed with the request and the access policy attached to the IAM role that was assumed. The access policy passed with the request cannot elevate the privileges associated with the IAM role being assumed.

  • Web identity federation allows you to create AWS-powered mobile apps that use public identity providers (such as Amazon Cognito, Login with Amazon, Facebook, Google, or any OpenID Connect-compatible provider) for authentication. With web identity federation, you have an easy way to integrate sign-in from public identity providers (IdPs) into your apps without having to write any server-side code and without distributing long-term AWS security credentials with the app.

  • For best results, use Amazon Cognito as your identity broker for almost all web identity federation scenarios. Amazon Cognito is easy to use and provides additional capabilities such as anonymous (unauthenticated) access, and synchronizing user data across devices and providers. However, if you have already created an app that uses web identity federation by manually calling the AssumeRoleWithWebIdentity API, you can continue to use it and your apps will still work.

  • AWS multi-factor authentication (AWS MFA) provides an extra level of security that you can apply to your AWS environment. You can enable AWS MFA for your AWS account and for individual AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) users you create under your account.

  • At the API level, developers can integrate AWS MFA into their applications to prompt users to authenticate using their assigned MFA devices before calling powerful APIs or accessing sensitive resources. Developers enable this functionality by adding optional MFA parameters (serial number and MFA code) to requests to obtain temporary security credentials (such requests are also referred to as “session requests”). If the parameters are valid, temporary security credentials that indicate MFA status are returned.

Reference: AWS IAM FAQs