Side Scanning EC2 Instances with cnspec

Just when you think you can’t have it all, you can.

Mondoo_graphics_Side scanning EC2 Instances-02

The problem

There are some EC2 instances in your AWS account that you can't access: SSH is turned off, there is no Instance Connect access, and there's no SSM agent installed. You’d like to scan them for misconfigurations and vulnerabilities, but how?

Monitor your infrastructure for security misconfigurations and maps those checks automatically to top compliance frameworks.

The solution

Use open source cnspec side scanning! 🎉 cnspec knows how to create a snapshot of the target EC2 instance, create a volume from that snapshot, and scan that volume for misconfigurations and vulnerabilities.

But how?

There are a few steps here, but the idea is simple: create the scanner instance ( an instance that has AWS API access and is accessible via SSH), install cnspec, and scan away! The scanner instance is responsible for finding the target volume, snapshotting it, and scanning that target volume.

Step one: Create the scanner instance in the same AWS account and VPC as the target instance. Ensure you can SSH to that instance.

Screenshot 2022-11-28 at 16.33.17

Step two: Create a new role that you will attach to the scanner instance. Attach these two AWS-managed policies to the role: AmazonSSMManagedInstanceCore AmazonSSMReadOnlyAccess

Create a custom policy with these permissions and add it to the role:

"Statement": [
              "Effect": "Allow",
              "Action": [
              "Resource": "*",
              "Condition": {
                "StringEquals": {
                  "aws:ResourceTag/Created By": "Mondoo"
              "Effect": "Allow",
              "Action": [
              "Resource": "*"
              "Effect": "Allow",
              "Action": "kms:CreateGrant",
              "Resource": "*",
              "Condition": {
                "Bool": {
                  "kms:GrantIsForAWSResource": true

Step three: SSH to the scanner instance. Follow the instructions in the AWS console for this, something like ssh ec2-user@ -i ~/.ssh/key.pem

Step four: Install cnspec on the scanner instance:

bash -c "$(curl -sSL"

Step five: Scan the target instance from the scanner instance:

sudo cnspec scan aws ec2 ebs i-04614e3ab48488e5f
Screenshot 2022-12-01 at 11.47.29

Do more

Scan more instances, snapshots, and volumes. You can use the same scanner instance you just created for all the scans:

sudo cnspec scan aws ec2 ebs snapshot SNAPSHOT-ID

sudo cnspec scan aws ec2 ebs volume VOLUME-ID


cnspec repo

cnspec docs

Victoria Jeffrey

Victoria Jeffrey (also known as vj) is an Engineering Manager/Software Engineer living near Denver, Colorado. She's been doing this coding and DevOps and security thing for over seven years now, and still loves every minute of it. Vj spends her free time hanging with her family, binging too much tv, and fulfilling her suburban mom obligations by going to pilates and trying to maintain a small herb garden.

You might also like

Mondoo June 2024 Release Highlights
Mondoo May 2024 Release Highlights
Mondoo April 2024 Release Highlights