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Dec 21, 2023

Tagging AWS Resources

The benefits of running a cloud-based workload or application are not for dispute. Lower cost, scale, evergreen SaaS and SaaS - they're all compelling. But 'lift and shift' does not mean you're running on autopilot. There is still a lot required to keep your app or workload running smoothly and securely. One tool you'll want to consider right off the bat for any AWS cloud instance is resource tagging.  

What is AWS Tagging?

AWS Tagging is a feature provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS) that allows users to label and organize their AWS resources with custom metadata in the form of key-value pairs. Tags are user-defined strings that help in categorizing resources, making them easier to manage, search, and control access. Each AWS resource can have multiple tags. Each tag consists of a key (a string) and a corresponding value (another string). Examples of resources include an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instance, an Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) bucket, or a secret in AWS Secrets Manager.


Why AWS Tagging?

AWS Tagging offers numerous benefits including::


  1. Resource Organization and Identification:  As your AWS infrastructure grows, you may have many types of resources belonging to a variety of projects, teams, or environments. Tags allow you to categorize and organize resources based on custom criteria. This makes it easier to locate and manage specific resources, especially when you have a large resource count.
  2. Cost Allocation and Analysis:  Tagging resources with relevant cost center information or project names allows you to easily identify the cost associated with each team or project. This helps in financial planning by showing the cost breakdown for different parts of the organization.
  3. Automation and Resource Management:  Set up policies and scripts based on tags to automate resource provisioning, scheduling, and termination. For example, you can automatically shut down or resize resources (based on their tags) to optimize costs.
  4. Monitoring and Reporting:  Create custom monitoring and reporting solutions. By using tags as dimensions in AWS monitoring services like Amazon CloudWatch, you can generate specific metrics for resources that share common tags. This helps in gaining insights into resource performance and usage patterns.
  5. Lifecycle Management: Use tags to indicate the expiration date of temporary resources, allowing you to proactively identify and clean up resources no longer needed - reducing costs and potential security risks.
  6.  Budgeting and Forecasting:  Tag-based cost allocation allows you to project expenses for different projects or departments more effectively.

Tagging Also Enhances Security

Here are some of the key ways that tagging can enhance your security:


  1. Data Sensitivity Tagging: Tags can be used to classify data based on sensitivity level. For example, tags can identify data as "Confidential," "Internal Use Only," or "Public." With proper tagging, organizations can implement data protection measures and access controls to ensure sensitive data is appropriately secured. This helps prevent unauthorized access and data leaks.
  2. Enforcement of Security Policies: Tags can indicate whether encryption is enabled on an S3 bucket or whether a specific security group rule is applied to an EC2 instance. Automated security checks based on tags can help maintain a consistent security posture across resources and ensure compliance with security standards.
  3. Incident Response and Forensics: During security incidents or forensic investigations, tags can be valuable in identifying affected resources quickly. Tags can be used to mark resources as part of a specific application, environment, or project. This information aids incident responders in understanding the scope of the incident and taking appropriate actions to mitigate further risks.
  4. Resource Visibility and Inventory Management: Proper tagging provides improved visibility into the AWS environment, making it easier to maintain an accurate inventory of resources. Security teams can use tags to identify and track all resources associated with a particular project, department, or business unit, enhancing overall security management.
  5. Secure Resource Decommissioning: Tags can be used to mark resources that are scheduled for decommissioning or retirement. By tagging resources with an expiration date or decommissioning status, organizations can proactively identify and remove resources that are no longer needed, reducing the attack surface and mitigating potential security risks.
  6. Compliance and Auditing: Tags play a crucial role in meeting compliance requirements and facilitating auditing processes. By tagging resources according to their compliance status or regulatory obligations, organizations can more easily demonstrate adherence to security standards during audits. Compliance auditors can use tags to quickly identify resources that require specific security controls and assessments.

Associated Risks

While AWS Tagging is a useful feature, there are some risks associated with its use if not managed properly:


  1. Mistagging: Your team may use the incorrect tag for a resource. If you use a tag to indicate that data is sensitive, for instance, resources that are missing the sensitive information tag could be missed or accidentally compromised. 
  2. Wasted time: Creating and maintaining tags takes time. If you don’t have a way to consistently use AWS tagging, your team could end up spending time creating tags that aren’t valuable or are unused. 
  3. Inconsistency: Tags could be used differently depending on who assigns the tag and who manages the resource. 

How to use AWS Tagging

AWS Tagging is straightforward, tags can be applied  to your AWS resources through the AWS Management Console, AWS Command Line Interface (CLI), or AWS SDKs. Here's a general overview of how to use AWS Tagging:


Tagging via AWS Management Console
  1. Sign in to the AWS Management Console.
  2. Navigate to the service that contains the resource you want to tag (e.g., EC2, S3).
  3. Select the resource (e.g., an EC2 instance or an S3 bucket).
  4. Look for the "Tags" section in the resource details page.
  5. Click on "Add/Edit Tags" or a similar button to add tags.
  6. Enter the key-value pairs for the tags you want to apply and click "Save" or "Apply".

Tagging via AWS Command Line Interface (CLI)
  1. Open a terminal or command prompt.
  2. Use the appropriate AWS CLI command for the resource you want to tag. For example, to tag an EC2 instance, you can use the create-tags command.
    1. aws ec2 create-tags --resources i-1234567890abcdef0 --tags Key=Environment,Value=Production Key=Project,Value=MyProject

  3. Specify the resource's ARN (Amazon Resource Name) and the key-value pairs for the tags you want to apply.

Best Practices for AWS Tagging

Implementing best practices for AWS tagging ensures consistency, efficiency, and effective resource management. Here are some essential best practices for AWS tagging:

  • Establish a Tagging Strategy: Define a clear tagging strategy that outlines the purpose, naming conventions, and key attributes to be used for tagging. Ensure that all team members understand and follow this strategy consistently.
  • Use Standardized Key Names: Standardized key names  ensure consistency and easy identification of tags across resources. For example, use "Environment," "Project," "CostCenter," or "Owner" as standard keys.
  • Keep Tags Simple and Meaningful: Use concise and meaningful tag values. Avoid adding unnecessary information in tag values to keep them relevant and easy to understand.
  • Tag All Relevant Resources: Apply tags to all applicable AWS resources. Common resources to tag include EC2 instances, S3 buckets, RDS databases, Lambda functions, and more.
  • Tag from Resource Creation: Implement a practice of tagging resources at the time of creation. Whether you're provisioning resources through the AWS Management Console, CLI, or SDKs, include tags during the resource creation process.
  • Use Automation for Consistency: Implement automation to ensure consistent tagging across your resources. Automation can help enforce tagging policies and prevent resources from being created without tags.
  • Avoid Over-Tagging: While tagging is valuable, avoid adding too many unnecessary tags. Over-tagging can lead to confusion and increased management overhead.
  • Tag for Cost Allocation: Use tags to allocate costs to specific teams, projects, or cost centers. This will help in accurate cost tracking and budgeting.
  • Consider Resource Lifecycle: Use tags to manage the lifecycle of resources. For example, you can create policies based on tags to automatically shut down or terminate resources not in use.
  • Regularly Review and Clean Up Tags: Periodically review your tags and clean up unused or obsolete tags. This helps keep your resource organization clean and prevents tag sprawl.
  • Tag Across Multiple Services: Tags are not limited to a single service. Consider tagging resources consistently across multiple AWS services to facilitate cross-service resource management.
  • Educate Team Members: Educate your team members about the importance of tagging and your organization's tagging strategy. Encourage them to follow the guidelines and best practices.
  • Use AWS Tag Editor: AWS offers a Tag Editor feature that allows you to search for resources based on tags and apply tags across multiple resources simultaneously, simplifying tagging management.


AWS Tagging is a powerful feature that allows users to label and organize their AWS resources with custom metadata in the form of key-value pairs. It offers numerous benefits, including resource organization, security, cost allocation, access control, automation, monitoring, and billing. Once you’ve set ground rules and assigned ownership, tagging can help you use AWS more effectively and manage resources appropriately.