Session Manager

Session Manager is a fully managed AWS Systems Manager capability that lets you manage your EC2 instances, on-premises instances, and virtual machines (VMs) through an interactive one-click browser-based shell or through the AWS CLI. Session Manager provides secure and auditable instance management without the need to open inbound ports, maintain bastion hosts, or manage SSH keys. Session Manager also makes it easy to comply with corporate policies that require controlled access to instances, strict security practices, and fully auditable logs with instance access details, while still providing end users with simple one-click cross-platform access to your managed instances.

In order to establish a session, the IAM user or role must have Session Manager permissions as well as access to the target managed instances. At minimum, SSM Agent version or later must be installed on the instances you want to connect to through sessions.

About the ssm-user account Starting with version of SSM Agent, the agent creates a local user account called ssm-user and adds it to /etc/sudoers (Linux) or to the Administrators group (Windows). On agent versions before 2.3.612.0, the account is created the first time SSM Agent starts or restarts after installation. On version 2.3.612.0 and later, the ssm-user account is created the first time a session is started on an instance. This ssm-user is the default OS user when a Session Manager session is started.

If you want to prevent Session Manager users from running administrative commands on an instance, you can update the ssm-user account permissions. You can also restore these permissions after they have been removed. For more information, see Step 7: (Optional) disable or enable ssm-user account administrative permissions.

ssm-user on Windows Server domain controllers

Beginning with SSM Agent version 2.3.612.0, the ssm-user account is not created automatically on managed instances that are used as Windows Server domain controllers. To use Session Manager on a Windows Server machine being used as a domain controller, you must create the ssm-user account manually if it isn’t already present. On Windows Server, SSM Agent sets a new password for the ssm-user account each time a session starts, so you do not need to specify a password when you create the account.

In this lab we will utilize Session Manager to connect to our Web instances that we ran our Command document against.

  1. Open the AWS Systems Manager console at

  2. In the navigation pane, choose Session Manager.

  3. Select Start Session.

  4. Select one of the Web servers which we just targeted using Run Command.

  5. Select Start session.

  6. You will be directed to a new tab and presented with the shell of the target Web instance.

  7. Switch back to the Session Manager console tab and select the refresh button.

    • In the Sessions section, you can now see the active session you’ve established.
  8. Switch back to the tab with your active session and type following commands:

    cd /app

    • You can see our text file hello.txt created by the Run Command document in the previous section.
    systemctl status httpd 
    • Apache is now running per our document instructions.
  9. Select Terminate to close the session.

  10. Go back to Session Manager and select refresh. You can see the session was ended and there are no running sessions.

  11. Select the Session History tab.

  12. You will see your previous session in a Terminating state.

We will now configure session logging for CloudWatch Logs.

  1. Open the Amazon CloudWatch console at

  2. In the navigation pane, choose Log Groups in the Logs section.

  3. Select Create log group. Important: Your role needs to have the appropriate permissions within CloudWatch

    • In this lab, the IAM role has the appropriate permissions so you do not need to make any modifications.
  4. For Log group name, enter Systems-Manager-Workshop and choose Create.

  5. Navigate back to the Session Manager console at

  6. Select the Preferences tab.

  7. Select Edit.

  8. For Send Session output to CloudWatch Logs, select CloudWatch logs to enable writting session output to CloudWatch Logs.

    • Uncheck Encrypt log data for now. This can be optionally enabled in the CloudWatch (CW) Logs group console.
    • Select the log group we created above, Systems-Manager-Workshop.
    • Select Save.
  9. Now that we have enabled writting session output to CloudWatch Logs, repeat steps 4-8 to see the session output within CloudWatch Logs.

  10. Select the Session History tab.

    • The most recent session will be in a Terminating state for 1-3 minutes as the history is sent to CloudWatch Logs for storage.
    • Periodically, select the refresh button to check on the status of the session.
  11. Once the status is Terminated, select the output location CloudWatch Logs.

  12. In CloudWatch Logs you will see that inside your Systems Manager Log Group a new Log Stream was created and utilized the ID of the Session Manager session you just ended.

  13. Expand the messages and you will see a full output of the terminal session.

This is a powerful integration because now you have an easy interface to:

  • Review session logs
  • Create Metric Filters and alarms based on specific log file entries (e.g. sudo)
  • CloudWatch Alarms can then carry out actions like shutdown an instance or send the Alert details to an SNS topic