A Nicer MFA Workflow with awscli

This utility tries to make the multifactor authentication (MFA) login workflow with awscli a little more user-friendly.


In ~/.aws/credentials, add a profile for the account you need to authenticate into that looks like the following:

__mfa__ = arn:aws:iam:123456789:987654321:mfa/bob
aws_access_key_id = ZZZZZ
aws_secret_access_key ZZZZZ

So here, __mfa__ should be your MFA serial number, and aws_access_key_id / aws_secret_access_key are your standard-issue access keys that you made in the IAM.

Then from the terminal, execute:

$ ./aws-login.py someaccount
Enter MFA token: ••••••••
Session started; expires in 2 hours

This will put the session token in your default AWS credential profile so you can use aws as you would normally without having to remember to put --profile someaccount on every single subsequent command.

Note: This implementation depends on arrow for the time parsing and math, but it’s not critical to the operation. If you don’t have arrow installed you can always just comment those lines out.


#!/usr/bin/env python3

import argparse
import configparser
import datetime
import json
import subprocess
import os

import dateutil.parser

CREDENTIALS_FILEPATH = os.path.expanduser('~/.aws/credentials')

ap = argparse.ArgumentParser()
ap.add_argument('-v', '--verbose', action='store_true')
opts = ap.parse_args()

profile = opts.profile

credentials = configparser.ConfigParser()

    mfa_serial = credentials[profile]['__mfa__']
except KeyError:
    print(f"error: could not read '{profile}.__mfa__' (file={CREDENTIALS_FILEPATH})")

    response = subprocess.check_output([
        input('Enter MFA token: ').strip(),
    if opts.verbose:
        print(f'debug: {response.decode().strip()}')
except subprocess.CalledProcessError as err:
    print('error: auth failed: {}'.format(err))
except KeyboardInterrupt:

    parsed = json.loads(response)
except json.JSONDecodeError as err:
    print('error: could not decode auth response: {}'.format(err))

session_start = datetime.datetime.now().astimezone()
session_expiration = dateutil.parser.parse(parsed['Credentials']['Expiration']).astimezone()


credentials.set('default', '__profile__', profile)
credentials.set('default', '__started__', session_start.isoformat())
credentials.set('default', '__expires__', session_expiration.isoformat())
credentials.set('default', 'aws_access_key_id', parsed['Credentials']['AccessKeyId'])
credentials.set('default', 'aws_secret_access_key', parsed['Credentials']['SecretAccessKey'])
credentials.set('default', 'aws_session_token', parsed['Credentials']['SessionToken'])

with open(CREDENTIALS_FILEPATH, 'w') as f:

hours = (session_expiration - session_start).total_seconds() / 3600

print('Session started; expires in {:.0f} hour{}'.format(hours, 's' if hours > 1 else ''))

Update: 2021-11-03 – removed dependency on arrow package


I’m assuming my google-fu just wasn’t strong enough to find the less clunky way of MFA sessions than execute some arcane command and copy/paste a bunch of tokens around files manually and then include repetitive flags on every command because honestly, I find it hard to believe that this is all Amazon has to say on the matter.

A little extra something-something (added 2019-12-12)

I found myself needing snippets of the actual IAM pieces to enforce MFA in the first place, so I’m adding this bit in case I’m on the hook for implementing it again.

Note: Change the contents of Action to whichever API permissions you need or just use "*" if you want to live dangerously. 🤖

aws iam create-policy \
    --policy-name 'CliAccess-RequireMFA' \
    --policy-document '{
        "Version": "2012-10-17",
        "Statement": [
                "Effect": "Allow",
                "Action": [
                "Resource": "*",
                "Condition": {
                    "Bool": {
                        "aws:MultiFactorAuthPresent": "true"

aws iam create-group \
    --group-name CliAccess-RequireMFA

aws iam attach-group-policy \
    --group-name CliAccess-RequireMFA \
    --policy-arn POLICY_ARN

Create a new user, add them to CliAccess-RequireMFA, then generate an access key. To test that MFA is enforced, use aws s3 ls use that user’s access key without an STS token which should give you an Access Denied error.


Is there an out-of-the-box way to do this already? Leave a comment on the gist where I was originally keeping this.

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