What is Azure Key Vault?
Updated on 22nd Sep, 21 15 Views

Azure Key Vault is a cloud service for securely storing and accessing secrets. API keys, passwords, certificates, and cryptographic keys are examples of things you might want to keep private. The following topics in this blog will explain more about Azure’s Key Vault.

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What is Azure Key Vault?

Azure Key Vault enables users to securely store and manage sensitive data like keys, passwords, certificates, and other sensitive information. These are kept in centralized storage that is protected by industry-standard algorithms and hardware security modules.

This protects information from being revealed through source code, which is a common mistake made by many developers. Developers tend to leave sensitive information in their source code, such as database connection strings, passwords, and secret keys, which might lead to unintended repercussions if accessed by the wrong people. Access to a key vault necessitates proper authentication and authorization, and RBAC allows users to fine-tune who has what permissions over sensitive data.

The following concerns are resolved by Azure Key Vault:

Secrets Management – Azure Key Vault may be used to store and control access to tokens, passwords, certificates, API keys, and other secrets securely.

Key Management – Azure Key Vault can also be used as a solution for key management. It makes it simple to generate and manage encryption keys for your data.

Certificate Management – Azure Key Vault also includes a certificate management solution that makes it simple to enroll, manage, and deploy public and private certificates for usage with Azure and other connected resources. There are two service tiers in Azure Key Vault: Standard, which encrypts using a software key, and Premium, which encrypts with keys protected by a hardware security module (HSM).

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Why Azure Key Vault?

The main advantages of using Key Vault in Azure are:

Centralize application secrets

Using Azure Key Vault to store application secrets centrally, you can regulate how they’re distributed. Secrets are much less likely to be mistakenly revealed using Key Vault.

When using Key Vault, application developers no longer need to store security information in their applications. The necessity to make security information part of the code is eliminated by not needing to store security information in apps.

For example, an application would need to connect to a database. Instead of storing the connection string in the app’s code, you can safely save it in Key Vault. URIs allow your applications to safely access the data they require.

Securely store secrets and keys

A user must first be authenticated and authorized before being granted access to a key vault. Authentication establishes the caller’s identity, whereas, authorization establishes the operations that they are permitted to carry out.

Authentication is done through Azure Active Directory. To authorize users, you can utilize Azure Role-based Access Control (Azure RBAC) or Key Vault access policies. When dealing with vault administration, Azure RBAC is used, whereas, a key vault access policy is used when attempting to access data stored in a vault.

Azure Key Vaults can be software-protected or hardware-protected by hardware security modules with the Key Vault Premium tier (HSMs). Azure uses industry-standard procedures and key lengths to protect software-protected keys, secrets, and certificates. For situations where you require more trust, you can import or generate keys in HSMs that never leave the HSM boundary.

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Monitor access and use

After you’ve set up a few Key Vaults, you’ll want to keep track of how and when your keys and secrets are accessed. By activating logging for your vaults, you can keep track of what’s going on. Azure Key Vault can be configured to:

  • Archive to a storage account
  • Stream to an event hub
  • Send the logs to Azure Monitor logs

You have complete control over your logs, and you can keep them safe by restricting access and removing records that are no longer needed.

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Simplified administration of application secrets

Information about security must be kept safe, have a life cycle, and be highly accessible. Azure Key Vault makes achieving these requirements easier because of the following reasons:

  • Hardware Security Modules are no longer required to be known in-house
  • Scaling up to meet your organization’s use increases on short notice
  • Your Key Vault’s contents are copied within a region and to a secondary region.
  • Data replication ensures high availability and eliminates the requirement for the administrator to take any action to initiate the failover.
  • Standard Azure management options are available through the interface, the Azure CLI, and PowerShell.
  • Enrollment and renewal of certificates purchased from Public CAs are among the tasks that can be automated.

Integrate with other Azure services

Key Vault has been used as secure storage in Azure to simplify scenarios such as:

  • Disk Encryption in Azure
  • In SQL Server and Azure SQL Database
  • Azure App Service

Key Vault allows you to connect storage accounts, event hubs, and log analytics.

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Key Concepts in Azure Key Vault

The important terms related to Key Vault are:

Tenant: The organization that owns and administers a specific instance of Microsoft cloud services is referred to as a tenant. It’s most commonly used to refer to an organization’s Azure and Microsoft 365 services.

Vault Owner: A vault owner can build a key vault and have complete control and access to it. Auditing can also be set up by the vault owner to keep track of who has access to the secrets and keys. The key lifecycle can be managed by administrators. They can restore the key to a new version, back it up, and perform other relevant operations.

Vault Consumer: When the vault owner grants access to the consumer, the consumer can act on the assets stored in the key vault. The actions available are determined by the permissions provided.

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Managed HSM Administrators: A Managed HSM pool is completely under the control of users who have been assigned the Administrator position. They can establish more role assignments to provide other users regulated access.

Managed HSM Crypto Service Encryption User: Built-in roles are typically assigned to users or service principals who will use keys in Managed HSM to perform cryptographic activities. Crypto users can generate new keys but not delete existing ones.

Resource: A resource is an entity that may be managed in Azure.

Resource Group: A resource group is an Azure solution container that holds connected resources. The resource group can contain all of the resources in the solution or just the ones you want to manage as a group. You decide how to assign resources to resource groups based on what makes the most sense for your firm.

Security Principle: User-created apps, services, and automation tools employ Azure security principles to access specific Azure resources.

Azure Active Directory:  Azure AD is a tenant’s Active Directory service. There are one or more domains in each directory. There can be multiple subscriptions linked with a directory, but only one tenant.

Azure Tenant ID: Within an Azure subscription, a tenant ID is a unique way to identify an Azure AD instance.

Managed Identities: Azure Key Vault allows you to securely store credentials, keys, and secrets, but you must authenticate with Key Vault in order to retrieve them. Using a managed identity makes fixing this problem easy by providing Azure services with an automatically managed identity in Azure AD.

 

Using Azure Key Vault

One of the most common scenarios that we see in Azure is creating infrastructure. The created virtual machines will typically contain operating system information, application data, and all of our information on the disk.

This needs to be encrypted so that if someone would get a hand on our disc, they would not be able to decrypt the information and see what was on the drive.

This is typically done by providing an encryption key, and by default, Azure comes with a platform to manage keys, so all disks in Azure are encrypted by default. But as customers, we can provide our own keys to encrypt and decrypt virtual machine drives using encryption keys.

These keys can be stored using Azure Key Vault. It is a Secure Storage for disk encryption keys. But this is not the only scenario where Azure Key vault can help you.

For example, if you have a web application and you need to connect it to your SQL database, these applications will need to store connectivity information in their configuration like a server address, username, and a password.

This type of information is typically called application secrets and Azure Key Vault can again help us with storing, securing, and managing these secrets.

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Creating a Key Vault in Azure

Following are the different ways in which an Azure Key Vault can be created.

 

Using Azure CLI

Azure Command-Line Interface can be used for creating a Key Vault. CLI can be used by installing it on your device or through the cloud shell. Assuming that you have installed CLI and logged in to your Azure account, the following steps are to be done for creating a Key Vault:

  • Create a resource group with the following command:

az group create --name "myResourceGroup" -l "EastUS"

This will create a resource group with the name myResourcegroup in the location EastUs

  • Use the Azure CLI az keyvault create command to create a Key Vault in the resource group from the previous step.

You will need to provide the following information:

Key vault name: A string of 3 to 24 characters that can contain only numbers (0-9), letters (a-z, A-Z), and hyphens (-)

Resource group name: myResourceGroup.

The location: EastUS

az keyvault create –name “<your-unique-keyvault-name>” –resource-group “myResourceGroup” –location “EastUS”

The output of this command shows the properties of the newly created key vault. Take note of the two properties listed below:

Vault Name: The name you provided to the –name parameter above

Vault URI: In the example, this is https://<your-unique-keyvault-name>.vault.azure.net/. Applications that use your vault through its REST API must use this URI.

 

Using Azure Portal

After signing in to your account in the Azure portal follow these steps:

  • Select Create a Resource from the Azure portal menu or the Home page.
  • Enter Key Vault in the search box.
  • Choose Key Vault from the list of results.
  • Choose to Create from the Key Vault section.
  • Provide the following information in the Create Key Vault section:
    • Name: It is necessary to have a unique name.
    • Subscription: Select a subscription option.
    • Choose to Create New from the Resource Group drop-down menu and give your resource group a name.
    • Select a location from the Location pull-down menu.
  • Select Create after you’ve entered all of the above information.

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Azure Key vault Roles

Developer for an Azure application: Developers would need to create Azure applications that use keys for signing and encryption. They would also need these keys to be external to the application so that the solution may be used in a geographically spread application. Key Vault in Azure can store these keys and can safeguard them using industry-standard algorithms and hardware security modules.

Developer for software as a service (SaaS): They wouldn’t want to be responsible for their customers’ tenant keys and secrets. They want consumers to be able to own and manage their own keys so that they can focus on what they do best: offering core software features.

In Azure Key Vault, customers can manage and import their own keys into Azure. When a SaaS application needs to perform cryptographic operations with the help of its clients’ keys, Key Vault takes care of it. The keys of the customers are not visible to the application.

Chief security officer (CSO): For secure key management, they would want their apps to conform with FIPS 140-2 Level 2 or FIPS 140-2 Level 3 HSMs. They also want to make sure that the company has control over the key lifecycle and that key usage can be tracked. They also want to manage the keys from a single location in Azure, despite the fact that they might use multiple Azure services and resources.

In Azure Key Vault:

  • For FIPS 140-2 Level 2 validated HSMs, they can select vaults.
  • For FIPS 140-2 Level 3 verified HSMs, they can select managed HSM pools.
  • Microsoft will not be able to see or extract your keys if you use Key Vault.

The use of keys is tracked in real-time. Regardless of how many vaults you have on Azure, which regions they support, or which applications use them, the vault provides a single interface.

 

Pricing

Vaults are offered in standard service tier and premium service tier.

Pricing

Software-protected keys

Software-protected keys

HSM-protected keys

HSM-protected keys

Managed HSM pools

Managed HSM pools
 

Conclusion

Azure Key Vault gives a one-stop solution for storing and safeguarding keys using industry-standard algorithms and hardware security modules. Key Vault allows users to not include connectivity details in application and code and thus, prevents leaking of sensitive information.

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