Azure Key Vault is a cloud-based service provided by Microsoft that helps you securely store and manage cryptographic keys, secrets, and certificates used by your applications and services. In this article, we will discuss the technical details of Azure Key Vault and how it can be used to enhance security in your cloud environment.
Overview of Azure Key Vault
Azure Key Vault is designed to help you manage cryptographic keys and secrets used by your applications and services. These keys and secrets can include passwords, connection strings, API keys, and other sensitive information that needs to be protected from unauthorized access. By using Azure Key Vault, you can store and manage these secrets in a central location, which provides several benefits:
- Simplified management: You can store all your secrets in one place, which makes it easier to manage and update them.
- Stronger security: Secrets stored in Key Vault are encrypted using industry-standard algorithms and protected by access policies, which makes them more secure than storing them in plain text in your code or configuration files.
- Increased compliance: Key Vault provides audit logs and compliance reporting, which can help you meet regulatory requirements.
Key Vault supports the storage and management of different types of secrets, including:
- Keys: These are used for encryption, decryption, signing, and verifying data. Key Vault supports different types of keys, including RSA, DSA, and Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) keys.
- Secrets: These can be any type of sensitive information, such as passwords, connection strings, API keys, and certificates.
- Certificates: These are used for authentication and encryption, and can be used to secure communication between different services.
Using Azure Key Vault
To use Azure Key Vault, you need to create a Key Vault instance in your Azure subscription. Once you have created a Key Vault, you can use the Azure portal, Azure CLI, or Azure PowerShell to manage keys, secrets, and certificates in your Key Vault instance.
Creating a Key Vault instance
To create a Key Vault instance in Azure, follow these steps:
- Sign in to the Azure portal (https://portal.azure.com/).
- Click on the Create a resource button and search for “Key Vault”.
- Choose the Key Vault service from the search results.
- Click on the Create button to create a new Key Vault instance.
- Provide a name and resource group for your Key Vault instance.
- Choose a pricing tier for your Key Vault instance. The pricing tier determines the maximum number of secrets, keys, and certificates you can store in your Key Vault instance.
- Choose the region where you want to deploy your Key Vault instance.
- Configure other settings for your Key Vault instance, such as access policies and network settings.
- Click on the Create button to create your Key Vault instance.
Managing keys, secrets, and certificates
Once you have created a Key Vault instance, you can use the Azure portal, Azure CLI, or Azure PowerShell to manage keys, secrets, and certificates in your Key Vault instance. Here are some examples of how to use these tools to manage your secrets:
- Sign in to the Azure portal (https://portal.azure.com/).
- Navigate to your Key Vault instance.
- Click on the Secrets or Keys tab to view and manage your secrets or keys.
- Click on the Add button to add a new secret or key.
- Configure the settings for your secret or key, such as its name, value, and access policy.
- Install the Azure CLI on your local machine.
- Open a command prompt or terminal and run the following command to authenticate with your Azure account:
- Run the following command to create a new secret in your Key Vault instance:az keyvault secret set –vault-name my-key-vault –name my-secret –value my-secret-value
- Install the Azure PowerShell module on your local machine.
- Open PowerShell and run the following command to authenticate with your Azure account:
- Run the following command to create a new secret in your Key Vault instance:
Set-AzKeyVaultSecret -VaultName <your-key-vault-name> -Name <your-secret-name> -SecretValue <your-secret-value>
In addition to managing keys, secrets, and certificates, you can also use Azure Key Vault to manage and rotate encryption keys for Azure Disk Encryption, Azure Virtual Machines, and Azure SQL Database.
Accessing secrets from your application
To access secrets from your application, you need to authenticate your application with Azure Active Directory and grant it access to your Key Vault instance. Azure Key Vault supports two types of authentication:
- Azure AD managed identities: This is the recommended way to authenticate your applications with Key Vault. With managed identities, you don’t need to store any secrets or credentials in your application code. Instead, you can grant your application access to Key Vault using Azure AD roles and permissions.
- Service principals: This is another way to authenticate your applications with Key Vault. With service principals, you create a dedicated identity for your application in Azure AD, and grant it access to Key Vault using a client ID and client secret.
Once you have authenticated your application with Key Vault, you can use the Azure Key Vault SDK to retrieve secrets from your Key Vault instance. The SDK supports several programming languages, including .NET, Java, Python, and Node.js.
Best practices for using Azure Key Vault
Here are some best practices to follow when using Azure Key Vault:
- Use Azure AD managed identities to authenticate your applications with Key Vault. This provides a more secure and scalable way to manage access to your secrets.
- Use access policies to control who can access and manage your secrets in Key Vault. Grant the minimum level of access required for each user or application.
- Use Azure Key Vault SDK to retrieve secrets from your Key Vault instance. Avoid hardcoding secrets in your application code or configuration files.
- Enable soft-delete for your Key Vault instance. This allows you to recover deleted keys, secrets, and certificates if they were accidentally deleted.
- Enable Azure Key Vault audit logging. This provides visibility into who accessed or modified your secrets in Key Vault.
Azure Key Vault is a powerful and secure way to manage your cryptographic keys and secrets in the cloud. By using Key Vault, you can simplify the management of your secrets, increase the security of your applications and services, and meet regulatory compliance requirements. Follow the best practices outlined in this article to ensure that you are using Key Vault in the most secure and efficient way possible.