How to Utilize Azure Key Vault for Securing Encryption Keys and Secrets

November 30, 20235 min read

Azure Key Vault is a cloud service offered by Microsoft that enables users to securely store and manage sensitive information such as secrets, encryption keys, and certificates. It is designed to safeguard cryptographic keys and secrets used by cloud applications and services while ensuring compliance with security standards. Below, we’ll dive into how to utilize Azure Key Vault effectively.

Setting Up Azure Key Vault

Creating a Key Vault Instance

  • Log in to the Azure Portal.
  • Search for and select “Key Vaults” in the marketplace.
  • Click on “Add” to create a new Key Vault.
  • Fill in details such as the name, subscription, resource group, and location.
  • Choose a pricing tier (Standard or Premium) based on your needs.
  • Configure access policies and advanced access policies if needed.
  • Click “Review + create” to create your Key Vault.

Assigning Access Policies

  • Once the Key Vault is created, navigate to the Access policies section.
  • Click on “Add Access Policy” to give permissions to users, applications, or other Azure services.
  • Choose permissions for keys, secrets, or certificates as needed.
  • Select the principle (user, group, or application) to apply the policy to.
  • Click “Add” to apply the policy and then “Save” to confirm changes.

Storing and Managing Secrets

Adding Secrets to the Key Vault

  • Navigate to your newly created Key Vault in the Azure Portal.
  • Go to the “Secrets” section and click on “+ Generate/Import”.
  • Choose to either generate a new secret or import an existing one.
  • Fill in the secret name, value, and any other settings like activation dates or expiration.
  • Click “Create” to store the secret in the Key Vault.

Retrieving Secrets in Applications

  • Use the Azure Key Vault client library for your programming language.
  • Authenticate with Azure using a service principal or managed identity.
  • Use the client to retrieve the secret value by referencing its name.
  • Implement proper error handling and logging in case of exceptions.

Managing Encryption Keys

Creating and Importing Keys

  • Navigate to the “Keys” section of your Key Vault in the Azure Portal.
  • Click on “+ Generate/Import” to create a new key or import an existing one.
  • Select the type of key (RSA or EC) and configure additional options like key size.
  • Optionally, set the activation date, expiration date, and key usage (encrypt, decrypt, sign, etc.).
  • Click “Create” to generate the key and store it in the Key Vault.

Rotating and Backing Up Keys

  • Use Azure Key Vault’s built-in key rotation policies to automate rotation at a defined interval.
  • Manually rotate keys by creating new versions and updating references in your applications.
  • Back up keys periodically to protect against accidental deletion or loss.
  • Use the backup functionality from the Azure Portal or via Azure CLI to export keys.

Integrating with Other Azure Services

Enabling Managed Identity

  • Use Azure Managed Identity to avoid storing credentials in code.
  • Assign a managed identity to your Azure service (e.g., VM or App Service).
  • Grant the managed identity access to the Key Vault by editing the access policies.
  • Modify your code to authenticate using the managed identity rather than client secrets.

Automating with Azure DevOps

  • Store secrets and keys used in your CI/CD pipeline within Azure Key Vault.
  • Access these secrets in your build and release pipelines in Azure DevOps.
  • Ensure that your Azure DevOps Service Connection has proper permissions to retrieve secrets and keys from the Key Vault.

Best Practices and Security Considerations

  • Limit access to the Key Vault by defining strict access policies and using least privilege access.
  • Audit access and usage of secrets and keys by enabling logging and monitoring through Azure Monitor.
  • Consider using Hardware Security Modules (HSM) for high-value keys by choosing the Premium tier of Key Vault.
  • Regularly review and update the Key Vault access policies and monitor for unexpected entries.
  • Use Key Vault references for App Service and Azure Function settings to simplify secret management.

By following these steps and considerations, you can effectively use Azure Key Vault to secure your encryption keys, secrets, and other sensitive assets, improving the overall security posture of your applications and services in Azure.