In on-premises environments, data security is typically a siloed activity, with a company’s security team telling the internal technology groups (server administration, database, networking, and so on) what needs to be protected against intrusion.
This approach is absolutely a bad idea for cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure. Security is everyone’s job and should be one of the key elements of every cloud solution design. It’s vital that everyone involved is aware of the best practices and platform capabilities.
Fortunately, there are an abundance of tools, methods, and information available to help with securely deploying cloud applications and the virtual networks supporting them. In this post, we’ll take a brief tour of Azure’s encryption techniques, its usage, and the available customizations focused on three important areas:
- How Azure Encrypts Data at Rest
- How Azure Encrypts Data in Flight
- Azure Key Management
Azure Encryption of Data at Rest
Encryption of data at rest protects stored information from unwanted access. For example, at-rest encryption could protect the contents of your hard drive if it were lost or stolen.
This is a high-level overview of the encryption workflow for data written to and retrieved from Azure Blob storage:
By default, data written to Azure Blob storage is encrypted when placed on disk and decrypted when accessed using Azure Storage Service Encryption, Azure Key Vault, and Azure Active Directory (which provide secure, centrally managed key management and role-based access control, or RBAC).
Azure also provides encryption for data at rest for files stored in its database platforms such as Azure SQL. Using transparent data encryption, the contents of a database can be encrypted and decrypted through the use of symmetric keys (essentially, a shared secret) managed by Azure Key Vault (encryption at rest is the default for Azure Cosmos DB):
Virtual machines aren’t left out of Azure’s data-at-rest encryption capabilities if you use managed disks (Azure Key Vault managed encryption is enabled by default on managed disks). Check out the managed disk FAQ for more detailed information.
Azure Encryption of Data In-flight
Data in flight (for example, data transfers over the open internet to cloud storage, web sessions and other types of data movement) must be protected against eavesdropping, interception, and tampering. All sessions with Azure services and data centers are secured using the Transport Layer Security (TLS) cryptographic protocol and Forward Secrecy (also known as Perfect Forward Secrecy or PFS), a key agreement protocol:
The TLS Wikipedia article summarizes its critical features:
– The [TLS encrypted] connection is private (or secure) because symmetric cryptography is used to encrypt the data transmitted. The keys for this symmetric encryption are generated uniquely for each connection and are based on a shared secret negotiated at the start of the session
– The identity of the communicating parties can be authenticated using public-key cryptography.
– The connection is reliable because each message transmitted includes a message integrity check using a message authentication code to prevent undetected loss or alteration of the data during transmission.
Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) is a fascinating methodology used by Microsoft to further ensure the security of communication with cloud services. Turning again to the Wikipedia article on PFS, it
“…is a feature of specific key agreement protocols that gives assurances your session keys will not be compromised even if the private key of the server is compromised. Forward secrecy protects past sessions against future compromises of secret keys or passwords. By generating a unique session key for every session a user initiates, even the compromise of a single session key will not affect any data other than that exchanged in the specific session protected by that particular key.”
Secure Communication with Azure Virtual Networks Using VPN
Azure supports the creation of encrypted Virtual Private Network (VPN) tunnels with Azure virtual networks. The two available methods are point to site VPN, which connects an individual client machine to a virtual network and site to site VPN which connects a site to Azure using an on-premises VPN device connected to an Azure VPN Gateway:
Secure Communication with Azure Virtual Machines
When securely communicating with virtual machines in Azure virtual networks, you use two methods:
- Remote Desktop Protocol (Windows and Linux VMs, protected by TLS)
- Secure Shell – SSH – (Linux VMs, protected by public/private key pair, asymmetric encryption)
By now you’ve probably noticed the repeated mention of Azure Key Vault as the recommended, central source for key storage, generation, logging, and management. Microsoft describes the Key Vault offering:
“Azure Key Vault helps safeguard cryptographic keys and secrets used by cloud applications and services. By using Key Vault, you can encrypt keys and secrets (such as authentication keys, storage account keys, data encryption keys, .PFX files, and passwords) using keys protected by hardware security modules (HSMs). For added assurance, you can import or generate keys in HSMs. If you choose to do this, Microsoft processes your keys in FIPS 140-2 Level 2 validated HSMs (hardware and firmware).”
The graphic below illustrates the benefits and use cases of Azure Key Vault:
Azure Key Vault provides you with a platform-native, feature-rich toolkit for deploying, storing, and tracking usage of the keys you’ll use to secure the applications you build. Although experienced enterprise IT organizations moving to Azure may be tempted to build their own systems for key management (duplicating what’s been done on-premises), Key Vault should always be considered first as the preferred solution.
Well, that brings our brief tour of Azure’s encryption techniques to an end. For more information, and to get started using Azure Key Vault, check out the following resources:
- Azure security overview
- Azure network security overview
- Azure database security overview
- Azure virtual machines security overview
- Data encryption at rest
- Data security and encryption best practices
I also recommend the following content from Cloud Academy to learn how to work with and apply Azure Key Vault for your deployments:
- Hands-on Lab: Azure Key Vault and Disk Encryption: Work in the Azure console to use the Azure Key Vault service to store keys and secrets used to encrypt an Azure Virtual Machine.
- Learning Path: Azure Services for Security Engineers: Apply Key Vault and other Azure security features and services to enable strong security practices and to protect and secure your own cloud applications.
Happy learning and good luck on your cloud journey!
Google Cloud Platform Certification: Preparation and Prerequisites
Google Cloud Platform (GCP) has evolved from being a niche player to a serious competitor to Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. In 2019, research firm Gartner placed Google in the Leaders quadrant in its Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service for the second consecuti...
New Lab Challenges: Push Your Skills to the Next Level
Build hands-on experience using real accounts on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and more Meaningful cloud skills require more than book knowledge. Hands-on experience is required to translate knowledge into real-world results. We see this time and time again in studies about how pe...
New on Cloud Academy: AWS Solution Architect Lab Challenge, Azure Hands-on Labs, Foundation Certificate in Cyber Security, and Much More
Now that Thanksgiving is over and the craziness of Black Friday has died down, it's now time for the busiest season of the year. Whether you're a last-minute shopper or you already have your shopping done, the holidays bring so much more excitement than any other time of year. Since our...
Understanding Enterprise Cloud Migration
What is enterprise cloud migration? Cloud migration is about moving your data, applications, and even infrastructure from your on-premises computers or infrastructure to a virtual pool of on-demand, shared resources that offer compute, storage, and network services at scale. Why d...
Kubernetes Services: AWS vs. Azure vs. Google Cloud
Kubernetes is a popular open-source container orchestration platform that allows us to deploy and manage multi-container applications at scale. Businesses are rapidly adopting this revolutionary technology to modernize their applications. Cloud service providers — such as Amazon Web Ser...
New on Cloud Academy: AZ-900 Exam Update; MS-100 Exam Prep; PRINCE2 Foundation; Azure, Kubernetes, and Google Hands-on Labs; and Much More
This month, our Content Team really kicked it into overdrive with tons of new content. If you're Team Azure, then you'll be amazed at the number of Azure Courses and Hands-on Labs we published this month alone! At any time, you can find all of our new releases by going to our Training ...
How to Get Hands-on Experience on AWS, Azure, and GCP: Lab Challenges
Meaningful cloud skills require more than book knowledge. Hands-on experience is required to translate knowledge into real-world results. We see this time and time again in studies about how kids and adults best learn — doing the actual learning task is key. Hands-on Labs and Lab Challe...
Which Certifications Should I Get?
As we mentioned in an earlier post, the old AWS slogan, “Cloud is the new normal” is indeed a reality today. Really, cloud has been the new normal for a while now and getting credentials has become an increasingly effective way to quickly showcase your abilities to recruiters and compan...
New on Cloud Academy: ITIL® 4, Microsoft 365 Tenant, Jenkins, TOGAF® 9.1, and more
At Cloud Academy, we're always striving to make improvements to our training platform. Based on your feedback, we released some new features to help make it easier for you to continue studying. These new features allow you to: Remove content from “Continue Studying” section Disc...
Cloud Migration Risks & Benefits
If you’re like most businesses, you already have at least one workload running in the cloud. However, that doesn’t mean that cloud migration is right for everyone. While cloud environments are generally scalable, reliable, and highly available, those won’t be the only considerations dri...
Google Cloud Functions vs. AWS Lambda: The Fight for Serverless Cloud Domination
Serverless computing: What is it and why is it important? A quick background The general concept of serverless computing was introduced to the market by Amazon Web Services (AWS) around 2014 with the release of AWS Lambda. As we know, cloud computing has made it possible for users to ...
New on Cloud Academy: CISSP, AWS, Azure, & DevOps Labs, Python for Beginners, and more…
As Hurricane Dorian intensifies, it looks like Floridians across the entire state might have to hunker down for another big one. If you've gone through a hurricane, you know that preparing for one is no joke. You'll need a survival kit with plenty of water, flashlights, batteries, and n...