Azure Key Vault security

You need to protect encryption keys and secrets like certificates, connection strings, and passwords in the cloud so you are using Azure Key Vault. Since you are storing sensitive and business critical data, you need to take steps to maximize the security of your vaults and the data stored in them. This article will cover some of the concepts that you should consider when designing your Azure Key Vault security.

Identity and access management

When you create a key vault in an Azure subscription, it's automatically associated with the Azure AD tenant of the subscription. Anyone trying to manage or retrieve content from a vault must be authenticated by Azure AD.

  • Authentication establishes the identity of the caller.
  • Authorization determines which operations the caller can perform. Authorization in Key Vault uses a combination of Role based access control (RBAC) and Azure Key Vault access policies.

Access model overview

Access to vaults takes place through two interfaces or planes. These planes are the management plane and the data plane.

  • The management plane is where you manage Key Vault itself and it is the interface used to create and delete vaults. You can also read key vault properties and manage access policies.
  • The data plane allows you to work with the data stored in a key vault. You can add, delete, and modify keys, secrets, and certificates.

To access a key vault in either plane, all callers (users or applications) must be authenticated and authorized. Both planes use Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) for authentication. For authorization, the management plane uses role-based access control (RBAC) and the data plane uses a Key Vault access policy.

The model of a single mechanism for authentication to both planes has several benefits:

  • Organizations can control access centrally to all key vaults in their organization.
  • If a user leaves, they instantly lose access to all key vaults in the organization.
  • Organizations can customize authentication by using the options in Azure AD, such as to enable multi-factor authentication for added security.

Managing administrative access to Key Vault

When you create a key vault in a resource group, you manage access by using Azure AD. You grant users or groups the ability to manage the key vaults in a resource group. You can grant access at a specific scope level by assigning the appropriate Azure roles. To grant access to a user to manage key vaults, you assign a predefined key vault Contributor role to the user at a specific scope. The following scopes levels can be assigned to an Azure role:

  • Subscription: An Azure role assigned at the subscription level applies to all resource groups and resources within that subscription.
  • Resource group: An Azure role assigned at the resource group level applies to all resources in that resource group.
  • Specific resource: An Azure role assigned for a specific resource applies to that resource. In this case, the resource is a specific key vault.

There are several predefined roles. If a predefined role doesn't fit your needs, you can define your own role. For more information, see RBAC: Built-in roles.


If a user has Contributor permissions to a key vault management plane, the user can grant themselves access to the data plane by setting a Key Vault access policy. You should tightly control who has Contributor role access to your key vaults. Ensure that only authorized persons can access and manage your key vaults, keys, secrets, and certificates.

Controlling access to Key Vault data

Key Vault access policies grant permissions separately to keys, secrets, or certificate. You can grant a user access only to keys and not to secrets. Access permissions for keys, secrets, and certificates are managed at the vault level.


Key Vault access policies don't support granular, object-level permissions like a specific key, secret, or certificate. When a user is granted permission to create and delete keys, they can perform those operations on all keys in that key vault.

To set access policies for a key vault, use the Azure portal, the Azure CLI, Azure PowerShell, or the Key Vault Management REST APIs.

You can restrict data plane access by using virtual network service endpoints for Azure Key Vault). You can configure firewalls and virtual network rules for an additional layer of security.

Network access

You can reduce the exposure of your vaults by specifying which IP addresses have access to them. The virtual network service endpoints for Azure Key Vault allow you to restrict access to a specified virtual network. The endpoints also allow you to restrict access to a list of IPv4 (internet protocol version 4) address ranges. Any user connecting to your key vault from outside those sources is denied access.

After firewall rules are in effect, users can only read data from Key Vault when their requests originate from allowed virtual networks or IPv4 address ranges. This also applies to accessing Key Vault from the Azure portal. Although users can browse to a key vault from the Azure portal, they might not be able to list keys, secrets, or certificates if their client machine is not in the allowed list. This also affects the Key Vault Picker by other Azure services. Users might be able to see list of key vaults, but not list keys, if firewall rules prevent their client machine.

For more information on Azure Key Vault network address review Virtual network service endpoints for Azure Key Vault)


Key Vault logging saves information about the activities performed on your vault. Key Vault logs:

  • All authenticated REST API requests, including failed requests
    • Operations on the key vault itself. These operations include creation, deletion, setting access policies, and updating key vault attributes such as tags.
    • Operations on keys and secrets in the key vault, including:
      • Creating, modifying, or deleting these keys or secrets.
      • Signing, verifying, encrypting, decrypting, wrapping and unwrapping keys, getting secrets, and listing keys and secrets (and their versions).
  • Unauthenticated requests that result in a 401 response. Examples are requests that don't have a bearer token, that are malformed or expired, or that have an invalid token.

Logging information can be accessed within 10 minutes after the key vault operation. It's up to you to manage your logs in your storage account.

  • Use standard Azure access control methods to secure your logs by restricting who can access them.
  • Delete logs that you no longer want to keep in your storage account.

For recommendation on securely managing storage accounts review the Azure Storage security guide

Next Steps