Best practices for secrets management in Key Vault

Azure Key Vault allows you to securely store service or application credentials like passwords and access keys as secrets. All secrets in your key vault are encrypted with a software key. When you use Key Vault, you no longer need to store security information in your applications. Not having to store security information in applications eliminates the need to make this information part of the code.

Examples of secrets that should be stored in Key Vault:

  • Client application secrets
  • Connection strings
  • Passwords
  • Access keys (Redis Cache, Azure Event Hubs, Azure Cosmos DB)
  • SSH keys

Any other sensitive information, like IP addresses, service names, and other configuration settings, should be stored in Azure App Configuration rather than in Key Vault.

Each individual key vault defines security boundaries for secrets. For a single key vault per application, per region, per environment, we recommend that you provide granular isolation of secrets for an application.

For more information about best practices for Key Vault, see Best practices to use Key Vault.

Configuration and storing

Store credential information required to access database or service in secret value. In the case of compound credentials like username/password, it can be stored as a connection string or JSON object. Other information required for management should be stored in tags, i.e., rotation configuration.

For more information about secrets, see About Azure Key Vault secrets.

Secrets rotation

Secrets are often stored in application memory as environment variables or configuration settings for entire application lifecycle, which makes them sensitive to unwanted exposure. Because secrets are sensitive to leakage or exposure, it's important to rotate them often, at least every 60 days.

For more information about the secrets rotation process, see Automate the rotation of a secret for resources that have two sets of authentication credentials.

Access and network isolation

You can reduce the exposure of your vaults by specifying which IP addresses have access to them. Configure your firewall to only allow applications and related services to access secrets in the vault to reduce the ability of attackers to access secrets.

For more information about network security, see Configure Azure Key Vault networking settings.

Additionally, applications should follow least privileged access by only having access to read secrets. Access to secrets can be controlled either with access policies or with Azure role-based access control.

For more information about access control in Azure Key Vault, see:

Service limits and caching

Key Vault was originally created with throttling limits specified in Azure Key Vault service limits. To maximize your throughput rates, here are two recommended best practices:

  • Cache secrets in your application for at least eight hours.
  • Implement exponential back-off retry logic to handle scenarios when service limits are exceeded.

For more information about throttling guidance, see Azure Key Vault throttling guidance.

Monitoring

To monitor access to your secrets and their lifecycle, turn on Key Vault logging. Use Azure Monitor to monitor all secrets activities in all your vaults in one place. Or use Azure Event Grid to monitor the lifecycle of secrets, because it has easy integration with Azure Logic Apps and Azure Functions.

For more information, see:

Backup and purge protection

Turn on purge protection to guard against forced deletion of the secret. Take regular backups of your vault when you update, delete, or create secrets within a vault.

  • To read about the Azure PowerShell backup command, see Backup secret.
  • To read about the Azure CLI backup command, see Backup secret.

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