Get started with Role-Based Access Control in the Azure portal

Security-oriented companies should focus on giving employees the exact permissions they need. Too many permissions can expose an account to attackers. Too few permissions means that employees can't get their work done efficiently. Azure Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) helps address this problem by offering fine-grained access management for Azure.

Using RBAC, you can segregate duties within your team and grant only the amount of access to users that they need to perform their jobs. Instead of giving everybody unrestricted permissions in your Azure subscription or resources, you can allow only certain actions. For example, use RBAC to let one employee manage virtual machines in a subscription, while another can manage SQL databases within the same subscription.

Basics of access management in Azure

Each Azure subscription is associated with one Azure Active Directory (AD) directory. Users, groups, and applications from that directory can manage resources in the Azure subscription. Assign these access rights using the Azure portal, Azure command-line tools, and Azure Management APIs.

Grant access by assigning the appropriate RBAC role to users, groups, and applications at a certain scope. The scope of a role assignment can be a subscription, a resource group, or a single resource. A role assigned at a parent scope also grants access to the children contained within it. For example, a user with access to a resource group can manage all the resources it contains, like websites, virtual machines, and subnets.

Relationship between Azure Active Directory elements - diagram

The RBAC role that you assign dictates what resources the user, group, or application can manage within that scope.

Built-in roles

Azure RBAC has three basic roles that apply to all resource types:

  • Owner has full access to all resources including the right to delegate access to others.
  • Contributor can create and manage all types of Azure resources but can’t grant access to others.
  • Reader can view existing Azure resources.

The rest of the RBAC roles in Azure allow management of specific Azure resources. For example, the Virtual Machine Contributor role allows the user to create and manage virtual machines. It does not give them access to the virtual network or the subnet that the virtual machine connects to.

RBAC built-in roles lists the roles available in Azure. It specifies the operations and scope that each built-in role grants to users. If you're looking to define your own roles for even more control, see how to build Custom roles in Azure RBAC.

Resource hierarchy and access inheritance

  • Each subscription in Azure belongs to only one directory. (But each directory can have more than one subscription.)
  • Each resource group belongs to only one subscription.
  • Each resource belongs to only one resource group.

Access that you grant at parent scopes is inherited at child scopes. For example:

  • You assign the Reader role to an Azure AD group at the subscription scope. The members of that group can view every resource group and resource in the subscription.
  • You assign the Contributor role to an application at the resource group scope. It can manage resources of all types in that resource group, but not other resource groups in the subscription.

Azure RBAC vs. classic subscription administrators

Classic subscription administrators and co-admins have full access to the Azure subscription. They can manage resources using the Azure portal, Azure Resource Manager APIs, and the classic deployment model APIs. In the RBAC model, classic administrators are assigned the Owner role at the subscription scope.

Only the Azure portal and the new Azure Resource Manager APIs support Azure RBAC. Users and applications that are assigned RBAC roles cannot use the Azure classic deployment model APIs.

Authorization for management vs. data operations

Azure RBAC only supports management operations of the Azure resources in the Azure portal and Azure Resource Manager APIs. It cannot authorize all data level operations for Azure resources. For example, you can authorize someone to manage Storage Accounts, but not to the blobs or tables within a Storage Account. Similarly, a SQL database can be managed, but not the tables within it.

Next Steps