How to encrypt a Linux virtual machine in Azure

For enhanced virtual machine (VM) security and compliance, virtual disks and the VM itself can be encrypted. VMs are encrypted using cryptographic keys that are secured in an Azure Key Vault. You control these cryptographic keys and can audit their use. This article details how to encrypt virtual disks on a Linux VM using the Azure CLI 2.0.

Open Azure Cloud Shell

Azure Cloud Shell is a free, interactive shell that you can use to run the steps in this article. Common Azure tools are preinstalled and configured in Cloud Shell for you to use with your account. Just select the Copy button to copy the code, paste it in Cloud Shell, and then press Enter to run it. There are a few ways to open Cloud Shell:

Select Try It in the upper-right corner of a code block. Cloud Shell in this article
Open Cloud Shell in your browser.
Select the Cloud Shell button on the menu in the upper-right corner of the Azure portal. Cloud Shell in the portal

If you choose to install and use the CLI locally, this article requires that you are running the Azure CLI version 2.0.30 or later. Run az --version to find the version. If you need to install or upgrade, see Install Azure CLI 2.0.

Overview of disk encryption

Virtual disks on Linux VMs are encrypted at rest using dm-crypt. There is no charge for encrypting virtual disks in Azure. Cryptographic keys are stored in Azure Key Vault using software-protection, or you can import or generate your keys in Hardware Security Modules (HSMs) certified to FIPS 140-2 level 2 standards. You retain control of these cryptographic keys and can audit their use. These cryptographic keys are used to encrypt and decrypt virtual disks attached to your VM. An Azure Active Directory service principal provides a secure mechanism for issuing these cryptographic keys as VMs are powered on and off.

The process for encrypting a VM is as follows:

  1. Create a cryptographic key in an Azure Key Vault.
  2. Configure the cryptographic key to be usable for encrypting disks.
  3. To read the cryptographic key from the Azure Key Vault, create an Azure Active Directory service principal with the appropriate permissions.
  4. Issue the command to encrypt your virtual disks, specifying the Azure Active Directory service principal and appropriate cryptographic key to be used.
  5. The Azure Active Directory service principal requests the required cryptographic key from Azure Key Vault.
  6. The virtual disks are encrypted using the provided cryptographic key.

Encryption process

Disk encryption relies on the following additional components:

  • Azure Key Vault - used to safeguard cryptographic keys and secrets used for the disk encryption/decryption process.
    • If one exists, you can use an existing Azure Key Vault. You do not have to dedicate a Key Vault to encrypting disks.
    • To separate administrative boundaries and key visibility, you can create a dedicated Key Vault.
  • Azure Active Directory - handles the secure exchanging of required cryptographic keys and authentication for requested actions.
    • You can typically use an existing Azure Active Directory instance for housing your application.
    • The service principal provides a secure mechanism to request and be issued the appropriate cryptographic keys. You are not developing an actual application that integrates with Azure Active Directory.

Requirements and limitations

Supported scenarios and requirements for disk encryption:

  • The following Linux server SKUs - Ubuntu, CentOS, SUSE and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
  • All resources (such as Key Vault, Storage account, and VM) must be in the same Azure region and subscription.
  • Standard A, D, DS, G, GS, etc., series VMs.
  • Updating the cryptographic keys on an already encrypted Linux VM.

Disk encryption is not currently supported in the following scenarios:

  • Basic tier VMs.
  • VMs created using the Classic deployment model.
  • Disabling OS disk encryption on Linux VMs.
  • Use of custom Linux images.

For more information on supported scenarios and limitations, see Azure Disk Encryption for IaaS VMs

Create an Azure Key Vault and keys

In the following examples, replace example parameter names with your own values. Example parameter names include myResourceGroup, myKey, and myVM.

The first step is to create an Azure Key Vault to store your cryptographic keys. Azure Key Vault can store keys, secrets, or passwords that allow you to securely implement them in your applications and services. For virtual disk encryption, you use Key Vault to store a cryptographic key that is used to encrypt or decrypt your virtual disks.

Enable the Azure Key Vault provider within your Azure subscription with az provider register and create a resource group with az group create. The following example creates a resource group name myResourceGroup in the eastus location:

az provider register -n Microsoft.KeyVault
az group create --name myResourceGroup --location eastus

The Azure Key Vault containing the cryptographic keys and associated compute resources such as storage and the VM itself must reside in the same region. Create an Azure Key Vault with az keyvault create and enable the Key Vault for use with disk encryption. Specify a unique Key Vault name for keyvault_name as follows:

az keyvault create \
    --name $keyvault_name \
    --resource-group myResourceGroup \
    --location eastus \
    --enabled-for-disk-encryption True

You can store cryptographic keys using software or Hardware Security Model (HSM) protection. Using an HSM requires a premium Key Vault. There is an additional cost to creating a premium Key Vault rather than standard Key Vault that stores software-protected keys. To create a premium Key Vault, in the preceding step add --sku Premium to the command. The following example uses software-protected keys since you created a standard Key Vault.

For both protection models, the Azure platform needs to be granted access to request the cryptographic keys when the VM boots to decrypt the virtual disks. Create a cryptographic key in your Key Vault with az keyvault key create. The following example creates a key named myKey:

az keyvault key create --vault-name $keyvault_name --name myKey --protection software

Create an Azure Active Directory service principal

When virtual disks are encrypted or decrypted, you specify an account to handle the authentication and exchanging of cryptographic keys from Key Vault. This account, an Azure Active Directory service principal, allows the Azure platform to request the appropriate cryptographic keys on behalf of the VM. A default Azure Active Directory instance is available in your subscription, though many organizations have dedicated Azure Active Directory directories.

Create a service principal using Azure Active Directory with az ad sp create-for-rbac. The following example reads in the values for the service principal and password for use in later commands:

read sp_id sp_password <<< $(az ad sp create-for-rbac --query [appId,password] -o tsv)

The password is only displayed when you create the service principal. If desired, view and record the password (echo $sp_password). You can list your service principals with az ad sp list and view additional information about a specific service principal with az ad sp show.

To successfully encrypt or decrypt virtual disks, permissions on the cryptographic key stored in Key Vault must be set to permit the Azure Active Directory service principal to read the keys. Set permissions on your Key Vault with az keyvault set-policy. In the following example, the service principal ID is supplied from the preceding command:

az keyvault set-policy --name $keyvault_name --spn $sp_id \
  --key-permissions wrapKey \
  --secret-permissions set

Create a virtual machine

Create a VM with az vm create and attach a 5Gb data disk. Only certain marketplace images support disk encryption. The following example creates a VM named myVM using an Ubuntu 16.04 LTS image:

az vm create \
    --resource-group myResourceGroup \
    --name myVM \
    --image UbuntuLTS \
    --admin-username azureuser \
    --generate-ssh-keys \
    --data-disk-sizes-gb 5

SSH to your VM using the publicIpAddress shown in the output of the preceding command. Create a partition and filesystem, then mount the data disk. For more information, see Connect to a Linux VM to mount the new disk. Close your SSH session.

Encrypt the virtual machine

To encrypt the virtual disks, you bring together all the previous components:

  1. Specify the Azure Active Directory service principal and password.
  2. Specify the Key Vault to store the metadata for your encrypted disks.
  3. Specify the cryptographic keys to use for the actual encryption and decryption.
  4. Specify whether you want to encrypt the OS disk, the data disks, or all.

Encrypt your VM with az vm encryption enable. The following example uses the $sp_id and $sp_password variables from the preceding az ad sp create-for-rbac command:

az vm encryption enable \
    --resource-group myResourceGroup \
    --name myVM \
    --aad-client-id $sp_id \
    --aad-client-secret $sp_password \
    --disk-encryption-keyvault $keyvault_name \
    --key-encryption-key myKey \
    --volume-type all

It takes some time for the disk encryption process to complete. Monitor the status of the process with az vm encryption show:

az vm encryption show --resource-group myResourceGroup --name myVM

The output is similar to the following truncated example:

  "dataDisk": "EncryptionInProgress",
  "osDisk": "EncryptionInProgress"

Wait until the status for the OS disk reports VMRestartPending, then restart your VM with az vm restart:

az vm restart --resource-group myResourceGroup --name myVM

The disk encryption process is finalized during the boot process, so wait a few minutes before checking the status of encryption again with az vm encryption show:

az vm encryption show --resource-group myResourceGroup --name myVM

The status should now report both the OS disk and data disk as Encrypted.

Add additional data disks

Once you have encrypted your data disks, you can later add additional virtual disks to your VM and also encrypt them. For example, lets add a second virtual disk to your VM as follows:

az vm disk attach \
    --resource-group myResourceGroup \
    --vm-name myVM \
    --disk myDataDisk \
    --new \
    --size-gb 5

Rerun the command to encrypt the virtual disks as follows:

az vm encryption enable \
    --resource-group myResourceGroup \
    --name myVM \
    --aad-client-id $sp_id \
    --aad-client-secret $sp_password \
    --disk-encryption-keyvault $keyvault_name \
    --key-encryption-key myKey \
    --volume-type all

Next steps

  • For more information about managing Azure Key Vault, including deleting cryptographic keys and vaults, see Manage Key Vault using CLI.
  • For more information about disk encryption, such as preparing an encrypted custom VM to upload to Azure, see Azure Disk Encryption.