8 Security Best Practices for Microsoft Azure

Launched in October 2008, Microsoft Azure has become one of the prime cloud hosting services for application management, boasting over 20,000 customers in 2019. 

According to a survey, 79% of companies experienced a cloud data breach in the past 18 months. This has made cloud security one of the top issues to invest in for all service providers. 

With one of the highest adoption rates, Azure needs additional security layers to prevent internal and external cyber attacks like any other cloud service provider. Microsoft invests over $1B annually to protect customer data from cyber threats which helps to keep Azure secure, but you still need to do your part.

Why is Azure Security Important?

An average organization gets about 17,000 security alerts in a week. However, as per the global cyber security data, it takes an average of 287 days to detect and solve a breach.

Today, around 21% of files are not secured by any security measure, and Azure security automatically becomes the first line of defense. With Microsoft pumping north of a billion dollars every year into cybersecurity, including Azure, you can understand why it is essential.

To take it a step further from Azure’s security suite, you can implement a zero-trust framework into your network architecture. Zero trust is based on the principle of “never trust, always verify,” and hence doesn’t allow the user into the network or to access any data until they are authorized or verified. 

Zero-trust security principles use the segmentation of networks as one line of defense. It simplifies user access to block and isolate any suspicious activity, preventing threats to the organizational data.

What are the Best Security Practices for Azure?

Azure has been designed to work seamlessly with VMWare, Kubernetes, and Docker for added scalability and faster provisioning cycles in an IaaS environment. However, to prevent any cyber threats to the Azure cloud environment, you can use the following security practices:

Use Dedicated Workstations With Privileged Access For Admins

Instead of using workstations for personal tasks like social media or checking email, or shared business purposes, we recommend using a dedicated workstation with administrative privileges.

Doing this allows admins to separate sensitive tasks and accounts to prevent malicious software or bad actors from gaining elevated privileges by compromising a shared-use PC. 

These admin workstations should be set up with USB mass storage and other external storage devices disabled, should be hardwired instead of wireless, and should have no other software installed other than those required to perform administrative tasks.

Restrict the Administrator Access 

With the introduction of SaaS apps and personal devices, the organizational network security parameter of just observing the entry and exit has become obsolete. With Azure AD, around 99.9% of cyber attacks can be prevented by privileged administrative control granted to users in your organization. 

With your rights as the Global Administrator on Azure, you should restrict the other administrator accounts’ access to perform non-administrative tasks like personal emailing, etc. Deploy 2FA or MFA on all administrator accounts (Privileged Role Administrator, Exchange Administrator, SharePoint Administrator) to ensure security in accessing and sharing the data.

Using the principles of zero trust, you should consider further restricting administrators within your network to limit them within their job scope. For example, an administrator in End-User Computing (EUC) should only have admin privileges to desktops, laptops and mobile devices uses by employees through their regular course of business. These admins would not have access to cloud resources, code repositories, security monitoring tools or other administrative functions. Similarly, a Cloud Admin would not need access to EUC admin functions and would be limited in scope of their admin role.

Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) 

To prevent malicious access to its accounts and data, Meta has implemented 2FA across all its products, including Facebook and Instagram. Azure can do the same via OTP, SMS, or phone calls to better mitigate any risks of a data breach. To ensure this security, you will have to set up Azure AD MFA. 

In some cases implementing MFA or 2FA can cause barriers for users as it slows down their ability to do their job.  MFA/2FA can be selectively applied to apps and services within your organization based on the sensitivity of the information being accessed through Conditional Access policies

Restrict User Access

One of the easiest ways to prevent unwanted access to sensitive data is limiting the users’ access to Microsoft Azure. Using the Global Administrator or Privileged Administrator rights, you can set up security gates to prevent unauthorized access to data. Furthermore, you can set boundaries for external users about the information they have access to.

Security measures like zero trust come in handy as they do not trust any user, network, or device accessing the data while continuously monitoring and verifying each of them. Furthermore, if we can automatically detect suspicious behavior on the cloud, we can isolate them when needed to prevent any data breach.

Manage and Limit Network Access within Azure

Microsoft Azure allows the admins to use Network Segmentation Groups (also called subnets). This prevents network zones from interfacing with others that do not need it. Admins for each subnet can still access the RDP and SSH protocols for all the subnets.

Through Azure, you set up a site-to-site VPN that can extend the local network within your physical building to the cloud. Considerations should be observed when it comes to how your local network accesses cloud resources to ensure security protocols are followed.

When you want to practice additional control, the admin can use P2P VPN, which can be programmed to work only in the Azure environment. Another way to do this is by adding a VPN machine in the internal network that can be used as a jump box to access all the other machines running in RDP and SSH sessions.

Use a Key Management Solution

One way to keep data safe from cyber threats and malicious users is to employ a Key Management Solution, like Azure Key Vault. The Key Vault can be used as a key management solution that can help in securing keys and secrets like API credentials, passwords, certificates, and other cryptographic keys in hardware security modules (HSM). 

During application development, these keys and other sensitive material are not hard-coded within the app or platform itself. Instead, the keys are retrieved from the vault at runtime through API calls or other programmatic access.  The keys from the vault cannot be fetched directly, and only the developers that created the keys can grant access for usage in development or testing.

Using Azure, these keys can be stored on the cloud and can be seamlessly accessed globally without the costs of deploying additional HSMs.

A similar secret management tool like Azure Key Vault is HashiCorp Vault, usually deployed in low trust cloud environments. It performs the same functions as Key Vault, with one significant difference. The difference is that Vault by HashiCorp allows a separate team to configure and manage it, while Azure Key Vault can be configured only by the developers.

Encrypt Virtual Disks and Disk Storage

If you have implemented a virtual machine on the cloud, you need to encrypt the virtual disk to safeguard the data. Azure uses BitLocker in Windows to provide volume encryption of the OS and data disk of the virtual machine. This is directly integrated with Azure Key Vault that applies encryption as standard, which can then be managed via the keys generated.

Use a Centralized Security Management System

A centralized security management system comes in handy to monitor both your cloud and on-premise servers and devices from a central dashboard.

Services like Microsoft Defender for Cloud (Formally Azure Defender and Azure Security Center) provide real-time security health status, compliance monitoring, and mitigation solutions. 

Monitor Activity Logs Regularly

One of the critical aspects of discovering a breach is locating the source. Activity logs can prove a tremendous asset as you can determine which system was responsible for the breach. Azure offers the following type of logs: 

  • Activity logs: A general log report about all the operations performed by the users. 
  • Azure Resource logs: A log report that gives insight into the operations done by the resource.
  • Azure Active Directory reporting: A log report about sign-in and system activity information about users.
  • Virtual machines and cloud services: A log report about system data and logging data from virtual machines. 
  • Azure Storage Analytics: A log report that offers insight into usage trend analysis, trace requests, and problem diagnosis of the account.
  • Network security group (NSG) flow logs: A log report about incoming and outgoing IP addresses on an NSG.
  • Application insight: A log report about application performance monitoring useful for web developers working on various platforms.
  • Process data/security alerts: A log report about security information and alerts.

 

Watch Cloud Workloads Security

Azure helps faster development time, flexibility, and scalability in app development. Today, 50% of all organizations store their data on the cloud and work with multiple clouds and hybrid development models. Hence, workload security is also a rising point of concern. This is where aspects like 2FA and MFA come in handy in ensuring only the organization’s users can access the cloud.

By implementing cloud workload security from providers like SoftwareONE, you can reduce the risk of a data breach with 24×7 security monitoring and improve compliance with security policies and regulations. Furthermore, it reduces the complexity and increases the transparency of your security structure to aid hassle-free workability across various locations.

What are Some Auditing Tools for Microsoft Azure?

Like financial audits to check if the financial representations are fair and accurate, cloud audits also need to be performed. This is to make sure that the cloud offers the correct details and serves right as per the code of standards set by the Cloud Security Alliance

The purpose of a cloud audit is for companies to reveal their performance and security data to show if the cloud is performing as it is claimed. According to a study, 21% of companies audit their cloud daily, while 45% skip the audits altogether. Here are some frameworks and other resources to consider.

Security, Trust, Assurance, and Risk (STAR) Security Questionnaire

CSA designed this to help the customers assess and select a cloud service provider. It uses three analysis steps: self-assessment, third-party audit, and continuous monitoring.

STAR Registry

CSA also offers a publicly accessible registry that details various cloud service providers with varying STAR levels. This helps the customers to make an informed decision about which service provider they can use for their business.

CSA best practices

For virtual environments, especially the ones in the cloud, CSA has launched best practices to implement that can help reduce and mitigate the risks of a data breach.

Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM) v4

The Cloud Controls Matrix (CCM) is a cybersecurity control framework aligned to the best practices listed by the CSA. It is effectively considered the baseline for cloud security and privacy. This, along with the STAR questionnaire, can help you understand your areas of improvement for cloud security. 

Conclusion

In the immensely populated cloud service provider market, Microsoft Azure might seem to be tooting its own horn with its bold claims. However, while it looks like a plain-Jane cloud service that cannot help protect against cyberattacks, it certainly does hold its own with a sizable monopoly at 26% market share in 2021.

Besides its capability of interfacing with VMWare, Kubernetes, etc., Azure also offers proprietary security solutions that provide additional layers of security. Furthermore, it helps lower the costs of scaling operations, allowing it to stand out as one of the best out there.

Have Questions About Securing Your Cloud Environment?

TALK TO ONE OF OUR CLOUD ENGINEERING EXPERTS TODAY

TALK TO ONE OF OUR CLOUD ENGINEERING EXPERTS TODAY

We will help you find the right talent, teams and experience to get you where you want to go

Still Have Questions?

Call Us: 1-647-372-0651

Feel free to contact our cloud experts to learn how to implement zero trust principals in your cloud deployment