Azure Infrastructure Security Assessment

What is Azure?

Cloud computing keeps business application services and data over the Internet instead of on your computer or hard drive. Azure is simply a set of cloud services provided by Microsoft that can be deployed onto the cloud. Some of the services provided by Azure include:

  • Databases/SQL Servers
  • Blockchain
  • Kubernetes Services
  • VM Deployment/Dedicated Host
  • Containers
  • Developer tools like Visual Studio
  • Git Repositories for projects
  • AI and IOT management services
  • Iaas – Infrastructure as a Service
  • SaaS - Software as a service
  • Paas – Platform as a Service

This diagram shows the resources provided by the CSP (Cloud Services Provider) in various service models.

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Importance of Azure Security and Penetration Testing Guidelines

Building Blocks of Azure Security

Importance of Azure Security

Organizations may deploy one or a multitude of services provided by Azure onto the cloud. Vulnerabilities and misconfigurations will lead to the leakage of confidential data. Simply put, servers deployed onto the cloud will be exposed to the Internet and may lead to data leakage.

Azure Penetration Testing (PT) Guidelines:

As of June 15, 2017, Microsoft no longer requires pre-approval to conduct a penetration test against Azure resources. However, the following activities are prohibited:

  • Scanning or testing assets belonging to any other Microsoft Cloud customers.
  • Gaining access to any data that is not wholly your own.
  • Performing any kind of denial of service testing.
  • Performing network intensive fuzzing against any asset except your Azure Virtual Machine.
  • Performing automated testing of services that generates significant amounts of traffic.
  • Deliberately accessing any other customer’s data.
  • Moving beyond “proof of concept” repro steps for infrastructure execution issues (i.e. proving that you have sysadmin access with SQLi is acceptable, running xp_cmdshell is not).
  • Attempting phishing or other social engineering attacks against Microsoft employees.
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Scoping an Azure Assessment

Scoping a PT with a cloud component is significantly more important. Since the central concept of cloud assessment is resource sharing, applications and resources might share IP addresses with other companies and organizations even government entities. Therefore, it is suggested that a more open approach be used in a cloud assessment with the following information provided:

  • Target Subscription Identifier(s)
  • IPs and hostnames of the services you are to target
  • Performing any kind of denial of service testing.
  • List of service types in the subscription and to which IPs they map
  • The goals and desired outcome of the engagement
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Azure Attacks

It is important to understand the attack targets that bad actors are attempting to compromise inside an organization. The same type of attack surfaces can be seen in the Azure cloud, as shown here:

  • Credential theft and elevation of privileges (admin or developer)
  • Installing code to enable backdoors
  • Gaining access to data and data resources (cloud resources)
  • Azure subscription owners (top-level administration)
  • Pivot attacks from on-premises to the public cloud
  • Cloud resource compromises by hijacking or other exploitation
  • Privilege elevation to move between subscriptions
  • Public storage secret credential keys (GitHub)
  • Misconfiguration of credential keys
  • Imperva “man-in-the-cloud” token synchronized
  • Side-channel code enablement
  • Ransomware on cloud resources

Privilege Escalation

An internal attacker who is able to escalate privileges (due to misconfiguration) could access critical information. Azure PIM provides time-based and approval-based role activation to mitigate the risks of excessive, unnecessary, or misused access permissions on critical resources. Microsoft ATA (Advanced Threat Analytics) is a great way to monitor all privileged users and activities.


Phishing is another deadly attack vector, compromised credentials of owner or co-owner can compromise the Azure portal. If the accounts do not have MFA enabled or conditional access or risk-based authentication, then the attacker gains access to the portal.

Password Spraying

Attackers can gain access to vulnerable servers by using techniques such as password spraying. Again, if these accounts are not protected using MFA then it could lead to account compromise. Always, put servers behind the Azure Firewall or a Commercial Firewall (FortiGate / Palo Alto) and enforce strict firewall policies. Don’t expose management ports on the Internet.


Once access is gained, attackers elevate privileges to gain administrator access and deploy ransomwares to encrypt critical files. You can always deploy Microsoft Defender with ATP on all virtual machines or computing resources deployed. Defender is also now supported on Linux operating systems.

Attacks on Azure Storage

Storage Account containers can contain config files, VHD (Virtual Hard Drives) files, PII can be exposed on the Internet by setting Public Access Level to Container Anonymous Read Access for containers and blobs.

An Azure storage account uses credentials containing an account name and a key. The key is auto-generated when the storage account is created and serves as a password to connect to Azure Storage. The Storage Access keys, by default, has all permissions and is similar to the root password of the storage account. Additionally, Azure provides Shared Access Signature (SAS) URI for granting fine-grained access to storage objects.

SAS URI, can control what data to expose, and what permissions to put on those objects (SignedPermission), and for how long the SAS URI is valid (SignedExpiry).

Attackers are on the lookout for these keys which are accidentally leaked on GitHub.

Security Misconfiguration Attacks

Once a resource is deployed on Azure, it could be by default exposed to the Internet. A common misconfiguration is to leave the application open to the public Internet. For example; MSSQL port (1433) with “sa” credentials left exposed on the Internet. Always, put servers behind the Azure Firewall or a Commercial Firewall (FortiGate / Palo Alto) and enforce strict firewall policies. Don’t expose management ports on the Internet. If you need to connect to your on-prem environment always setup a IPSEC VPN tunnel between the two environments.

Azure Access Control Misconfigurations

Below are a few misconfigurations in access control that can leave a resource vulnerable:

  • Failing to enable RBAC (Role based access control) and MFA for users
  • Failing to enable encryption for data at rest
  • Failing to monitor activity logs
  • Exposing resources to the public Internet
  • Not restricting access to Azure portal
  • Failing to use NSGs (Network Security Group) properly
  • Failing to update security patches in deployed resources
  • Management certificates can be misused by an attacker if leaked online to authenticate to Azure Resources
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Azure Security Hardening

Inherent Azure Security Features

The following are core Azure Identity Management capabilities and tools:

  • Azure Resource Manager
  • Require MFA for console users with API and command line access
  • Azure Active Directory
  • RBAC – Role Based Access Control
  • Azure B2B
  • Conditional Access / Risk Based Authentication
  • AD Connect
  • Application Management
  • Security Monitoring, Alerts, and Machine Learning-based reports
  • Consumer Identity and Access Management (CIAM)
  • Privileged Identity Management (PIM)
  • Cybersecurity Threat Monitoring and Analytics using Sentinel
  • SOAR – Security Orchestration and Automated Response using Azure Apps

Network Security Groups (NSG) in Azure

A network security group (NSG) in Azure is the way to activate a rule or access control list (ACL), which will allow or deny network traffic to your virtual machine instances in a virtual network. Microsoft also provides Azure Adaptive Network hardening. It is an ad-on feature which analyzes traffic and provides recommendations on the rule set to be implemented in the NSG. NSGs can be mapped to commercial NGFW such as FortiGate or Palo Alto firewalls. You can implement very granular network security segmentation by adopting a Zero Trust Architecture and implementing micro and macro network segments.

UDR – User Defined Routing on Azure Networks provides the ability to create pseudo network segments which enforces traffic to traverse the firewall even between servers on the same network.

Securing IaaS:

IaaS provides virtualized computing resources, virtual networking, virtual storage, and virtual machines accessible over the Internet. The following controls must be in place to secure IaaS resources:

  • Control VM Access (Bastion Host – Jump Server)
  • Secure Privileged Access using PIM or PWA
  • Use Anti Malware Solution with Defender ATP
  • Integrate Anti Malware Solution (Defender ATP) with Security Center
  • Ensure current security updates are installed using SCCM
  • Enable Encryption on VMs and enable VM Workload Protection
  • Enable Encryption on VMs and enable VM Workload Protection
  • Use just-in-time access to resources
  • Network security groups on the subnet level should be enabled
  • Internet-facing virtual machines should be protected with Network Security Groups and NGFWs
  • Publish web services can be secured through a reverse proxy – Azure WAF or a commercial WAF
  • Adaptive Network Hardening recommendations should be applied on Internet facing virtual machines

Securing PaaS:

PaaS provides a framework that developers can build upon to develop or customize cloud-based applications.

  • Secure keys and passwords to secure PaaS deployment (secrets management)
  • Authenticate through Azure Active Directory for App Services
  • Use RBAC to assign permissions to user and groups in App Services
  • Restrict incoming source IP addresses
  • User secure key storage
  • Use strong authentication and authorization platforms
  • Enable Azure Monitor and Sentinel for Threat Monitoring
  • Enable Azure adaptive network hardening
  • Role-Based Access Control should be used to restrict access to a Kubernetes Service Cluster
  • The Kubernetes Service should be upgraded to the latest Kubernetes version
  • Deploy Azure Confidential Computing for Kubernetes
  • Access to a Kubernetes service management API should be limited by authorizing specific IP ranges only
  • Ensure SQL database is always encrypted using TDE

Logging and Monitoring:

In order to get a realistic view of security events in the various resources deployed, it is very important to enable logging functionalities in VMs and Computing Resources deployed on Azure. The following best practices enable for better protection and monitoring of your Azure infrastructure.

  • Integration network and security cloud infrastructure into Sentinel
  • Discover and control use of Shadow IT – integrate CASB with Sentinel
  • Configure user risk policies for corporate and privileged users
  • Integrate ATA with Sentinel for advance threat monitoring against Domain Controllers
  • Configure sign-in risk policy for all users with MFA
  • Integrate Security Center alerts with Sentinel SIEM solution
  • Configure Windows Azure Diagnostic Agent on the VMs to push logs to Sentinel
  • Collect OS security events, Application Audit Events and IIS logs to Sentinel
  • Perform Threat Modeling
  • Use the built-in rules for MITRE ATT&CK model
  • Integrate Endpoint Security Logs (Defender)
  • Integrate Azure DDoS protection sensor with Sentinel
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