Securing Azure Managed Identities: Understanding Risks and Implementing Mitigation Strategies

J.R. Hernandez
Security Services Manager


In the ever-evolving world of cloud computing, security remains a paramount concern. One of the key components of Microsoft Azure's security infrastructure is Managed Identities. These identities are used to grant a resource, such as a Virtual Machine (VM), WebApp, or Function, access to other resources like Vaults, Storage Accounts, and more. This eliminates the need to store connection strings in configuration files or source code, thereby enhancing security. However, if Managed Identities are not properly managed, they can be exploited to gain unauthorized access to resources. This article delves into the potential security risks associated with the misuse of Azure Managed Identities and outlines strategies for mitigating these risks.

Understanding Managed Identities

Azure Managed Identities can be categorized into two types: System and User identities. System identities are inherently tied to the resource and are automatically managed by Azure. On the other hand, User identities are independent and need to be manually associated with a resource. The primary function of these identities is to grant resources access to other resources without the need to manage connection strings, thereby simplifying resource management and enhancing security.

Role Assignment in Azure

In Azure, roles are sets of permissions that can be assigned to Managed Identities. These roles define what actions the identities can perform and on which resources. Roles can be assigned at various levels such as Subscription level, Resource group, Storage Account, Vault, or SQL. The assigned roles propagate “downwards” in the Azure architecture layer, meaning a role assigned at a higher level (like the Subscription level) will apply to all resources under it.

Potential Misuse of Managed Identities

Despite the benefits of Managed Identities, improper management can lead to security vulnerabilities. For instance, if the roles assigned to a Managed Identity are not properly managed, it can lead to unauthorized access to resources. Consider a scenario where a web application is compromised. If this web application has access to a storage account through a Managed Identity, the attacker can also gain access to the storage account, leading to potential data breaches.

Exploiting Azure Managed Identity

To illustrate how Managed Identities can be exploited, let's consider a scenario involving a command injection on a web app. An attacker can use this vulnerability to get an access token and account id. These credentials can then be used to authenticate to Azure. If the Managed Identity associated with the web app has been given too many permissions, it could potentially allow the attacker to access other resources, thereby extending the attack surface.

Mitigation Strategies

The potential risks associated with Managed Identities underscore the importance of their proper management. Here are some strategies to mitigate these risks:

  1. Limit Permissions: Each Managed Identity should only have the permissions necessary for its function. Over-privileging can lead to unnecessary exposure and increased risk.
  2. Regular Review: Regularly review the permissions assigned to each Managed Identity. This helps ensure that they still align with the function of the resource and that no unnecessary permissions are granted.
  3. Careful Role Assignment: Be cautious when assigning roles to Managed Identities. Remember that roles propagate downwards in the Azure architecture layer. Therefore, a role assigned at a higher level can potentially grant more access than intended.


In conclusion, while Azure Managed Identities offer a secure and efficient way to manage resource access, they can also pose security risks if not properly managed. By understanding these risks and implementing the mitigation strategies outlined above, organizations can leverage the benefits of Managed Identities while minimizing potential security vulnerabilities. As with all aspects of cybersecurity, vigilance and regular review are key to maintaining a secure Azure environment.

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