Azure Dedicated HSM

Azure Dedicated HSM is a single-tenant HSM server. Dedicated HSM delivers tamper-proof crypto key operations and FIPS compliance on Azure.

What is Azure Dedicated HSM?

What is Azure Dedicated HSM

Azure Dedicated HSM is a cloud-based service that provides HSMs hosted in Azure datacenters that are directly connected to a customer’s virtual network. These HSMs are dedicated Thales Luna 7 HSM network appliances. They are deployed directly to a customers’ private IP address space and Microsoft does not have any access to the cryptographic functionality of the HSMs.

Only the customer has full administrative and cryptographic control over these devices. Customers are responsible for the management of the device and they can get full activity logs directly from their devices. Dedicated HSMs help customers meet compliance/regulatory requirements such as FIPS 140-2 Level 3, HIPAA, PCI-DSS, and eIDAS and many others.

A Hardware Security Module (HSM) is a physical computing device used to safeguard and manage cryptographic keys. Keys stored in HSMs can be used for cryptographic operations. The key material stays safely in tamper-resistant, tamper-evident hardware modules. The HSM only allows authenticated and authorized applications to use the keys. The key material never leaves the HSM protection boundary.

Benefits of Dedicated HSM on Azure

Benefits of Dedicated HSM on Azure

Tamper Proof

Dedicated HSM service uses Thales Luna 7 HSM appliances. These devices support physical and logical tamper detection. If there is ever a tamper event the HSMs are automatically zeroized.

FIPS 140-2 Level-3 compliance

Many organizations have stringent industry regulations that dictate that cryptographic keys must be stored in FIPS 140-2 Level-3 validated HSMs. Azure Dedicated HSM   helps customers from various industry segments, such as financial services industry, government agencies, and others meet FIPS 140-2 Level-3 requirements. While Microsoft’s multi-tenant Azure Key Vault service currently uses FIPS 140-2 Level-2 validated HSMs.

Single-tenant Dedicated HSM

Many Microsoft customers have a requirement for Azure dedicated hosts with single-tenancy of the cryptographic storage device. The Azure dedicated HSM service enables them to provision a physical device from one of Microsoft’s globally distributed datacenters. After it’s provisioned to a customer, only that customer can access the device.

Full administrative control

Many customers require full administrative control and sole access to their device for administrative purposes. After a device is provisioned, only the customer has administrative or application-level access to the device.

Microsoft has no administrative control after the customer accesses the device for the first time, at which point the customer changes the password. From that point, the customer is a true single-tenant with full administrative control and application-management capability. Microsoft does maintain monitor-level access (not an admin role) for telemetry via serial port connection. This access covers hardware monitors such as temperature, power supply health, and fan health.

The customer is free to disable this monitoring needed. However, if they disable it, they won’t receive proactive health alerts from Microsoft.

Dedicated HSM Use Cases

Azure Dedicated HSM Use Cases

Use Cases

Azure Dedicated HSM is most suitable for migration scenarios. This means that if you are migrating on-premises applications to Azure that are already using HSMs. This provides a low-friction option to migrate to Azure with minimal changes to the application. If cryptographic operations are performed in the application’s code running in Azure VM or Web App, Dedicated HSM may be used. In general, shrink-wrapped software running in IaaS (infrastructure as a service) models, that support HSMs as a key store can use Dedicate HSM, such as:

  • Traffic Manager for Keyless TLS
  • ADCS (Active Directory Certificate Services)
  • Similar PKI tools
  • Tools/applications used for document signing
  • Code signing
  • SQL Server (IaaS) configured with TDE (transparent database encryption) with master key in an HSM using an EKM (extensible key management) provider

Not a Fit

Azure Dedicated HSM is not a good fit for the following type of scenario: Microsoft cloud services that support encryption with customer-managed keys (such as Azure Information Protection, Azure Disk Encryption, Azure Data Lake Store, Azure Storage, Azure SQL Database, and Customer Key for Office 365) that are not integrated with Azure Dedicated HSM.

In the healthcare industry, for example, applications must meet HIPAA requirements when dealing with patient information. So each hospital may need to have its own data center onsite to ensure compliance. The same applies to certain types of financial data.

Azure Dedicated HSM Use Cases

Azure Dedicated HSM vs Azure Key Vault

Azure Dedicated HSM vs Azure Key Vault

Azure Dedicated HSM is the appropriate choice for enterprises migrating to Azure on-premises applications that use HSMs. Dedicated HSMs present an option to migrate an application with minimal changes. If cryptographic operations are performed in the application’s code running in an Azure VM or Web App, they can use Dedicated HSM. In general, shrink-wrapped software running in IaaS (infrastructure as a service) models, that support HSMs as a key store can use Dedicate HSM, such as traffic manager for keyless TLS, ADCS (Active Directory Certificate Services), or similar PKI tools, tools/applications used for document signing, code signing, or a SQL Server (IaaS) configured with TDE (transparent database encryption) with master key in an HSM using an EKM (extensible key management) provider.

Azure Key Vault is suitable for “born-in-cloud” applications or for encryption at rest scenarios where customer data is processed by PaaS (platform as a service) or SaaS (Software as a service) scenarios such as Office 365 Customer Key, Azure Information Protection, Azure Disk Encryption, Azure Data Lake Store encryption with customer-managed key, Azure Storage encryption with customer managed key, and Azure SQL with customer managed key.

Azure Dedicated HSM vs Azure Key Vault

Availability of Azure Dedicated HSM

High Availability of Azure Dedicated HSM

High Availability 

High availability configuration and setup are performed in the HSM client software provided by Thales. HSMs from the same VNET or other VNETs in the same region or across regions, or on premises HSMs connected to a VNET using site-to-site or point-to-point VPN can be added to same high availability configuration. It should be noted that this synchronizes key material only and not specific configuration items such as roles.

Disaster Recovery

It is highly recommended to use an on-premises HSM backup device to perform regular periodic backup of the HSMs for disaster recovery. You will need to use a peer-to-peer or site-to-site VPN connection to an on-premises workstation connected to an HSM backup device.

HA Disaster Recovery for Azure Dedicated HSM

Azure Dedicated HSM Performance

Azure Dedicated HSM Performance

Cryptographic Performance

Dedicated HSM provisions Thales Luna 7 HSMs. Here’s a summary of maximum performance for some operations:

  • RSA-2048: 10,000 transactions per second
  • ECC P256: 20,000 transactions per second
  • AES-GCM: 17,000 transactions per second

Number of Keys Supported

The maximum number of keys is a function of the memory available. The Thales Luna 7 model A790 in use has 32MB of memory. The following numbers are also applicable to key pairs if using asymmetric keys.

  • RSA-2048 – 19,000
  • ECC-P256 – 91,000

Capacity will vary depending on specific key attributes set in the key generation template and number of partitions.

Maintenance & Support

Microsoft does not have the ability to connect to HSMs allocated to customers. Customers must upgrade and patch their HSMs.

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