Azure ‘Just in time’ VM access

When I first saw “’Just in time…(JIT)” as a new preview announcement for Azure VMs, my mind was cast back to one of my first roles in IT, working for an automotive firm who supplied parts for car manufacturers. JIT was (or is!) a supply chain strategy whereby the parts or products arrive at a specific point only when required. Although I wasn’t directly involved, it used to fill me with dread as some of the penalties for holding up the supply chain were eye watering Smile with tongue out Anyway, I digress…

In relation to the Azure announcement, JIT is a security process currently in preview in Azure, whereby access is granted to a virtual machine only when required. It is simple in it’s architecture, in that it uses ACLs/NSGs to lock down access to specific inbound ports until a request by an authorised user is made. This drastically reduces the attack surface of your virtual and reduces any potential attacks through basic port scanning and brute force.

Licensing wise, JIT is part of the standard tier of Azure Security. Azure Security Center comes in two tiers:

  1. Free tier – this is enabled by default on your subscription and provides access to key security recommendations to help protect your infrastructure
  2. Standard Tier – extends the cloud and on-premises capabilities of Azure Security Center. Additional features are noted below:
    • Hybrid Security
    • Advanced Threat Detection
    • JIT VM access
    • Adaptive application controls

The following link provides pricing details: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/security-center/security-center-pricing (Note: the standard tier is free for the first 60 days to allow you to evaluate the components!)

Over the next few weeks I’ll aim to create blog posts for each of these areas to provide a rounded picture of what the standard security tier can provide for your organisation.

The preview of JIT can be found within the Azure Security Center pane, on the home page as seen in the below screenshot. As it is a preview you need to activate it:

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An overview of some of the alert types and an activation link can be found on the next page:

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If you click through the following page you will receive information around pricing and have the ability to “on-board” into the standard tier:

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Once you click through, you need to apply the plan to your resources, select upgrade and then save the applicable settings:

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If you navigate back to Security Center homepage – you will now see all of the new features activated within your subscription:

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Enabling JIT is very simple. Click within the JIT context in the screenshot above, and you’ll be presented with the JIT pane. From within here, click the “Recommended” option, and you should see any VMs you have in your subscription not currently enabled for JIT:

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From here simply click on the VM on the left hand side, review the current state/severity and then click “Enable JIT on x VMs”… A pane will appear recommending key ports that should be locked down. It is important to note from here you can add any additional ports, and also specific key things like source IPs that will be allowed access upon request, and the duration for which access will be granted.

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Following this your VM will now go into a “resolved state” and you will be able to head back to the main JIT screen, navigate to the “configured” tab, and hit request access…

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The request access screen will allow you to permit access to specific ports from either “MyIP” (which will detect the current IP you are accessing from) or a specific IP range. You can also specific a time frame, up to the maximum limit configured in an earlier step.

Note: the ability to request access will depend upon your user role and any configured RBAC settings in the Resource Group or Virtual Machine.

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In summary? I think JIT is a great feature and another measure of the investment Microsoft are making in security on the Azure platform. It is a feature I will be talking about with clients and in conjunction with the other features of Security Center I think it is an investment many organisations will look to make.

Azure Network Announcements at Ignite 2017

My blog has been very quiet recently having taken a few weeks off to spend time with the family, before joining Insight UK as a Cloud Architect in the Hybrid Cloud Team. The new role is exciting and with all of the innovations in the cloud space across all vendors, it’s a great time to join Insight to help them with their quest to advise and help clients and the community in leveraging this.  However, enough of the excuses about why things have been quiet… Smile 

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Ignite 2017 is like Christmas for anyone with interest in the Microsoft ecosystem and there have been a ton of announcements from a technical, strategy and business perspective to keep us all busy for some time to come. I’ve been collating my thoughts and plan on pulling together an all up view of the event once it wraps up.

One of the key things to peak my interest (being heavily focused on Azure) is the announcements today in the networking space. The following Microsoft Azure Blog post by Yousef Khalidi, CVP of Azure Networking provides a great overview:

https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/blog/azure-networking-announcements-for-ignite-2017/

At first glance on the above blog I expected a small number of changes/innovations however there is 22 (with my very rough counting!) individual areas in the announcements. From general performance, better availability through to enhancements in monitoring and management. Some of the key areas that interested me include:

  • Virtual Network Service Endpoints – this is a very positive change. A number of customers questioned the need to publically address Azure services citing obvious security concerns and how this would be managed. There key question was always “how do I turn this off?” From an architecture perspective I guess the key challenge for MS was on-going management, how it would be accessed, etc. This new innovation removes the requirements for the public endpoint instead allowing you (if you want to!) restrict access to the service from your own VNet, not the internet. Awesome! As per the original MS blog, more info can be found here: https://docs.microsoft.com/azure/virtual-network/virtual-network-service-endpoints-overview
  • ExpressRoute peering changes – this interested me as one of the key topics I usually discuss with clients is the 3 different peering options avaialble over ExpressRoute; private, public and Microsoft. As the blog notes, private includes traffic to your own VNets, public is traffic to Azure VIPs and Microsoft is traffic to SaaS services, e.g. 365. Customers have had several challenges with the MS peering namely around routing configurations within their own network and with the ExpressRoute provider. More recently, it was my understanding that Microsoft Peering was actually not recommended unless specific compliance regulations demanded this. With the above announcements it will be interesting to dig into this in more detail to understand it better. One for the ExpressRoute black belt calls.. Smile
  • General monitoring improvements – it’s great to see that OMS is mentioned everywhere and is becoming a key focal point across lots of components in the MS space. There are some great improvements that will help customers in this announcement, e.g. availability of your connections, monitoring endpoints (e.g. PaaS or SaaS availability) and some cool innovations around real user measurements and traffic flow within Traffic Manager.

Each of the above topics deserves individual consideration, as evidently a lot of effort has gone in behind the scenes by the Azure team, and it’s great to see them listen to customers and act on recommendations made. Big thumbs up and look forward to trying some of these out!