Access control for Managed HSM

Azure Key Vault Managed HSM is a cloud service that safeguards encryption keys. Because this data is sensitive and critical to your business, you need to secure your managed hardware security modules (HSMs) by allowing only authorized applications and users to access the data.

This article provides an overview of the Managed HSM access control model. It explains authentication and authorization, and describes how to secure access to your managed HSMs.


The Azure Key Vault resource provider supports two resource types: vaults and managed HSMs. Access control that's described in this article applies only to managed HSMs. To learn more about access control for Managed HSM, see Provide access to Key Vault keys, certificates, and secrets with Azure role-based access control.

Access control model

Access to a managed HSM is controlled through two interfaces:

  • Management plane
  • Data plane

On the management plane, you manage the HSM itself. Operations in this plane include creating and deleting managed HSMs and retrieving managed HSM properties.

On the data plane, you work with the data that's stored in a managed HSM. That is, you work with the HSM-backed encryption keys. You can add, delete, modify, and use keys to perform cryptographic operations, manage role assignments to control access to the keys, create a full HSM backup, restore a full backup, and manage the security domain from the data plane interface.

To access a managed HSM in either plane, all callers must have proper authentication and authorization. Authentication establishes the identity of the caller. Authorization determines which operations the caller can execute. A caller can be any one of the security principals that are defined in Microsoft Entra ID: user, group, service principal, or managed identity.

Both planes use Microsoft Entra ID for authentication. For authorization, they use different systems:

  • The management plane uses Azure role-based access control (Azure RBAC), an authorization system that's built on Azure Resource Manager.
  • The data plane uses a managed HSM-level RBAC (Managed HSM local RBAC), an authorization system that's implemented and enforced at the managed HSM level.

When a managed HSM is created, the requestor provides a list of data plane administrators (all security principals are supported). Only these administrators can access the managed HSM data plane to perform key operations and manage data plane role assignments (Managed HSM local RBAC).

The permissions models for both planes use the same syntax, but they're enforced at different levels, and role assignments use different scopes. Management plane Azure RBAC is enforced by Azure Resource Manager, and data plane Managed HSM local RBAC is enforced by the managed HSM itself.


Granting management plane access to a security principal does not grant the security principal data plane access. For example, a security principal with management plane access doesn't automatically have access to keys or data plane role assignments. This isolation is by design, to prevent inadvertent expansion of privileges that affect access to keys that are stored in Managed HSM.

But there's an exception: Members of the Microsoft Entra Global Administrator role can always add users to the Managed HSM Administrator role for recovery purposes, such as when there are no longer any valid Managed HSM Administrator accounts. For more information, see Microsoft Entra ID best practices for securing the Global Adminstrator role.

For example, a subscription administrator (because they have Contributor permissions to all resources in the subscription) can delete a managed HSM in their subscription. But if they don't have data plane access specifically granted through Managed HSM local RBAC, they can't gain access to keys or manage role assignments in the managed HSM to grant themselves or others access to the data plane.

Microsoft Entra authentication

When you create a managed HSM in an Azure subscription, the managed HSM is automatically associated with the Microsoft Entra tenant of the subscription. All callers in both planes must be registered in this tenant and authenticate to access the managed HSM.

The application authenticates with Microsoft Entra ID before calling either plane. The application can use any supported authentication method depending on the application type. The application acquires a token for a resource in the plane to gain access. The resource is an endpoint in the management plane or data plane, depending on the Azure environment. The application uses the token and sends a REST API request to the managed HSM endpoint. To learn more, review the entire authentication flow.

Using a single authentication mechanism for both planes has several benefits:

  • Organizations can centrally control access to all managed HSMs in their organization.
  • If a user leaves the organization, they instantly lose access to all managed HSMs in the organization.
  • Organizations can customize authentication by using options in Microsoft Entra ID, such as to enable multi-factor authentication for added security.

Resource endpoints

Security principals access the planes through endpoints. The access controls for the two planes work independently. To grant an application access to use keys in a managed HSM, you grant data plane access by using Managed HSM local RBAC. To grant a user access to Managed HSM resource to create, read, delete, move the managed HSMs and edit other properties and tags, you use Azure RBAC.

The following table shows the endpoints for the management plane and data plane.

Access plane Access endpoints Operations Access control mechanism
Management plane Global:
Create, read, update, delete, and move managed HSMs

Set managed HSM tags
Azure RBAC
Data plane Global:
Keys: Decrypt, encrypt,
unwrap, wrap, verify, sign, get, list, update, create, import, delete, back up, restore, purge

Data plane role-management (Managed HSM local RBAC): List role definitions, assign roles, delete role assignments, define custom roles

Backup and restore: Back up, restore, check the status of backup and restore operations

Security domain: Download and upload the security domain
Managed HSM local RBAC

Management plane and Azure RBAC

In the management plane, you use Azure RBAC to authorize the operations that a caller can execute. In the Azure RBAC model, each Azure subscription has an instance of Microsoft Entra ID. You grant access to users, groups, and applications from this directory. Access is granted to manage subscription resources that use the Azure Resource Manager deployment model. To grant access, use the Azure portal, the Azure CLI, Azure PowerShell, or Azure Resource Manager REST APIs.

You create a key vault in a resource group and manage access by using Microsoft Entra ID. You grant users or groups the ability to manage the key vaults in a resource group. You grant the access at a specific scope level by assigning appropriate Azure roles. To grant access to a user to manage key vaults, you assign a predefined key vault Contributor role to the user at a specific scope. The following scope levels can be assigned to an Azure role:

  • Management group: An Azure role assigned at the subscription level applies to all the subscriptions in that management group.
  • Subscription: An Azure role assigned at the subscription level applies to all resource groups and resources within that subscription.
  • Resource group: An Azure role assigned at the resource group level applies to all resources in that resource group.
  • Specific resource: An Azure role assigned for a specific resource applies to that resource. In this case, the resource is a specific key vault.

Several roles are predefined. If a predefined role doesn't fit your needs, you can define your own role. For more information, see Azure RBAC: Built-in roles.

Data plane and Managed HSM local RBAC

You grant a security principal access to execute specific key operations by assigning a role. For each role assignment, you must specify a role and scope for which that assignment applies. For Managed HSM local RBAC, two scopes are available:

  • / or /keys: HSM-level scope. Security principals that are assigned a role at this scope can perform the operations that are defined in the role for all objects (keys) in the managed HSM.
  • /keys/<key-name>: Key-level scope. Security principals that are assigned a role at this scope can perform the operations that are defined in this role for all versions of the specified key only.

Next steps