Key management in Azure


Zero Trust is a security strategy comprising three principles: "Verify explicitly", "Use least privilege access", and "Assume breach". Data protection, including key management, supports the "use least privilege access" principle. For more information, see What is Zero Trust?

In Azure, encryption keys can be either platform managed or customer managed.

Platform-managed keys (PMKs) are encryption keys generated, stored, and managed entirely by Azure. Customers do not interact with PMKs. The keys used for Azure Data Encryption-at-Rest, for instance, are PMKs by default.

Customer-managed keys (CMK), on the other hand, are keys read, created, deleted, updated, and/or administered by one or more customers. Keys stored in a customer-owned key vault or hardware security module (HSM) are CMKs. Bring Your Own Key (BYOK) is a CMK scenario in which a customer imports (brings) keys from an outside storage location into an Azure key management service (see the Azure Key Vault: Bring your own key specification).

A specific type of customer-managed key is the "key encryption key" (KEK). A KEK is a primary key that controls access to one or more encryption keys that are themselves encrypted.

Customer-managed keys can be stored on-premises or, more commonly, in a cloud key management service.

Azure key management services

Azure offers several options for storing and managing your keys in the cloud, including Azure Key Vault, Azure Managed HSM, Azure Dedicated HSM, and Azure Payment HSM. These options differ in terms of their FIPS compliance level, management overhead, and intended applications.

For an overview of each key management service and a comprehensive guide to choosing the right key management solution for you, see How to Choose the Right Key Management Solution.


The Azure Key Vault Standard and Premium tiers are billed on a transactional basis, with an additional monthly per-key charge for premium hardware-backed keys. Managed HSM, Dedicated HSM, and Payments HSM don't charge on a transactional basis; instead they are always-in-use devices that are billed at a fixed hourly rate. For detailed pricing information, see Key Vault pricing, Dedicated HSM pricing, and Payment HSM pricing.

Service Limits

Managed HSM, Dedicated HSM, and Payments HSM offer dedicated capacity. Key Vault Standard and Premium are multi-tenant offerings and have throttling limits. For service limits, see Key Vault service limits.


Azure Key Vault and Azure Key Vault Managed HSM have integrations with Azure Services and Microsoft 365 for Customer Managed Keys, meaning customers may use their own keys in Azure Key Vault and Azure Key Managed HSM for encryption-at-rest of data stored in these services. Dedicated HSM and Payments HSM are Infrastructure-as-Service offerings and do not offer integrations with Azure Services. For an overview of encryption-at-rest with Azure Key Vault and Managed HSM, see Azure Data Encryption-at-Rest.


Dedicated HSM and Payments HSM support the PKCS#11, JCE/JCA, and KSP/CNG APIs, but Azure Key Vault and Managed HSM do not. Azure Key Vault and Managed HSM use the Azure Key Vault REST API and offer SDK support. For more information on the Azure Key Vault API, see Azure Key Vault REST API Reference.

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