Sign in to Azure PowerShell with a service principal

A service principal in Azure is a noninteractive account that provides an identity used by applications, services, and automation tools to access specific Azure resources. Authenticating with a service principal is the best way to write secure scripts because they act as a security identity with assigned permissions governing what actions can be performed and what resources can be accessed. Service principals help to securely automate management tasks without using personal user accounts, facilitating more secure and manageable access to Azure resources. Like other user accounts, you manage their permissions with Microsoft Entra. By granting a service principal only the permissions it needs, your automation scripts stay secure.


Login with a service principal

To sign in with a service principal, use the ServicePrincipal parameter of the Connect-AzAccount cmdlet. You'll also need the following information for the service principal:

  • AppId
  • Sign-in credentials or access to the certificate used to create the service principal
  • Tenant ID

How you sign in with a service principal depends on whether it's configured for password-based or certificate-based authentication.

Password-based authentication

Create a service principal to use with the examples in this section. For more information on creating service principals, see Create an Azure service principal with Azure PowerShell.

$sp = New-AzADServicePrincipal -DisplayName ServicePrincipalName


The provided service principal secret is stored in the AzureRmContext.json file in your user profile ($env:USERPROFILE\.Azure). Ensure this directory has appropriate protections.

To get the service principal's credentials as an object, use the Get-Credential cmdlet. This cmdlet prompts for a username and password. Use the service principal's AppId for the username and convert its secret to plain text for the password.

# Retrieve the plain text password for use with Get-Credential in the next command.

$pscredential = Get-Credential -UserName $sp.AppId
Connect-AzAccount -ServicePrincipal -Credential $pscredential -Tenant $tenantId

For automation scenarios, you need to create credentials from a service principal's AppId and SecretText:

$SecureStringPwd = $sp.PasswordCredentials.SecretText | ConvertTo-SecureString -AsPlainText -Force
$pscredential = New-Object -TypeName System.Management.Automation.PSCredential -ArgumentList $sp.AppId, $SecureStringPwd
Connect-AzAccount -ServicePrincipal -Credential $pscredential -Tenant $tenantId

Use appropriate password storage practices when automating service principal connections.

Certificate-based authentication

To learn how to create a service principal for Azure PowerShell, see Create an Azure service principal with Azure PowerShell.

Certificate-based authentication requires Azure PowerShell to retrieve information from a local certificate store based on a certificate thumbprint.

Connect-AzAccount -ApplicationId $appId -Tenant $tenantId -CertificateThumbprint <thumbprint>

When using a service principal instead of a registered application, specify the ServicePrincipal parameter and provide the service principal's AppId as the value for the ApplicationId parameter.

Connect-AzAccount -ServicePrincipal -ApplicationId $servicePrincipalId -Tenant $tenantId -CertificateThumbprint <thumbprint>

In Windows PowerShell 5.1, the certificate store can be managed and inspected with the PKI module. For PowerShell 7.x and later, the process is different. The following scripts demonstrate how to import an existing certificate into the certificate store that's accessible by PowerShell.

Import a certificate in Windows PowerShell 5.1

# Import a PFX
$credentials = Get-Credential -Message 'Provide PFX private key password'
Import-PfxCertificate -FilePath <path to certificate> -Password $credentials.Password -CertStoreLocation cert:\CurrentUser\My

Import a certificate in PowerShell 7.x and later

# Import a PFX
$storeName = [System.Security.Cryptography.X509Certificates.StoreName]::My
$storeLocation = [System.Security.Cryptography.X509Certificates.StoreLocation]::CurrentUser
$store = [System.Security.Cryptography.X509Certificates.X509Store]::new($storeName, $storeLocation)
$certPath = <path to certificate>
$credentials = Get-Credential -Message "Provide PFX private key password"
$flag = [System.Security.Cryptography.X509Certificates.X509KeyStorageFlags]::Exportable
$certificate = [System.Security.Cryptography.X509Certificates.X509Certificate2]::new($certPath, $credentials.Password, $flag)

Login with a managed identity

Managed identities are a special type of service principal that provide Azure services with an automatically managed identity. Using this type of identity doesn't require storing credentials in configuration or code to authenticate to any Azure service that supports managed identities.

There are two types of managed identities:

  • System-assigned managed identity
  • User-assigned managed identity

Managed identities provide a secure way to communicate with other Azure services without developers needing to manage credentials. They also help in mitigating the risk of credential leaks.

Here's how managed identities work in real-world scenarios:

  • Azure automatically manages the creation and deletion of the credentials used by the managed identity.
  • An Azure service enabled with a managed identity may securely access other services, such as Azure Key Vault, Azure SQL Database, Azure Blob Storage, etc., using Microsoft Entra tokens.
  • This identity is managed directly within Azure without needing additional provisioning.

Managed identities simplify the security model by avoiding the need to store and manage credentials, and they play a crucial role in secure cloud operations by reducing the risk associated with handling secrets.

System-assigned managed identity

Azure automatically creates a system-assigned managed identity for an Azure service instance (like an Azure VM, App Service, or Azure Functions). When the service instance is deleted, Azure automatically cleans up the credentials and the identity associated with the service.

The following example connects using a system-assigned managed identity of the host environment. If executed on a virtual machine with an assigned managed identity, it allows the code to sign in using the assigned identity.

 Connect-AzAccount -Identity

User-assigned managed identity

A user-assigned managed identity is an identity you create and manage in Microsoft Entra. It can be assigned to one or more Azure service instances. The lifecycle of a user-assigned managed identity is managed separately from the service instances to which it's assigned.

When using a user-assigned managed identity, you must specify the AccountId parameter and the Identity parameter, as shown in the following example.

 Connect-AzAccount -Identity -AccountId <user-assigned-identity-clientId-or-resourceId>

The following commands connect using the managed identity of myUserAssignedIdentity. It adds the user-assigned identity to the virtual machine and then connects using the ClientId of the user-assigned identity.

$identity = Get-AzUserAssignedIdentity -ResourceGroupName myResourceGroup -Name myUserAssignedIdentity
Get-AzVM -ResourceGroupName contoso -Name testvm | Update-AzVM -IdentityType UserAssigned -IdentityId $identity.Id
Connect-AzAccount -Identity -AccountId $identity.ClientId # Run on the virtual machine
Account                              SubscriptionName TenantId                             Environment
-------                              ---------------- --------                             -----------
00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000 My Subscription  00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000 AzureCloud

For more information, see Configure managed identities for Azure resources on an Azure VM.

See also