Azure Security and Compliance Blueprint - IaaS Web Application for Australia Protected


This Azure Security and Compliance Blueprint provides guidance for the deployment of an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) environment suitable for the collection, storage, and retrieval of AU-PROTECTED government data that is compliant with the objectives of the Australian Government Information Security Manual (ISM) produced by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). This blueprint showcases a common reference architecture and helps demonstrate the proper handling of sensitive government data in a secure, compliant, multi-tier environment.

This reference architecture, implementation guide, and threat model provide a foundation for customers to undertake their own planning and system accreditation processes, helping customers deploy workloads to Azure in an ASD-compliant manner. Customers may choose to implement an Azure VPN Gateway or ExpressRoute to use federated services and to integrate on-premises resources with Azure resources. Customers must consider the security implications of using on-premises resources. Additional configuration is required to meet all the requirements, as they may vary based on the specifics of each customer's implementation.

Achieving ASD-compliance requires that an Information Security Registered Assessor audits the system. Customers are responsible for conducting appropriate security and compliance assessments of any solution built using this architecture, as requirements may vary based on the specifics of each customer's implementation.

Architecture diagram and components

This solution deploys a reference architecture for an IaaS web application with a SQL Server backend. The architecture includes a web tier, data tier, Active Directory infrastructure, Application Gateway, and Load Balancer. Virtual machines deployed to the web and data tiers are configured in an availability set, and SQL Server instances are configured in an Always On availability group for high availability. Virtual machines are domain-joined, and Active Directory group policies are used to enforce security and compliance configurations at the operating system level. A management bastion host provides a secure connection for administrators to access deployed resources.

The architecture can deliver a secure hybrid environment that extends an on-premises network to Azure, allowing web-based workloads to be accessed securely by corporate users of an organization’s private local-area network or from the internet. For on-premises solutions, the customer is both accountable and responsible for all aspects of security, operations and compliance.

The Azure resources included in this solution can connect to an on-premises network or datacentre colocation facility (e.g. CDC in Canberra) through IPSec VPN using the Azure VPN Gateway or through ExpressRoute.. The decision to utilize a VPN should be done with the classification of the transmitted data and the network path in mind. Customers running large-scale, mission critical workloads with big data requirements should consider a hybrid network architecture using ExpressRoute for private network connectivity to Azure services. Refer to the guidance and recommendations section for further details on connection mechanisms to Azure.

Federation with Azure Active Directory should be used to enable users to authenticate using on-premises credentials and access all resources in the cloud by using an on-premises Active Directory Federation Services infrastructure. Active Directory Federation Services can provide simplified, secured identity federation and web single sign-on capabilities for this hybrid environment. Refer to the guidance and recommendations section for further details Azure Active Directory setup.

The solution uses Azure Storage accounts, which customers can configure to use Storage Service Encryption to maintain confidentiality of data at rest. Azure stores three copies of data within a customer's selected region for resiliency. Azure regions are deployed in resilient region pairs, and geographic redundant storage ensures that data will be replicated to the second region with three copies as well. This prevents an adverse event at the customer's primary data location resulting in a loss of data.

For enhanced security, all resources in this solution are managed as a resource group through Azure Resource Manager. Azure Active Directory role-based access control is used for controlling access to deployed resources and keys in Azure Key Vault. System health is monitored through Azure Security Center and Azure Monitor. Customers configure both monitoring services to capture logs and display system health in a single, easily navigable dashboard. Azure Application Gateway is configured as a firewall in prevention mode and requires TLS traffic with a minimum version of 1.2.

IaaS Web Application for AU-PROTECTED Reference Architecture

This solution uses the following Azure services. Further details are in the deployment architecture section.

  • Availability Sets
    • (1) SQL cluster nodes
    • (1) Web/IIS
  • Azure Active Directory
  • Azure Application Gateway
    • (1) Web application firewall
      • Firewall mode: prevention
      • Rule set: OWASP 3.0
      • Listener port: 443
  • Azure Cloud Witness
  • Azure Key Vault
  • Azure Load Balancer
  • Azure Monitor
  • Azure Resource Manager
  • Azure Security Center
  • Azure Monitor logs
  • Azure Storage
  • Azure Virtual Machines
    • (1) management/bastion (Windows Server 2016 Datacenter)
    • (2) SQL Server cluster node (SQL Server 2017 on Windows Server 2016)
    • (2) Web/IIS (Windows Server 2016 Datacenter)
  • Azure Virtual Network
    • (4) Network security groups
    • Azure Network Watcher
  • Recovery Services Vault

This Blueprint contains Azure Services that have not been certified for use at the Protected classification by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC). All services included in this reference architecture have been certified by ACSC at the Dissemination Limiting Markers (DLM) level. Microsoft recommends that customers review the published security and audit reports related to these Azure Services and use their risk management framework to determine whether the Azure Service is suitable for their internal accreditation and use at the Protected classification.

Deployment architecture

The following section details the deployment and implementation elements.

Bastion host: The bastion host is the single point of entry that allows users to access the deployed resources in this environment. The bastion host provides a secure connection to deployed resources by only allowing remote traffic from public IP addresses on a safe list. To permit remote desktop (RDP) traffic, the source of the traffic needs to be defined in the network security group.

This solution creates a virtual machine as a domain-joined bastion host with the following configurations:

Virtual network

The architecture defines a private virtual network with an address space of

Network security groups: This solution deploys resources in an architecture with a separate web subnet, database subnet, Active Directory subnet, and management subnet inside of a virtual network. Subnets are logically separated by network security group rules applied to the individual subnets to restrict traffic between subnets to only that necessary for system and management functionality.

See the configuration for network security groups deployed with this solution. Organizations can configure network security groups by editing the file above using this documentation as a guide.

Each of the subnets has a dedicated network security group:

  • 1 network security group for Application Gateway (LBNSG)
  • 1 network security group for bastion host (MGTNSG)
  • 1 network security group for SQL Servers and Cloud Witness (SQLNSG)
  • 1 network security group for web tier (WEBNSG)

Data in transit

Azure encrypts all communications to and from Azure datacenters by default.

For Protected data in transit from customer owned networks, the Architecture uses the Internet or ExpressRoute with a VPN Gateway configured with IPSEC.

Additionally, all transactions to Azure through the Azure management portal occur via HTTPS utilizing TLS 1.2.

Data at rest

The architecture protects data at rest through encryption, database auditing, and other measures.

Azure Storage: To meet encrypted data at rest requirements, all Azure Storage uses Storage Service Encryption. This helps protect and safeguard data in support of organizational security commitments and compliance requirements defined by the Australian Government ISM.

Azure Disk Encryption: Azure Disk Encryption leverages the BitLocker feature of Windows to provide volume encryption for data disks. The solution integrates with Azure Key Vault to help control and manage the disk-encryption keys.

SQL Server: The SQL Server instance uses the following database security measures:

  • SQL Server auditing tracks database events and writes them to audit logs.
  • Transparent data encryption performs real-time encryption and decryption of the database, associated backups, and transaction log files to protect information at rest. Transparent data encryption provides assurance that stored data has not been subject to unauthorized access.
  • Firewall rules prevent all access to database servers until proper permissions are granted. The firewall grants access to databases based on the originating IP address of each request.
  • Encrypted Columns ensure that sensitive data never appears as plaintext inside the database system. After enabling data encryption, only client applications or application servers with access to the keys can access plaintext data.
  • Dynamic data masking limits sensitive data exposure by masking the data to non-privileged users or applications. Dynamic data masking can automatically discover potentially sensitive data and suggest the appropriate masks to be applied. This helps with reducing access such that sensitive data does not exit the database via unauthorized access. Customers are responsible for adjusting dynamic data masking settings to adhere to their database schema.

Identity management

Customers may utilize on-premises Active Directory Federated Services to federate with Azure Active Directory, which is Microsoft's multi-tenant cloud-based directory and identity management service. Azure Active Directory Connect integrates on-premises directories with Azure Active Directory. All users in this solution require Azure Active Directory accounts. With federation sign-in, users can sign in to Azure Active Directory and authenticate to Azure resources using on-premises credentials.

Furthermore, the following Azure Active Directory capabilities help manage access to data in the Azure environment:

  • Authentication to the application is performed using Azure Active Directory. For more information, see integrating applications with Azure Active Directory.
  • Azure role-based access control enables administrators to define fine-grained access permissions to grant only the amount of access that users need to perform their jobs. Instead of giving every user unrestricted permission for Azure resources, administrators can allow only certain actions for accessing data. Subscription access is limited to the subscription administrator.
  • Azure Active Directory Privileged Identity Management enables customers to minimize the number of users who have access to certain information. Administrators can use Azure Active Directory Privileged Identity Management to discover, restrict, and monitor privileged identities and their access to resources. This functionality can also be used to enforce on-demand, just-in-time administrative access when needed.
  • Azure Active Directory Identity Protection detects potential vulnerabilities affecting an organization's identities, configures automated responses to detected suspicious actions related to an organization's identities, and investigates suspicious incidents to take appropriate action to resolve them.

Azure Multi-Factor Authentication: To protect identities, multi-factor authentication should be implemented. Azure Multi-Factor Authentication is an easy to use, scalable, and reliable solution that provides a second method of authentication to protect users. Azure Multi-Factor Authentication uses the power of the cloud and integrates with on-premises Active Directory and custom applications. This protection is extended to high-volume, mission-critical scenarios.


Secrets management: The solution uses Azure Key Vault for the management of keys and secrets. Azure Key Vault helps safeguard cryptographic keys and secrets used by cloud applications and services. The following Azure Key Vault capabilities help customers protect and access such data:

  • Advanced access policies are configured on a need basis.
  • Key Vault access policies are defined with minimum required permissions to keys and secrets.
  • All keys and secrets in Key Vault have expiration dates.
  • All keys in Key Vault are protected by specialized hardware security modules. The key type is a hardware security module protected 2048-bit RSA Key.
  • All users and identities are granted minimum required permissions using role-based access control.
  • Diagnostics logs for Key Vault are enabled with a retention period of at least 365 days.
  • Permitted cryptographic operations for keys are restricted to the ones required.
  • The solution is integrated with Azure Key Vault to manage IaaS virtual machine disk-encryption keys and secrets.

Patch management: Windows virtual machines deployed as part of this reference architecture are configured by default to receive automatic updates from Windows Update Service. This solution also includes the Azure Automation service through which updated deployments can be created to patch virtual machines when needed.

Malware protection: Microsoft Antimalware for Virtual Machines provides real-time protection capability that helps identify and remove viruses, spyware, and other malicious software, with configurable alerts when known malicious or unwanted software attempts to install or run on protected virtual machines.

Azure Security Center: With Azure Security Center, customers can centrally apply and manage security policies across workloads, limit exposure to threats, and detect and respond to attacks. Additionally, Azure Security Center accesses existing configurations of Azure services to provide configuration and service recommendations to help improve security posture and protect data.

Azure Security Center uses a variety of detection capabilities to alert customers of potential attacks targeting their environments. These alerts contain valuable information about what triggered the alert, the resources targeted, and the source of the attack. Azure Security Center has a set of predefined security alerts, which are triggered when a threat, or suspicious activity takes place. Custom alert rules in Azure Security Center allow customers to define new security alerts based on data that is already collected from their environment.

Azure Security Center provides prioritized security alerts and incidents, making it simpler for customers to discover and address potential security issues. A threat intelligence report is generated for each detected threat to assist incident response teams in investigating and remediating threats.

Furthermore, this reference architecture utilizes the vulnerability assessment in Azure Security Center. Once configured, a partner agent (e.g. Qualys) reports vulnerability data to the partner’s management platform. In turn, the partner's management platform provides vulnerability and health monitoring data back to Azure Security Center, allowing customers to quickly identify vulnerable virtual machines.

Azure Application Gateway: The architecture reduces the risk of security vulnerabilities using an Azure Application Gateway with a web application firewall configured, and the OWASP ruleset enabled. Additional capabilities include:

Business continuity

High availability: The solution deploys all virtual machines in an Availability Set. Availability sets ensure that the virtual machines are distributed across multiple isolated hardware clusters to improve availability. At least one virtual machine is available during a planned or unplanned maintenance event, meeting the 99.95% Azure SLA.

Recovery Services Vault: The Recovery Services Vault houses backup data and protects all configurations of Azure Virtual Machines in this architecture. With a Recovery Services Vault, customers can restore files and folders from an IaaS virtual machine without restoring the entire virtual machine, enabling faster restore times.

Cloud Witness: Cloud Witness is a type of Failover Cluster quorum witness in Windows Server 2016 that leverages Azure as the arbitration point. The Cloud Witness, like any other quorum witness, gets a vote and can participate in the quorum calculations, but it uses the standard publicly available Azure Blob Storage. This eliminates the extra maintenance overhead of virtual machines hosted in a public cloud.

Logging and auditing

Azure services extensively log system and user activity, as well as system health:

  • Activity logs: Activity logs provide insight into operations performed on resources in a subscription. Activity logs can help determine an operation's initiator, time of occurrence, and status.
  • Diagnostic logs: Diagnostic logs include all logs emitted by every resource. These logs include Windows event system logs, Azure Storage logs, Key Vault audit logs, and Application Gateway access and firewall logs. All diagnostic logs write to a centralized and encrypted Azure storage account for archival. The retention is user-configurable, up to 730 days, to meet organization-specific retention requirements.

Azure Monitor logs: These logs are consolidated in Azure Monitor logs for processing, storing, and dashboard reporting. Once collected, the data is organized into separate tables for each data type, which allows all data to be analyzed together regardless of its original source. Furthermore, Azure Security Center integrates with Azure Monitor logs allowing customers to use Kusto queries to access their security event data and combine it with data from other services.

The following Azure monitoring solutions are included as a part of this architecture:

  • Active Directory Assessment: The Active Directory Health Check solution assesses the risk and health of server environments on a regular interval and provides a prioritized list of recommendations specific to the deployed server infrastructure.
  • SQL Assessment: The SQL Health Check solution assesses the risk and health of server environments on a regular interval and provides customers with a prioritized list of recommendations specific to the deployed server infrastructure.
  • Agent Health: The Agent Health solution reports how many agents are deployed and their geographic distribution, as well as how many agents which are unresponsive and the number of agents which are submitting operational data.
  • Activity Log Analytics: The Activity Log Analytics solution assists with analysis of the Azure activity logs across all Azure subscriptions for a customer.

Azure Automation: Azure Automation stores, runs, and manages runbooks. In this solution, runbooks help collect logs from Azure SQL Server. The Automation Change Tracking solution enables customers to easily identify changes in the environment.

Azure Monitor: Azure Monitor helps users track performance, maintain security, and identify trends by enabling organizations to audit, create alerts, and archive data, including tracking API calls in their Azure resources.

Azure Network Watcher: Azure Network Watcher provides tools to monitor, diagnose, view metrics, and enable or disable logs for resources in an Azure virtual network. Commonwealth entities should implement Network Watcher flow logs for NSGs and Virtual Machines. These logs should be stored in a dedicated storage account that only security logs are stored in and access to the storage account should be secured with Role Based Access Controls.

Threat model

The data flow diagram for this reference architecture is available for download or can be found below. This model can help customers understand the points of potential risk in the system infrastructure when making modifications.

IaaS Web Application for AU-PROTECTED Threat Model

Compliance documentation

This compliance documentation is produced by Microsoft based on platforms and services available from Microsoft. Due to the wide variety of customer deployments, this documentation provides a generalized approach for a solution only hosted in the Azure environment. Customers may identify and use alternative products and services based on their own operating environments and business outcomes. Customers choosing to use on-premises resources must address the security and operations for those on-premises resources. The documented solution can be customized by customers to address their specific on-premises and security requirements.

The Azure Security and Compliance Blueprint – AU-PROTECTED Customer Responsibility Matrix lists all security controls required by AU-PROTECTED. This matrix details whether the implementation of each control is the responsibility of Microsoft, the customer, or shared between the two.

The Azure Security and Compliance Blueprint – AU-PROTECTED IaaS Web Application Implementation Matrix provides information on which AU-PROTECTED controls are addressed by the IaaS web application architecture, including detailed descriptions of how the implementation meets the requirements of each covered control.

Guidance and recommendations

VPN and ExpressRoute

For classified information a secure IPSec VPN tunnel needs to be configured to securely establish a connection to the resources deployed as a part of this IaaS web application reference architecture. By appropriately setting up an IPSec VPN, customers can add a layer of protection for data in transit.

By implementing a secure IPSec VPN tunnel with Azure, a virtual private connection between an on-premises network and an Azure virtual network can be created. This connection can take place over the Internet and allows customers to securely "tunnel" information inside an encrypted link between the customer's network and Azure. Site-to-site VPN is a secure, mature technology that has been deployed by enterprises of all sizes for decades.

Because traffic within the VPN tunnel does traverse the Internet with a site-to-site VPN, Microsoft offers a private connection option. Azure ExpressRoute is a dedicated link between Azure and an on-premises location or an Exchange hosting provider and is considered a private network. As ExpressRoute connections do not go over the Internet, these connections offer more reliability, faster speeds and lower latencies than typical connections over the Internet. Furthermore, because this is a direct connection of customer's telecommunication provider, the data does not travel over the Internet and therefore is not exposed to it.

Best practices for implementing a secure hybrid network that extends an on-premises network to Azure are available.

To help protect classified data, whether using the Internet or Azure ExpressRoute, customers must configure their IPSec VPN by applying the following settings:

• The customer VPN initiator must be configured for a SA lifetime of no greater than 14400 seconds. • The customer VPN initiator must disable IKEv1 aggressive mode. • The customer VPN initiator must configure Perfect Forward Secrecy. • The customer VPN Initiator must configure the use of HMAC-SHA256 or greater.

Configuration options for VPN devices and IPSec/ IKE parameters is available for review.

Azure Active Directory setup

Azure Active Directory is essential to managing the deployment and provisioning access to personnel interacting with the environment. An existing Windows Server Active Directory can be integrated with Azure Active Directory in four clicks.

Furthermore, Azure Active Directory Connect allows customers to configure federation with on-premises Active Directory Federation Services and Azure Active Directory. With federation sign-in, customers can enable users to sign in to Azure Active Directory-based services with their on-premises passwords and without having to enter their passwords again while on the corporate network. By using the federation option with Active Directory Federation Services, you can deploy a new installation of Active Directory Federation Services, or you can specify an existing installation in a Windows Server 2012 R2 farm.

To prevent classified data from synchronizing to Azure Active Directory, customers can restrict the attributes that are replicated to Azure Active Directory by applying the following settings in Azure Active Directory Connect:


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  • Certain recommendations in this document may result in increased data, network, or compute resource usage in Azure, and may increase a customer's Azure license or subscription costs.
  • This architecture is intended to serve as a foundation for customers to adjust to their specific requirements and should not be used as-is in a production environment.
  • This document is developed as a reference and should not be used to define all means by which a customer can meet specific compliance requirements and regulations. Customers should seek legal support from their organization on approved customer implementations.