Keeping credentials safe and secure is always a priority. It can be a challenge in the cloud where you are dealing with applications and virtual machines, and their requirements can differ.
I will discuss Azure Managed Identities and Service Principals in this article and explain their main differences.
Azure Service Principals are security identity objects for use with applications, services and tools that need access to resources within an Azure tenant. Service principles are typically used when a service or application needs access to Azure resources without requiring user interactions.
If you come from an on-prem world, Service Principals stop you from having to create a “fake” user within your Active Directory environment for a service.
Service Principals can be created and managed using Azure portal, Azure CLI, Azure PowerShell, or Azure SDKs.
An audit trail with Service Principals shows access attempts and activity, which can help you meet compliance and regulatory requirements.
Azure Managed Identities are very similar to Azure Service Principals, but they remove any need for you to create and manage a Service Principal. Azure Managed Identities are created automatically for you.
There are two types of Managed Identities, system-assigned managed identity and user-assigned managed identity.
System-assigned managed identity
System-assigned managed identities are tied to a specific Azure resource. When a system-assigned managed identity is enabled for a resource, Azure creates a unique identity for that resource in the Azure AD tenant associated with the subscription.
This identity can then be used to authenticate and authorize access to other Azure resources, such as Azure Key Vault, Azure Storage, or Azure SQL Database.
If you delete the Azure resource the system-assigned managed identity is tied to it will also be deleted.
User-assigned managed identity
A user-assigned managed identity is created by an Azure administrator and assigned to one or more Azure resources that require authentication and authorization. They are often used in scenarios where a single identity needs to access multiple resources across multiple subscriptions, or when multiple applications or services need to access the same set of resources.
User-assigned managed identities can be created and managed separately from any Azure resources that use them, they can be deleted or updated without impacting any of the resources that use them.
Azure Service Principals and Azure Managed Identities are both used for managing authentication and authorization in Azure, but they differ in their implementation and use cases.
By leveraging the power of Azure Managed Identities and Service Principals, you can simplify your identity management, reduce the risk of compromised credentials, and improve your Azure resources' security. So, whether you're building a small application or managing a large enterprise, Azure Managed Identities and Service Principals are powerful tools that can help you achieve your goals.