How to: Increase Cloud Security with new Azure JIT VM Access

Experts have been observing that hackers seem to be targeting the Brute Force or Port Scanning on management ports, such as RDP and SSH, which are often left open for administrators to access systems in their cloud environments. Microsoft Azure has released a new feature to prevent just that.

An article by Mustafa Kara, Azure MVP and Technical Manager at COMPAREX Turkey

Mustafa Kara, Technical Manager at COMPAREX Turkey

What is JIT VM Access?

With the new Just in Time Virtual Machine (JIT VM) Access mechanism, announced in April 2018, the Microsoft Azure Security Center now helps clients detect and get notified of attacks such as the ones mentioned above. This new layer of security, which provides you with controlled access to VMs at any time, can significantly reduce this kind of attack exposure by allowing you to deny persistent access.

RDP and SSH Attacks (Brute Force or Port Scanning)
Fig. 1: RDP and SSH Attacks (Brute Force or Port Scanning)

How does it work?

According to the security policy you set up, Azure Security Center can enable just-in-time (JIT) access on your existing VMs as well as on your newly created VMs. When JIT VM access is enabled, Azure security Center closes traffic to the ports defined by creating the Network security Group rules. If necessary, you can request to open the required port for the approved period of time for the IP addresses approved for the VM and only for users with the appropriate permissions. Requests are saved in the Azure Activity Log, so you can easily monitor and control access. You can also enable JIT VM access, configure them with policy, and request access through PowerShell cmdlets. These new features are available within the Azure Security Center standard pricing tier and are free during the first 60 days.

Let's start configuring

I signed in to the Azure portal on my own account, clicked on the Security Center and then clicked on JIT VM Access.

Configuring JIT on Azure Security Center
Fig. 2: Configuring JIT on Azure Security Center

To get free access for the first 60 days, press the Apply Standard Plan button.

Enable Azure Security Center Standard Plan
Fig. 3: Enable Azure Security Center Standard Plan

If you have an existing OMS workspace, you can use it to store these logs. As I didn't have one yet, I created a new workspace.

Add a new workspace
Fig. 4: Add a new workspace

To create a new workspace, enter your OMS workspace name, select your subscription, create a new resource group or select the existing one, then press the “OK” button to complete the creation process.

Create a  New Workspace
Fig. 5: Create a  New Workspace

Our OMS Workspace is ready to record all JIT VM Access activities in the log.

Complete a new Workspace
Fig. 6: Complete a new Workspace

The JIT VM Access is now ready to use. Now I can select the machine or machines I want to activate for JIT VM access and then press the “Enable JIT” button.

Enable JIT on VM
Fig. 7: Enable JIT on VM

I can configure JIT VM Access now and define permissions and times for ports. I select the VM for this and press the “edit” button.

JIT VM Access Edit
Fig. 8: JIT VM Access Edit

I use this section to open the port, to define the source IP that is allowed access. Again, I can set the time range for access in this section.

Open port on JIT VM Access
Fig. 9: Open port on JIT VM Access

Now, I enter my own real IP in 3389 RDP port and allow access for one hour.

Add port on JIT VM Access
Fig. 10: Add port on JIT VM Access

Here are the activity logs for the machine that has JIT VM Access enabled.

Activity Log on JIT VM Access
Fig. 11: Activity Log on JIT VM Access

I can see the source IP address and destination IP address of the machine in the activity logs. It is also possible to see the rules’ name and port information in this section.

Activity Log on JIT VM Access details
Fig. 12: Activity Log on JIT VM Access details

Every day, new security solutions are coming into the Azure security Center, such as JIT VM Access, and these innovations further tighten the security layer. We will keep you updated!

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Leipzig, 07.05.2018

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