AWS vs Azure: Which is More Secure?

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When considering which cloud provider to use, security is a primary concern. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, the world’s top two cloud providers, both make huge investments in security and offer cutting-edge security capabilities and features. However, there are important differences between the two security offerings.

Anyway, they offer a wide range of features when implemented correctly, so if you want to integrate Microsoft Azure in your business, for instance, Azure consulting services may help you reach its full potential, enabling you to optimize their operations and take full advantage of the benefits of cloud computing.

In this article, we’ll compare AWS and Azure head to head on key security capabilities like authentication, monitoring, VPNs, firewalls, and encryption. Read on to understand what each cloud provider offers and how to choose the cloud that best fits your organization’s security requirements.

There are many other differences between the two providers in terms of service offering, pricing, and more – learn more in this in-depth blog post about the differences between AWS and Azure.

AWS vs Azure: Authentication and Authorization

Regardless of the provider, authentication and authorization are critical to cloud security, as they determine who can do what in the cloud system. Security must also be balanced with flexibility that allows adaptation to change customer needs.

In AWS, the Identity and Access Management (IAM) tool handles all authentication and authorization. This is a Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) system that assigns user identities to persons or applications and designates IAM roles that determine the access level of each user (learn more about RBAC vs ABAC).

Authentication involves the use of credentials such as passwords and access keys to verify the identity of a user. IAM defines various policies for roles, users, and groups, applying them in the form of JSON documents. These policies inform authorization to grant or deny access to services and resources (e.g S3 buckets) with the aid of service control policies (SCPs). AWS access control lists (ACLs) define access to between different AWS accounts, while the AWS API or CLI uses session policies when assuming roles or federating users.

In Azure, the Azure Active Directory handles access and authorization, acting as a single sign-on (SSO) portal for various internal and external applications. This builds on the traditional Microsoft Active Directory, with identities defined as users in a hierarchy of groups and organizations. Roles govern access to apps and resources—they are either dynamically assigned according to specified attributes or attached to organizations, groups, or individual users.

AWS vs Azure: Monitoring

Monitoring is a critical part of cloud security and is the basis for cloud observability and incident response processes, required as part of many compliance standards.

In AWS, the monitoring functionality necessary for enforcing cloud security is provided by CloudWatch, which handles the monitoring of applications and services.

In Azure, services and applications are monitored using Azure Monitor, which tracks all the Azure services used. On the other hand, Azure Application Insights monitors running applications. AWS and Azure offer similar monitoring tools, although their features are organized differently.

AWS vs Azure: Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is extremely useful for encrypting data to enable secure access to a private network and transfer data between data centers and public clouds. As data travels through the internet, where it is potentially exposed, a VPN ensures that it remains encrypted. VPNs are likewise useful in terms of comparing security in AWS and Azure.

In AWS, there are two services that enable VPNs—Direct Connect and Virtual Private Cloud (VPC).

In Azure, there are two services for creating VPNs, which are similar to those offered by AWS—ExpressRoute and Virtual Network. The main difference between these offerings is that AWS utilizes Layer 2 routing whereas Azure utilizes Layer 3 routing.

AWS vs Azure: Cloud Firewalls

Both the AWS and Azure cloud platforms use advanced firewalls to create a security perimeter and provide a basic layer of protection. However, both Amazon and Microsoft also offer various firewall-as-a-service solutions to help you strengthen your security posture.

The following are examples of the competing firewall products available from each provider:

  • Firewall management—the AWS Firewall Manager and the Azure Firewall Manager both allow you to configure and firewall rules and manage them centrally across all accounts, locations, instances and applications.
  • Web application firewalls (WAFs)—the AWS Web Application Firewall and the Azure Web Application Firewall both allow you to rapidly deploy a firewall-as-a-service to prevent common web exploits from compromising the security, availability, and consumption of your compute resources. They let you control traffic to your applications based on rules you create to block major attacks like cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injection.
  • VPN firewalls—the AWS Network Firewall and Azure Firewall provide managed firewall services that help you protect your network quickly through cloud-based virtual private networks. These services let you create, enforce and log all network and application policies centrally.

AWS vs Azure: Encryption

Both AWS and Azure encrypt data by default, in transit, and at rest. They use 256-bit AES (one of the most powerful encryption ciphers) to encrypt your data.

AWS offers the AWS Key Management Service (KMS) to help manage encryption, while Microsoft’s competing service is the Azure Key Vault. Both these services allow you to create encryption keys, use them to digitally sign data, and handle other management functions across all cloud services from a central location.

Both the AWS and Azure encryption services comply with the Federal Information Process Standard 140-2 (FIPS 140-2).

The Verdict: Which Cloud is More Secure?

While Amazon and Azure’s security capabilities are similar, there are nuanced differences. Here is how to choose the best cloud to suit your security needs:

  • Select AWS if you have limited security staff and need faster ramp-up and easier implementation of security features, or if you want to mainly rely on the cloud provider’s first-party security tooling, not on third-party tools.
  • Select Azure if you need to integrate with on-premise enterprise systems like identity management and local networks, or if you want to make use of third-party security tools.

In short, AWS is best if you want a quick-and-easy secure cloud presence. Azure is the preferred option if you need to integrate with existing enterprise and security systems, but is more difficult to learn and use.

I hope this will be of help as you plan a secure and effective cloud migration.