Securing Terraform State in Azure
Published Apr 05 2023 08:10 AM 2,436 Views

Terraform, a widely-used Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tool, streamlines provisioning and management of cloud resources through declarative configuration files. A core component of Terraform is its state file—a JSON file that preserves your infrastructure's current state—essential for updates, rollbacks, and modifications. However, improper handling of the Terraform state may lead to security vulnerabilities.

This article highlights the significance of protecting Terraform state in Azure and offers best practices to ensure its security.

The Need for Terraform State Security

Securing Terraform state is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Prevent unauthorized access: Limiting access and modifications to the Terraform state file to authorized users safeguards your infrastructure from malicious actors.

  2. Maintain infrastructure integrity: Access restrictions to the state file reduce the risk of unauthorized changes, mitigating potential infrastructure vulnerabilities.

  3. Avoid infrastructure drift: Proper access management for the Terraform state file helps avert infrastructure drift, which arises when the actual infrastructure diverges from its intended configuration.

  4. Safeguard sensitive data: Terraform state files may store sensitive data, like passwords or API keys, necessitating protection from unauthorized access.

Best Practices for Protecting Terraform State in Azure

1. Utilize Azure Blob Storage for remote state storage with encryption and access control

Store your Terraform state files in Azure Blob Storage to take advantage of its built-in encryption and access control features. Azure Blob Storage provides server-side encryption to protect your data at rest and supports integration with Azure AD for granular access control.

  • Azure Blob Storage: Create a dedicated container within an Azure storage account to store your Terraform state files.

  • Encryption: Enable Azure Storage Service Encryption (SSE) to secure your Terraform state files at rest using Azure-managed keys or customer-managed keys. For more information, consult the official documentation:

  • Access control: Implement role-based access control (RBAC) for your Azure Blob Storage using Azure Active Directory (Azure AD). Restrict access to Terraform state files to the pipeline, only granting just-in-time access to specific users through Privileged Identity Management (PIM) in case of break-glass or emergency scenarios.

  • Firewall: Limit access to the storage account by configuring the firewall to allow traffic only from specific IP addresses, virtual networks, or Azure services. This adds an additional layer of protection against unauthorized access.

2. Configure Terraform backend

Modify your Terraform configuration file to use Azure Blob Storage as the backend for storing state files. Instead of using an access key or a SAS token, authenticate with the storage account using Open ID Connect (OIDC), managed identities, or service principals. For more information on the azurerm backend configuration variables shown below, refer to the official documentation.

  • ARM_CLIENT_ID: The service principal client ID.
  • ARM_CLIENT_SECRET: The service principal client secret.
  • ARM_TENANT_ID: Your Azure tenant ID.
  • ARM_SUBSCRIPTION_ID: Your Azure subscription ID.

Passing Authentication Information in the Pipeline

Use environment variables or command-line options to securely pass authentication information to Terraform in your pipeline.

Environment Variables

Configure environment variables in your pipeline to securely store and pass sensitive information to Terraform. In Azure DevOps, set environment variables as pipeline variables backed by Azure Key Vault to ensure that the values are not exposed in logs. In GitHub Actions, use the env key to define environment variables or GitHub Secrets to securely store sensitive information.

Command-Line Options

When running Terraform commands in your pipeline, pass the required authentication information using command-line options. For example, when using a service principal, pass the client ID and secret as command-line options when initializing the Terraform backend:

terraform init \
  -backend-config="client_id=$ARM_CLIENT_ID" \
  -backend-config="client_secret=$ARM_CLIENT_SECRET" \

Replace $ARM_CLIENT_ID, $ARM_CLIENT_SECRET, and $ARM_TENANT_ID with the corresponding environment variables or secrets in your pipeline. This approach ensures sensitive information, such as service principal credentials, is not hard-coded in the Terraform configuration files.

3. Restrict access to Terraform state files

Use Azure AD to enforce RBAC, granting permissions only to the pipeline and relevant personnel in case of break-glass or emergency scenarios. Additionally, deploy robust authentication methods, like Azure Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), for enhanced security.

Role-based access control with Azure AD

Azure AD enables defining and enforcing RBAC for Azure Blob Storage. To restrict access to Terraform state files:

  1. Create an Azure AD security group: Establish a new security group in Azure AD or use an existing one. Add appropriate users or service principals requiring access to the Terraform state files.

  2. Assign roles: Assign suitable roles to the security group, such as Storage Blob Data Contributor or Storage Blob Data Reader, depending on access requirements. These roles allow group members to read, write, and manage Terraform state files stored in Azure Blob Storage.

  3. Set up Azure AD authentication for the storage account: Configure the storage account to use Azure AD for authentication. Grant access to the pipeline, and use Privileged Identity Management (PIM) to provide just-in-time access to the security group if needed.


Securing Terraform state when using Azure is vital for protecting your infrastructure and sensitive data. By adhering to the best practices outlined in this article, you can minimize security risks and maintain infrastructure integrity. Adopt a proactive approach to secure your Terraform state, continuously assessing and improving your security posture.

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‎Apr 05 2023 05:22 AM
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