# GitHub Actions: Authenticate to Azure Without a Secret using OIDC

Authenticating to Azure in GitHub Actions requires a secret for a Service Principal. However, at Universe, GitHub released a new OIDC-based authentication mechanism that eliminates the need for secrets in secure deployments.

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# Update: 11/17/2021

In the original version of this post, I extracted the Azure login task to a Composite Action because you need a beta version of the az cli for the OIDC to work. As of today, you can use the @v1 tag of azure/login (which has been updated to include OIDC logic) and you do not have to install the beta az cli. This makes the Composite Action obsolete - all you have to do now is call the azure/login task as before, not passing the secret (assuming you configure the federated credential on the SPN in Azure).

# Problem Statement

Deploying to Azure or other cloud providers from Actions requires that you authenticate to the provider. Not only do you have to authenticate, but the credential you use needs authorization to perform tasks in the cloud platform.

For Azure, this is accomplished by creating a Service Principal (SPN) and then saving the credentials for that SPN to your GitHub repo (or organization) as a secret. The secret is then consumed by the actions/login task to authenticate to Azure before you perform any other steps:


{
"clientId": "GUID",
"clientSecret": "some value",
"tenantId": "GUID",
"subscriptionId": "GUID"
}



The format of the AZURE_CREDENTIAL secret.

The problem with this secret is that it has to be maintained in GitHub. What happens when you rotate the client secret? Deployments will start to fail unless you update the secret. And if you’re using the credential across multiple repos, you’ll have to update the secret in each place it’s used.

# OIDC

To help solve this problem, GitHub has been working with cloud providers to implement OpenID Connect (OIDC) authentication. This is an established, standard protocol that allows systems to request and receive information about authenticated users. You can read more about the supported providers in the official documentation.

The idea is that you configure your cloud provider to issue a short-lived token to a specific GitHub repo (optionally scoping to a branch, environment, tag or “any PR”). When you run a workflow, you configure the cloud provider authentication step to request a token for a given security context (SPN for Azure, ARN for AWS for example). If the provider is happy with the request, it issues a token that the step then uses to authenticate the session and the rest of the steps proceed as usual.

For Azure, this means that we can eliminate the secret part of the Azure credential - we still need to know the tenant, subscription and client ID. Since these values are useless without the secret (which you don’t need) you don’t have to rotate them, or even store them secretly, though storing them as secrets is convenient.

# Sample Action using OIDC

You can take a look at this repo which contains the code for this post.

For this sample, I wanted to configure two service Principals (mona-oidc-dev and mon-oidc-prod) that are given access to oidc-dev and oidc-prod resource groups respectively. I used dev and prod environments in the repo, and configured the OIDC scoped to the environment, as we’ll see later.

I then set up a workflow that used the correct clients for dev and prod, expecting those to work as advertised. Finally I added a “bad” job that hard-coded the mona-oidc-dev client ID and attempted to authenticate to the prod environment, just to make sure that the authentication fails.

# Azure Configuration

For the Azure side, I started by creating two service Principals. Nothing special about these, apart from the fact that I have created a federated credential that enables the OIDC connection.

## Creating a Service Principal (App Registration)

Navigate to the Active Directory blade in the Azure Portal and click +Add -> App registration. Type in the name and URL - these just have to be unique, but can be any value:

Create a new SPN.

Once created, click on Certificates & Secrets and then on Federated credentials. Click + Add Credential to add a new federated credential.

Configure the OIDC settings.

Enter in the org, repo, entity type and additional entity filters if applicable, as well as the name and description for the credential. You can see at the bottom how Azure constructs the Subject identifier for you based on the values you select. Under the hood, when Actions requests a token, it will send a sub parameter, and if this matched, Azure will issue a token.

Finally, go back to the Overview tab of the app registration and note the Application (client) ID and Directory (tenant) ID. You’ll also need the ID of the subscription you plan to target.

I repeated these steps to create a new SPN (mona-oidc-prod) and configured the federated credentials the same way as mona-oidc-dev except that I set the environment value to prod instead of dev.

### Authorize the SPN

Don’t forget that you have to grant the SPN roles within your subscription(s). If you plan to create resource groups, then assign the SPN the Contributor role on your subscription(s). If you want to scope the SPN a little more narrowly, then add it as Contributor on one or more resource groups. You can of course use whatever custom roles you need as well.

In my case, I created two resource groups, oidc-dev and oidc-prod and assigned mona-oidc-dev and mona-oidc-prod respectively as Contributors. This means the mona-oidc-dev can only “see” the oidc-dev resource group and that mona-oidc-prod can only “see” the oidc-prod resource group.

# GitHub Configuration

Now we can configure the GitHub side. In Settings -> Environments I create two environments: dev and prod. I then create the following secrets:

NameScopeValue
AZURE_TENANT_IDRepoID of the AAD tenant
AZURE_SUBSCRIPTION_IDRepoID of the target subscription
AZURE_CLIENT_IDdev environmentApp (client) ID for mona-oidc-dev
AZURE_CLIENT_IDprod environmentApp (client) ID for mona-oidc-prod

Note: I could have specified the AZURE_SUBSCRIPTION_ID and AZURE_TENANT_ID at environment level if they differed. Most organizations will have separate dev and prod subscriptions, but usually share a single tenant.

Configure environments and secrets.

Note: none of these values constitutes a “secret” value. We have not added a secret for the client secret anywhere - just enough information to tell Azure which context we are going to request a token for.

Of course you can add other environment configuration like approvals and deployment branches. I’ve left those as empty for this sample.

# The Main Workflow

Here is the workflow that we’ll be using:


# file: '.github/workflows/azure.yml'
name: OIDC Demo

on:
workflow_dispatch:

permissions:
id-token: write

jobs:
dev:
name: Deploy to Dev
runs-on: ubuntu-latest
environment: dev
steps:
- uses: actions/checkout@v2
- name: Azure Login using OIDC
with:
tenant_id: ${{ secrets.AZURE_TENANT_ID }} client_id:${{ secrets.AZURE_CLIENT_ID }}
subscription_id: ${{ secrets.AZURE_SUBSCRIPTION_ID }} - name: 'Run az commands' run: | az account show az group list pwd prod: name: Deploy to Prod runs-on: ubuntu-latest environment: prod steps: - uses: actions/checkout@v2 - name: Azure Login using OIDC uses: ./.github/workflows/composite/azure-oidc-login with: tenant_id:${{ secrets.AZURE_TENANT_ID }}
client_id: ${{ secrets.AZURE_CLIENT_ID }} subscription_id:${{ secrets.AZURE_SUBSCRIPTION_ID }}
- name: 'Run az commands'
run: |
az account show
az group list
pwd

name: Deploy to Prod using dev
runs-on: ubuntu-latest
environment: prod
steps:
- uses: actions/checkout@v2
- name: Azure Login using OIDC
with:
tenant_id: ${{ secrets.AZURE_TENANT_ID }} client_id: 84b86cb5-5fbd-4950-88fa-1ab04be41de5 subscription_id:${{ secrets.AZURE_SUBSCRIPTION_ID }}
- name: 'Run az commands'
run: |
az account show
az group list
pwd



The main workflow file.

Notes:

1. We have to specify the id-token: write permission for this workflow to be able to retrieve and use an OIDC token.
2. There are three jobs: dev (which authenticates to dev), prod (which authenticates to prod) and bad-prod which uses the dev client ID and attempts to get a token for the prod environment.
3. Each job uses a composite action (./.github/workflows/composite/azure-oidc-login) to authenticate to Azure, passing in the tenant_id, client_id and subscription_id. The values that get passed are the values from the corresponding environment that is specified in each job.
4. After the authentication, az cli commands are executed, in this case just showing the current subscription (account) and listing the resource groups.
5. The bad-prod job is targeting the prod environment, so can’t use secrets.AZURE_CLIENT_ID otherwise it would get the ID for mona-oidc-prod. Just for demonstration, I have hard-coded the client ID of mona-oidc-dev.

## The Composite Workflow

Why is there a composite action at all? This is because in order to authenticate to Azure using OIDC, we have to use a beta version of the az cli. Rather than install this each time, I extracted this script and the azure/login step into a composite that can be reused.

Here is the composite action code:



inputs:
tenant_id:
require: true
subscription_id:
description: Azure subscription ID
require: true
client_id:
description: Azure client ID that has been federated to repo/env/branch/tag
require: true

runs:
using: composite
steps:
- name: Installing CLI-beta for OpenID Connect
shell: bash
run: |
cd ../..
CWD="$(pwd)" python3 -m venv oidc-venv . oidc-venv/bin/activate echo "activated environment" python3 -m pip install -q --upgrade pip echo "started installing cli beta" pip install -q --extra-index-url https://azcliprod.blob.core.windows.net/beta/simple/ azure-cli echo "***************installed cli beta*******************" echo "$CWD/oidc-venv/bin" >> $GITHUB_PATH - uses: azure/login@v1.4.0 name: Log in using OIDC with: tenant-id:${{ inputs.tenant_id }}
client-id: ${{ inputs.client_id }} subscription-id:${{ inputs.subscription_id }}



The composite action to login using OIDC.

Notes:

1. The composite requires three inputs - the tenant_id, subscription_id and client_id that we need for the authentication.
2. The first step executes a script to install the beta az cli. When the az cli is updated to include OIDC features, this step (and the composite action) will no longer be necessary.
3. The second step uses azure/login@v1.4.0 - this is the release that supports OIDC. It uses the inputs to request a token, and if successful, uses the token to authenticate the remainder of this session (job).

# Running the Workflow

When we run the workflow, it works as expected. The dev and prod jobs both work correctly. However, the bad-prod job fails since the environment does not match (remember, this was an attempt to authenticate to the prod environment using mona-oidc-dev credentials):

A workflow run.

## Dev Logs

Looking at the logs for dev we can see a successful authentication, and we can see that the context only has access to the oidc-dev resource group:

Dev logs.

## Prod Logs

Similarly, the prod logs show a successful authentication, and we the context only has access to the oidc-prod resource group:

Prod logs.

Finally, we see that the authentication failed for bad-prod since the environment was prod but the client ID was for mona-oidc-dev, which would have failed the sub match in AAD:

# Limitations

At present, you cannot specify individual users for the OIDC credential - only repo-level entities.

Also, if you were thinking you could use a reusable workflow and request tokens from consuming workflows this way, you’re out of luck. Even if the azure/login step is in a reusable workflow, the sub will contain the child repo context. This means that if you use the same reusable workflow in 10 repos, you will have to add all 10 repos as federated identities in the SPN Federated Credentials settings in Azure AAD.

# Conclusion

Authenticating to cloud providers without secrets using OIDC is arguably more secure than having to store secrets. Tokens issues are short-lived, and because teams don’t have to store secrets, there is no need to rotate keys. Using OIDC to Azure is fairly simple and does not require a large change to existing workflows.

Happy federating!