DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Discovery Script for Nmap

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Discovery Script for NmapWhen troubleshooting DirectAccess connectivity issues, the popular Nmap network mapping and discovery tool is an invaluable resource for verifying the communication path to the DirectAccess server from outside the network. However, just verifying that ports are open and listening often isn’t sufficient. In the case of IP-HTTPS, for example, the tried and true method of using telnet to verify that the port is open might be misleading. For instance, telnet might indicate that TCP port 443 is open and responding, but DirectAccess connectivity can still fail. This often happens as a result of a network configuration error that allows another network device other than the DirectAccess server to respond to HTTPS requests, which results in a false positive.

In an effort to conclusively determine that the DirectAccess server is responding, I’ve often relied on the SSL Labs Server Test site. Here I will enter the DirectAccess server’s public hostname and run the test, and from the results I can easily determine if indeed the DirectAccess server is responding by verifying that the HTTP server signature is Microsoft-HTTPAPI/2.0.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Discovery Script for NMAP

This usually works well, but it takes a few minutes to run the test, and there are a few scenarios in which it doesn’t work. For example, I might be working with a customer to perform some initial testing by using a local HOSTS file entry for the public name before the DNS record has been created. Also, if the SSL certificate on the DirectAccess server uses an IP address instead of a hostname (not recommended, but it is supported!) the SSL Labs server test won’t work.

Fortunately, the latest release Nmap (v7.00) now includes a script that enables the detection of Microsoft DirectAccess responding on TCP port 443. With the IP-HTTPS discovery script, it is now possible to determine not only if the port is open, but if the DirectAccess server is actually the service responding. The syntax for conducting a port scan using the IP-HTTPS discovery script for NMAP is as follows:

nmap.exe –n –Pn –p443 [directaccess_public_fqdn] –script [path_to_nmap_iphttps_discovery_script]

Here’s an example:

nmap.exe –n –Pn –p443 –script c:\tools\nmap\scripts\ip-https-discover.nse

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Discovery Script for NMAP

Now it is possible, using just Nmap, to not only determine if the IP-HTTPS communication path is functioning, but to definitively determine that the DirectAccess server is the device responding.

Happy troubleshooting!

SSH Administration over a DirectAccess Connection

SSH Administration over a DirectAccess ConnectionFrom a client perspective, DirectAccess is an IPv6 only solution. All communication between the DirectAccess client and server takes place exclusively over IPv6. This can make things challenging for network engineers tasked with administering network devices using SSH over a DirectAccess connection. Often network devices don’t have corresponding hostname entries in DNS, and attempting to connect directly to an IPv4 address over a DirectAccess connection will fail.

To resolve this issue, it is necessary to create internal DNS records that resolve to IPv4 addresses for each network device. With that, the DNS64 service on the DirectAccess server will create an IPv6 address for the DirectAccess client to use. The NAT64 service will then translate this IPv6 address to IPv4 and connectivity will be established.

However, for many large organizations this might not be feasible. You may have hundreds or thousands of devices on your network to administer, and creating records in DNS for all these devices will take some time. As a temporary workaround, it is possible to determine the NAT64 IPv6 address for any network device and use that for remote network administration.

The process is simple. On a client that is connected remotely via DirectAccess, resolve the name of a known internal server to an IP address. The quickest and easiest way to do that is simply to ping an internal server by its hostname and note the IPv6 address it resolves to.

SSH Administration over a DirectAccess Connection

Now copy the first 96 bits of that address (everything up to and including the 7777::) and then append the IPv4 address of the network device you wish to manage in familiar dotted-decimal notation. The IPv6 address you create should look something like this:


Enter this IPv6 address in whichever tool you use to manage your network devices and it should work. Here’s an example using the popular Putty tool connecting via SSH to a network device in my lab.

SSH Administration over a DirectAccess Connection

Figure 1 – DirectAccess Client IPv6 Prefix w/Appended IPv4 Address

SSH Administration over a DirectAccess Connection

Figure 2 – Successful connection over DirectAccess with Putty.

Going forward I would strongly recommend that you make it part of your normal production implementation process and procedures to create DNS records for all network devices. In the future you’ll absolutely have to do this for IPv6, so now is a good time to get in the habit of doing this. It will make your life a lot easier, trust me!

Please note that adding entries to the local HOSTS file of a DirectAccess client does not work! The name must be resolved by the DNS64 service on the DirectAccess server in order to work properly. Although you could populate the local HOSTS file with names and IPv6 addresses using the method I described above, it would cause problems when the client was on the internal network or connected remotely using traditional client-based VPN, so it is best to avoid using the HOSTS file altogether.

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Important Note: The ability to switch back and forth between the full GUI and core versions of Windows was removed from Windows Server 2016. If you are deploying DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016, you must install server core initially. More details here.

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Windows Server Core is an operating system configuration option that does not include a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Server Core was first introduced with Windows Server 2008 and originally included only a limited number of supported roles. With each subsequent release, Microsoft continues to add support for additional roles on Server Core. Beginning with Windows Server 2012, the Routing and Remote Access (RRAS) role, which includes DirectAccess, is a supported workload on Server Core.

Advantages of Server Core

There are a number of important advantages that come with running DirectAccess on Server Core. Server Core has a greatly reduced attack surface compared to the full GUI version, which is positive from a security perspective. Server Core also features a dramatically reduced footprint, consuming less RAM and disk space. System startup times are faster, and this refactored installation option also reduces servicing requirements (patching), eliminating many reboots and increasing availability and overall system uptime.

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Figure 1 – Windows Server 2012 R2 Core Desktop (Yes, that’s it!)

Server Core Configuration

DirectAccess is a workload that lends itself well to running on Server Core, and I highly recommend leveraging this configuration whenever possible. Based on my experience, I suggest performing initial configuration and testing of the DirectAccess solution with the GUI installed, and then removing the GUI just before placing the DirectAccess server in to production. Removing the GUI can be accomplished by executing the following PowerShell command:

Remove-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra –Restart

Once the server has been converted to Server Core, all administration must be performed at the command line on the server, or remotely from a management server or workstation using the command line or GUI administration tools. You can install the Remote Access Management console on any Windows Server 2012 R2 server using the following PowerShell command:

Install-WindowsFeature RSAT-RemoteAccess

Optionally you can download and install the Windows Server Remote Administrations Tools (RSAT) on a Windows client workstation, if desired.

Minimal Server Interface Configuration

If you prefer to be able to manage the DirectAccess server locally using the GUI, consider enabling the Minimal Server Interface. Minimal Server Interface is a configuration option that lies between Server Core and the full GUI interface. It features some of the benefits of Server Core, while at the same time providing local access to GUI management tools such as the Remote Access Management console. You can configure Minimal Server Interface using the following PowerShell command:

Remove-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Shell -Restart

You can access the Remote Access Management console by entering RaMgmtUI.exe from the command line.

Revert to Full GUI

If at any point in the future you require the GUI for some reason, re-installing it can be accomplished using the following PowerShell command:

Install-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Shell –Restart


With the Unified Remote Access role supported on Windows Server Core, consider implementing DirectAccess using this option to improve the security and increase the availability of your remote access solution. You’ll find that almost all ongoing server maintenance and support can be accomplished remotely using GUI tools, or locally using PowerShell. And if you ever need the GUI again, you can always add it back if necessary!

Additional Resources

DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 Core

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