Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with F5 BIG-IP

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with F5 BIG-IPThe Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) is the protocol of choice for Always On VPN deployments where the highest level of security is required. Implementing Always On VPN at scale often requires multiple VPN servers to provide sufficient capacity and to provide redundancy. Commonly an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) or load balancer is configured in front of the VPN servers to provide scalability and high availability for Always On VPN.

Load Balancing IKEv2

In a recent post I described some of the unique challenges load balancing IKEv2 poses, and I demonstrated how to configure the Kemp LoadMaster load balancer to properly load balance IKEv2 VPN connections. In this post I’ll outline how to configure IKEv2 VPN load balancing on the F5 BIG-IP load balancer.

Note: This article assumes the administrator is familiar with basic F5 BIG-IP load balancer configuration, such as creating nodes, pools, virtual servers, etc.

Initial Configuration

Follow the steps below to create a virtual server on the F5 BIG-IP to load balance IKEv2 VPN connections.

Pool Configuration

To begin, create two pools on the load balancer. The first pool will be configured to use UDP port 500, and the second pool will be configured to use UDP port 4500. Each pool is configured with the VPN servers defined as the individual nodes.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with F5 BIG-IP

Virtual Server Configuration

Next create two virtual servers, the first configured to use UDP port 500 and the second to use UDP port 4500.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with F5 BIG-IP

Persistence Profile

To ensure that both IKEv2 UDP 500 and 4500 packets are delivered to the same node, follow the steps below to create and assign a Persistence Profile.

1. Expand Local Traffic > Profiles and click Persistence.
2. Click Create.
3. Enter a descriptive name for the profile in the Name field.
4. Select Source Address Affinity from the Persistence Type drop-down list.
5. Click the Custom check box.
6. Select the option to Match Across Services.
7. Click Finished.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with F5 BIG-IP

Assign the new persistence profile to both UDP 500 and 4500 virtual servers. Navigate to the Resources tab on each virtual server and select the new persistence profile from the Default Persistence Profile drop-down list. Be sure to do this for both virtual servers.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with F5 BIG-IP

Additional Resources

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with Kemp LoadMaster Load Balancer 

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Windows 10 Always On VPN and IKEv2 Fragmentation

Windows 10 Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for IKEv2

Video: Windows 10 Always On VPN Load Balancing with the Kemp LoadMaster Load Balancer

Always On VPN SSTP Connects then Disconnects

Always On VPN SSTP Connects then DisconnectsWhen Always On VPN clients are configured to use the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) with Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS), administrators may encounter a scenario in which a client can establish a VPN connection using SSTP successfully, but is then disconnected immediately. The system event log contains an entry with Event ID 6 from the RasSstp source that includes the following error message.

“The SSTP-based VPN connection to the remote access server was terminated because of a security check failure. Security settings on the remote access server do not match settings on this computer. Contact the system administrator of the remote access server and relay the following information.”

Always On VPN Connect and Disconnect with SSTP

Common Causes

The two most common causes of this issue are when SSTP is configured for SSL offload, and when a VPN client is on a network where SSL inspection is taking place.

SSTP Offload

The most common cause of this issue is when SSL offload is configured for SSTP on an external load balancer or application delivery controller (ADC). To prevent interception from a Man-in-the-Middle attack, the VPN client sends the certificate hash of the SSL certificate used when the VPN connection was established. If this information does not match what is configured on the RRAS server, the connection is assumed to be compromised and the connection is immediately dropped.

SSL Inspection

Another scenario where this issue may occur is when a VPN client is behind a network device configured to perform SSL deep-packet inspection (DPI). SSTP VPN clients will be unable to connect to the VPN server in this scenario.

Resolution

When offloading SSL to another device, the RRAS server must be configured to know which SSL certificate is being presented to remote clients. This information is stored in the following registry key.

HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\SstpSvc\Parameters\SHA256CertificateHash

However, this registry entry requires a binary value, which makes it a challenge to configure manually. To resolve this problem, it is recommended that the same SSL certificate installed on the load balancer/ADC also be installed on the VPN server (even though SSL will be offloaded). To do this, first import the SSL certificate and private key in to the Local Computer certificate store, then open the RRAS management console and perform the following steps.

  1. Right-click the VPN server and choose Properties.
  2. Select the Security tab.
  3. Uncheck Use HTTP in the SSL Certificate Binding section.
  4. Select the appropriate SSL certificate from the Certificate drop-down list (click View to verify).
  5. Click Apply.

This will add the correct SSL certificate information to the registry. Next, re-enable HTTP for SSL offload by performing the following steps.

  1. Check Use HTTP in the SSL Certificate Binding section.
  2. Click Apply.

PowerShell Configuration

If the SSL certificate cannot be installed on the VPN server, or to automate this configuration across multiple servers remotely, download and run the Enable-SstpOffload PowerShell script from my GitHub repository here and run the following command.

Enable-SSTPOffload -CertificateHash [SHA256 Certificate Hash of Public SSL Certificate] -Restart

For example…

Enable-SSTPOffload -CertificateHash “C3AB8FF13720E8AD9047DD39466B3C8974E592C2FA383D4A3960714CAEF0C4F2” -Restart

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN Load Balancing and SSL Offload

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSL Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Windows 10 Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server RRAS

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing and SSL Offload

SSL Certificate Considerations for DirectAccess IP-HTTPSThe Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) is a popular choice for a VPN server to support Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments. One significant advantage RRAS provides is support for the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP). SSTP is a Microsoft proprietary VPN protocol that uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) to ensure privacy between the VPN client and server. The advantage to using a TLS-based transport is that it leverages the standard HTTPS TCP port 443, making it firewall friendly and ensuring ubiquitous remote access even behind highly restrictive firewalls.

Load Balancing SSTP

Load balancing SSTP can be accomplished in much the same way as a load balancing a common web server using HTTPS. The external load balancer is configured with a virtual IP address (VIP) and each VPN server is configured behind it. Session persistence should be configured to use SSL with source IP address persistence as a fallback.

SSL Offload for SSTP

In most cases, simply forwarding encrypted SSTP connections to the VPN server will be sufficient. However, offloading SSL/TLS processing to an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) or load balancer can be beneficial for the following reasons.

Resource Utilization

Enabling TLS offload for SSTP VPN connections can reduce CPU and memory utilization on the VPN server. However, this will likely only be necessary for very busy servers supporting many concurrent connections.

Security

In some cases, the administrator may not be able to install the public SSL certificate on the VPN server. For example, a security policy may exist that restricts SSL certificate installation to dedicated security devices using a Hardware Security Module (HSM). In some cases, it may be desirable to restrict access to high value certificates such as wildcard certificates.

Certificate Management

Often SSL certificates are implemented on load balancers to reduce certificate sprawl and to ease the management and administration burden in the enterprise. By having all enterprise certificates installed only on dedicated security devices, administrators can more effectively monitor and manage SSL certificate lifecycles.

SSTP Configuration for TLS Offload

Configuration changes must be made on the load balancer and the RRAS server to support TLS offload for SSTP.

Load Balancer

Install the public SSL certificate on the load balancer and configure it for TLS termination. Configure the load balancer to then use HTTP for backend server connections. Consult the load balancer vendor’s documentation for configuration guidance.

RRAS Server

If the public SSL certificate is installed on the VPN server, enabling TLS offload for SSTP is simple and straightforward. Follow the steps below to enable TLS offload for SSTP VPN connections.

  1. Open the RRAS management console (rrasmgmt.msc).
  2. Right-click the VPN server and choose Properties.
  3. Select the Security tab.
  4. Check Use HTTP in the SSL Certificate Binding section.
  5. Click Ok and then Yes to restart the Remote Access service.

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing and SSL Offload

If the public SSL certificate is not or cannot be installed on the RRAS server, additional configuration will be required. Specifically, SSL offload for SSTP must be configured using the Enable-SSTPOffload PowerShell script, which can be downloaded here.

Once the script has been downloaded and imported, open an elevated PowerShell command window and enter the following command.

Enable-SSTPOffload -CertificateHash [SHA256 Certificate Hash of Public SSL Certificate] -Restart

For example…

Enable-SSTPOffload -CertificateHash “C3AB8FF13720E8AD9047DD39466B3C8974E592C2FA383D4A3960714CAEF0C4F2” -Restart

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSL Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 and SSTP Fallback

Windows 10 Always On VPN Hands-On Training Classes for 2019

Troubleshooting Always On VPN Error Code 809

When testing an Always On VPN connection, the administrator may encounter a scenario where the VPN client fails to connect to the VPN server. On the Windows 10 client the error message states the following.

“Can’t connect to [connection name]. The network connection between your computer and the VPN server could not be established because the remote server is not responding. This could be because one of the network devices (e.g. firewalls, NAT, routers, etc.) between your computer and the remote server is not configured to allow VPN connections. Please contact your Administrator or your service provider to determine which device may be causing the problem.”

Always On VPN and IKEv2 Fragmentation

In addition, the Application event log records an error message with Event ID 20227 from the RasClient source. The error message states the following.

“The User [username] dialed a connection named [connection name] with has failed. The error code returned on failure is 809.”

Troubleshooting Always On VPN Error Code 809

Connection Timeout

The error code 809 indicates a VPN timeout, meaning the VPN server failed to respond. Often this is related directly to network connectivity, but sometimes other factors can come in to play.

Troubleshooting VPN Error Code 809

When troubleshooting VPN error code 809 the following items should be carefully checked.

  • Name Resolution – Ensure the VPN server’s public hostname resolves to the correct IP address.
  • Firewall Configuration – Confirm the edge firewall is configured properly. Inbound TCP port 443 is required for the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) and inbound UDP ports 500 and 4500 are required for the Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) protocol. Make sure that any NAT rules are forwarding traffic to the correct server.
  • Load Balancer Configuration – If VPN servers are located behind a load balancer, make certain that virtual IP address and ports are configured correctly and that health checks are passing. For IKEv2 specifically, it is crucial that UDP ports 500 and 4500 be delivered to the same backend server. This commonly requires custom configuration. For example, on the KEMP LoadMaster the administrator will configure “port following”. On the F5 BIG-IP a  custom “persistence profile” must be configured. On the Citrix NetScaler a “persistency group” must be defined.

IKEv2 Fragmentation

VPN error code 809 can also be caused by IKE fragmentation when using the IKEv2 VPN protocol. During IKEv2 connection establishment, payload sizes may exceed the IP Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) for the network path between the client and server. This causes the IP packets to be fragmented. However, it is not uncommon for intermediary devices (routers, NAT devices, or firewalls) to block IP fragments. When this occurs, a VPN connection cannot be established. However, looking at a network trace of the connection attempt, the administrator will see that the connection begins but subsequently fails.

Troubleshooting Always On VPN Error Code 809

Enable IKEv2 Fragmentation Support

The IKEv2 protocol includes support for fragmenting packets at the IKE layer. This eliminates the need for fragmenting packets at the IP layer. IKEv2 fragmentation must be configured on both the client and server.

Client

IKEv2 fragmentation was introduced in Windows 10 1803 and is enabled by default. No client-side configuration is required.

Server

IKEv2 is commonly supported on many firewall and VPN devices. Consult the vendor’s documentation for configuration guidance. For Windows Server Routing and Remote Access (RRAS) servers, IKEv2 fragmentation was introduced in Windows Server 1803 and is also supported in Windows Server 2019. It is enabled via a registry key. The following PowerShell command can be used to enable IKEv2 fragmentation on supported servers.

New-ItemProperty -Path “HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\RemoteAccess\Parameters\Ikev2\” -Name EnableServerFragmentation -PropertyType DWORD -Value 1 -Force

Validation

Once IKEv2 fragmentation is configured on the VPN server, a network capture will reveal the IKE_SA_INIT packet now includes the IKEV2_FRAGMENTATION_SUPPORTED notification message.

Always On VPN and IKEv2 Fragmentation

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN and IKEv2 Fragmentation

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Windows 10 Always On VPN Hands-On Training Classes

Always On VPN and Network Policy Server (NPS) Load Balancing

Always On VPN and Network Policy Server (NPS) Load BalancingLoad balancing Windows Server Network Policy Servers (NPS) is straightforward in most deployment scenarios. Most VPN servers, including Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) servers allow the administrator to configure multiple NPS servers for redundancy and scalability. In addition, most solutions support weighted distribution, allowing administrators to distribute requests evenly between multiple NPS servers (round robin load balancing) or to distribute them in order of priority (active/passive failover).

The Case for NPS Load Balancing

Placing NPS servers behind a dedicated network load balancing appliance is not typically required. However, there are some deployment scenarios where doing so can provide important advantages.

Deployment Flexibility

Having NPS servers fronted by a network load balancer allows the administrator to configure a single, virtual IP address and hostname for the NPS service. This provides deployment flexibility by allowing administrators to add or remove NPS servers without having to reconfigure VPN servers, network firewalls, or VPN clients. This can be beneficial when deploying Windows updates, migrating NPS servers to different subnets, adding more NPS servers to increase capacity, or performing rolling upgrades of NPS servers.

Traffic Shaping

Dedicated network load balancers allow for more granular control and of NPS traffic. For example, NPS routing decisions can be based on real server availability, ensuring that authentication requests are never sent to an NPS server that is offline or unavailable for any reason. In addition, NPS traffic can be distributed based on server load, ensuring the most efficient use of NPS resources. Finally, most load balancers also support fixed or weighted distribution, enabling active/passive failover scenarios if required.

Traffic Visibility

Using a network load balancer for NPS also provides better visibility for NPS authentication traffic. Most load balancers feature robust graphical displays of network utilization for the virtual server/service as well as backend servers. This information can be used to ensure enough capacity is provided and to monitor and plan for additional resources when network traffic increases.

Configuration

Before placing NPS servers behind a network load balancer, the NPS server certificate must be specially prepared to support this unique deployment scenario. Specifically, the NPS server certificate must be configured with the Subject name of the cluster, and the Subject Alternative Name field must include both the cluster name and the individual server’s hostname.

Always On VPN and Network Policy Server (NPS) Load Balancing

Always On VPN and Network Policy Server (NPS) Load Balancing

Create Certificate Template

Perform the following steps to create a certificate template in AD CS to support NPS load balancing.

  1. Open the Certificate Templates management console (certtmpl.msc) on the certification authority (CA) server or a management workstation with remote administration tool installed.
  2. Right-click the RAS and IAS Servers default certificate template and choose Duplicate.
  3. Select the Compatibility tab.
    1. Select Windows Server 2008 or a later version from the Certification Authority drop-down list.
    2. Select Windows Vista/Server 2008 or a later version from the Certificate recipient drop-down list.
  4. Select the General tab.
    1. Enter a descriptive name in the Template display name field.
    2. Choose an appropriate Validity period and Renewal period.
    3. Do NOT select the option to Publish certificate in Active Directory.
  5. Select the Cryptography tab.
    1. Chose Key Storage Provider from the Provider Category drop-down list.
    2. Enter 2048 in the Minimum key size field.
    3. Select SHA256 from the Request hash drop-down list.
  6. Select the Subject Name tab.
    1. Select the option to Supply in the request.
  7. Select the Security tab.
    1. Highlight RAS and IAS Servers and click Remove.
    2. Click Add.
    3. Enter the security group name containing all NPS servers.
    4. Check the Read and Enroll boxes in the Allow column in the Permissions for [group name] field.
  8. Click Ok.

Perform the steps below to publish the new certificate template in AD CS.

  1. Open the Certification Authority management console (certsrv.msc) on the certification authority (CA) server or a management workstation with remote administration tool installed.
  2. Expand Certification Authority (hostname).
  3. Right-click Certificate Templates and choose New and Certificate Template to Issue.
  4. Select the certificate template created previously.
  5. Click Ok.

Request Certificate on NPS Server

Perform the following steps to request a certificate for the NPS server.

  1. Open the Certificates management console (certlm.msc) on the NPS server.
  2. Expand the Personal folder.
  3. Right-click Certificates and choose All Tasks and Request New Certificate.
  4. Click Next.
  5. Click Next.
  6. Select the NPS server certificate template and click More information is required to enroll for this certificate link.
  7. Select the Subject tab.
    1.  Select Common name from the Type drop-down list in the Subject name section.
    2. Enter the cluster fully-qualified hostname (FQDN) in the Value field.
    3. Click Add.
    4. Select DNS from the Type drop-down list in the Alternative name section.
    5. Enter the cluster FQDN in the Value field.
    6. Click Add.
    7. Enter the NPS server’s FQDN in the Value field.
    8. Click Add.
      Always On VPN and Network Policy Server (NPS) Load Balancing
  8. Select the General tab.
    1. Enter a descriptive name in the Friendly name field.
  9. Click Ok.
  10. Click Enroll.

Load Balancer Configuration

Configure the load balancer to load balance UDP ports 1812 (authentication) and 1813 (accounting). Optionally, to ensure that authentication and accounting requests go to the same NPS server, enable source IP persistence according to the vendor’s guidance. For the KEMP LoadMaster load balancer, the feature is called “port following”. On the F5 BIG-IP it is called a “persistence profile”, and on the Citrix NetScaler it is called a “persistency group”.

Additional Information

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster

Always On VPN Hands-On Training Classes in U.S. and Europe

Always On VPN SSL Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for SSTPThe Windows Server 2016 Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) is commonly deployed as a VPN server for Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments. Using RRAS, Always On VPN administrators can take advantage of Microsoft’s proprietary Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) VPN protocol. SSTP is a Transport Layer Security (TLS) based VPN protocol that uses HTTPS over the standard TCP port 443 to encapsulate and encrypt communication between the Always On VPN client and the RRAS VPN server. SSTP is a firewall-friendly protocol that ensures ubiquitous remote network connectivity. Although IKEv2 is the protocol of choice when the highest level of security is required for VPN connections, SSTP can still provide very good security when implementation best practices are followed.

SSTP Certificate

Since SSTP uses HTTPS for transport, a common SSL certificate must be installed in the Local Computer/Personal/Certificates store on the RRAS VPN server. The certificate must include the Server Authentication Enhanced Key Usage (EKU) at a minimum. Often SSL certificates include both the Server Authentication and Client Authentication EKUs, but the Client Authentication EKU is not strictly required. The subject name on the certificate, or at least one of the Subject Alternative Name entries, must match the public hostname used by VPN clients to connect to the VPN server. Multi-SAN (sometimes referred to as UC certificates) and wildcard certificates are supported.

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Certification Authority

It is recommended that the SSL certificate used for SSTP be issued by a public Certification Authority (CA). Public CAs typically have their Certificate Revocation Lists (CRLs) hosted on robust, highly available infrastructure. This reduces the chance of failed VPN connection attempts caused by the CRL being offline or unreachable.

Using an SSL certificate issued by an internal, private CA is supported if the CRL for the internal PKI is publicly available.

Key Type

RSA is the most common key type used for SSL certificates. However, Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) keys offer better security and performance, so it is recommended that the SSTP SSL certificate be created using an ECC key instead.

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for SSTP

To use an ECC key, be sure to specify the use of a Cryptographic Next Generation (CNG) key and select the ECDSA_P256 Microsoft Software Key Storage Provider (CSP) (or greater) when creating the Certificate Signing Request (CSR) for the SSTP SSL certificate.

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Most public CAs will support certificate signing using ECC and Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA). If yours does not, find a better CA. 😉

Forward Secrecy

Forward secrecy (sometimes referred to as perfect forward secrecy, or PFS) ensures that session keys can’t be compromised even if the server’s private key is compromised. Using forward secrecy for SSTP is crucial to ensuring the highest levels of security for VPN connections.

To enforce the use of forward secrecy, the TLS configuration on the VPN server should be prioritized to prefer cipher suites with Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman Ephemeral (ECDHE) key exchange.

Authenticated Encryption

Authenticated encryption (AE) and authenticated encryption with associated data (AEAD) is a form of encryption that provides better data protection and integrity compared to older block or stream ciphers such as CBC or RC4.

To enforce the use of authenticated encryption, the TLS configuration on the VPN server should be prioritized to prefer cipher suites that support Galois/Counter Mode (GCM) block ciphers.

Important Note: In Windows Server 2016, GCM ciphers can be used with both RSA and ECC certificates. However, in Windows Server 2012 R2 GCM ciphers can only be used when an ECC certificate is used.

SSL Offload

Offloading SSL to a load balancer or application delivery controller (ADC) can be enabled to improve scalability and performance for SSTP VPN connections. I will cover SSL offload for SSTP in detail in a future post.

Summary

SSTP can provide good security for VPN connections when implementation and security best practices are followed. For optimum security, use an SSL certificate with an EC key and optimize the TLS configuration to use forward secrecy and authenticated cipher suites.

Additional Information

Always On VPN ECDSA SSL Certificate Request for SSTP

Always On VPN and Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS)

Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server RRAS

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for IKEv2

3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess

Microsoft SSTP Specification on MSDN

Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS)

Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS)Windows 10 Always On VPN is infrastructure independent and can be implemented using third-party VPN devices. It is not necessary to deploy any Windows servers at all to support an Always On VPN solution. However, in a recent blog post I outlined some compelling reasons to consider using Windows Server 2016’s Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) feature to terminate VPN connections. RRAS supports both modern and legacy VPN protocols, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The choice of which protocols to support will be determined by many factors, but it is important to understand the capabilities of each to make an informed decision.

RRAS VPN Protocols

Windows RRAS supports the following VPN protocols.

  • Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) – RFC7296
  • Secure Sockets Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) – Microsoft
  • Layer Two Tunneling Protocol over IPsec (L2TP/IPsec) – RFC2661
  • Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) – RFC2637

There are pros and cons associated with each of these VPN protocols. Here’s a breakdown of each.

IKEv2

This IPsec-based VPN protocol is the preferred choice for most deployments. IKEv2 provides the best security and performance, with native features that enhance mobility. This latest version of IKE (v2) features streamlined messaging during connection establishment and enhanced session management that reduce protocol overhead and improve performance.

Advantages: Best security and performance.
Disadvantages: Firewalls may block required UDP ports.

SSTP

SSTP is an excellent alternative to IKEv2. It uses industry standard Transport Layer Security (TLS), making it widely accessible from most locations. It provides good security out of the box, but can be improved upon with additional configuration. SSTP lends itself well to load balancing, making it much easier to scale out than IKEv2. Optionally, TLS can be offloaded to an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) to reduce resource utilization on the RRAS server and further improve performance.

Advantages: Easy to configure with firewall friendly access.
Disadvantages: Not as secure IKEv2.

L2TP

While technically supported for Always On VPN, L2TP is a legacy VPN protocol that offers no real advantages over IKEv2. Its use is unnecessary and should be avoided.

Advantages: None.
Disadvantages: Firewalls may block required UDP ports.

PPTP

PPTP is considered an obsolete VPN protocol with many known security vulnerabilities. Its use should be avoided at all costs.

Advantages: None.
Disadvantages: Insecure.

Summary

Implementation best practices dictate that IKEv2 and SSTP be enabled to support Windows 10 Always On VPN connections when using Windows Server 2016 RRAS. The use of L2TP/IPsec and PPTP should be avoided. The combination of IKEv2 and SSTP will provide the best security and availability for remote workers. Clients that can establish IKEv2 VPN connections can take advantages of the security and performance benefits it provides. SSTP can be enabled as a fallback for clients that are unable to establish an IKEv2 connection due to restricted firewall access.

Always On VPN Hands-On Training

Interested in learning more about Windows 10 Always On VPN? Hands-on training classes are now forming. More details here.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions about Microsoft’s PPTP Implementation

Always On VPN and Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Services (RRAS)

Windows 10 Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess 

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know about Always On VPN 

3 Important Advantages of Windows 10 Always On VPN over DirectAccess 

Windows 10 Always On VPN Hands-On Training Classes

DirectAccess Network Connectivity Assistant (NCA) Configuration Guidance

DirectAccess Network Connectivity Assistant (NCA) Configuration GuidanceThe DirectAccess Network Connectivity Assistant (NCA), first introduced in Windows 8, provides DirectAccess connectivity status information as well as diagnostic support on the client. The NCA validates that DirectAccess is working end-to-end by attempting to reach internal resources defined by the administrator during the configuration of DirectAccess. NCA configuration and operation is a source of much confusion. This article serves to provide best practice configuration guidance for the NCA to ensure optimum and reliable operation.

NCA Operation

When a DirectAccess client is outside the corporate network, it will attempt to establish a DirectAccess connection any time it has an active Internet connection. After a DirectAccess connection is made, the NCA will attempt to validate DirectAccess connectivity by verifying availability of corporate resources as defined in the DirectAccess configuration (Remote Access Management console, Step 1, Edit, Network Connectivity Assistant).

If the NCA can reach the defined internal corporate resource(s), the DirectAccess connection is verified end-to-end and it will report the connection status as “Connected”. If it fails to connect to any internal corporate resource, it displays “Connecting”.

DirectAccess Network Connectivity Assistant (NCA) Configuration Guidance

Figure 1. NCA successfully validated internal corporate resource connectivity.

DirectAccess Network Connectivity Assistant (NCA) Configuration Guidance

Figure 2. NCA failed to connect to one or more corporate resources.

NCA Configuration

When first installing DirectAccess, the Remote Access Setup wizard will collect information to be used by the NCA, including corporate resources, helpdesk email address, and DirectAccess connection name. It will also provide the option to allow DirectAccess clients to use local name resolution.

Note: The NCA settings configured in the Remote Access Management console pertain only to Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients. They are not used by Windows 7 clients at all.

DirectAccess Network Connectivity Assistant (NCA) Configuration Guidance

Intuitively it would appear that information needs to be entered in the Resource and Type fields. However, it is recommended to leave this blank when first configuring DirectAccess. This is because the Remote Access Setup Wizard will automatically populate this field later. Specifying a resource during initial configuration will result in two entries being included, as shown here.

DirectAccess Network Connectivity Assistant (NCA) Configuration Guidance

As you can see, the Remote Access Setup wizard automatically added the resource directaccess-WebProbeHost.<internal domain.>. A corresponding DNS record is created that resolves this hostname to the internal IPv4 address of the DirectAccess server. In this configuration, the DirectAccess server itself serves as the corporate resource used by the NCA.

Multiple Corporate Resources

Having more than one resource to validate connectivity to the internal network is problematic though. If there are multiple entries specified, they must ALL pass a validation check from the client to report the connection status as “Connected”. Some administrators configure multiple entries with the mistaken belief that it will provide redundancy for the NCA, but it actually has the opposite effect. Having more than one entry only increases the chance of a false positive.

NCA Configuration Best Practices

It is recommended that only a single corporate resource URL be defined for the NCA. The default directaccess-WebProbeHost running on the DirectAccess server can be used, or, alternatively, another internal web server can be specified if desired. Any web server will work, including Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS), Apache, NGINX, and most Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs) or load balancers. HTTPS is not required for the web probe host, only HTTP. If using an internal web server, ensure that it is highly available.

Do NOT use the Network Location Server (NLS) as a corporate resource! The NLS is exempted from the Name Resolution Policy Table (NRPT) on the client and is not reachable over DirectAccess. This will result in the NCA failing and reporting a “Connecting” status perpetually. In addition, avoid the use of PING for validating internal corporate resources. Ping uses ICMP which is inherently unreliable and commonly blocked by host and intermediary firewalls, making it an unreliable indicator of corporate network connectivity over DirectAccess.

Summary

The NCA is a crucial and often misunderstood component in the DirectAccess architecture. Follow the guidance outlined here to ensure that the NCA works reliably and effectively in your environment.

Additional Resources

DirectAccess Clients in Connecting State when using External Load Balancer
Planning and Implementing DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 on Pluralsight
Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 book

KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer Certificate Format Invalid

When implementing a KEMP LoadMaster load balancer, one of the first configuration tasks performed is importing root and intermediate Certification Authority (CA) certificates. When doing this, it is not uncommon to encounter the following error message.

Certificate Format Invalid.

KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer Certificate Invalid

To resolve this issue, .CER files must first be converted to .PEM format before being imported in to the LoadMaster. Using OpenSSL, .CER files can quickly be converted to .PEM with the following command.

openssl x509 -inform der -in example.cer -out example.pem

Optionally, .CER files can be converted to .PEM online here.

If the root and/or intermediate certificates are from an internal PKI, export the certificates using the Base-64 encoded x.509 (.CER) option. Certificates exported using this format can be imported directly in to the LoadMaster without first having to be converted to .PEM.

KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer Certificate Format Invalid

Pro tip: When entering the Certificate Name, it is not necessary to enter a file extension. The name will be appended with .PEM automatically upon import.

KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer Certificate Format Invalid

KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer Certificate Format Invalid

Additional Resources

DirectAccess Deployment Guide for KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

Maximize Your Investment in Windows 10 with KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

DirectAccess and the FREE KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

Configure KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer for DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS)

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess Video Training Course on Pluralsight

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Organizations are rapidly deploying Windows server infrastructure with public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. With traditional on-premises infrastructure now hosted in the cloud, DirectAccess is also being deployed there more commonly.

Supportability

Interestingly, Microsoft has expressly stated that DirectAccess is not formally supported on their own public cloud platform, Azure. However, there is no formal statement of non-support for DirectAccess hosted on other non-Microsoft public cloud platforms. With supportability for DirectAccess on AWS unclear, many companies are taking the approach that if it isn’t unsupported, then it must be supported. I’d suggest proceeding with caution, as Microsoft could issue formal guidance to the contrary in the future.

DirectAccess on AWS

Deploying DirectAccess on AWS is similar to deploying on premises, with a few notable exceptions, outlined below.

IP Addressing

It is recommended that an IP address be exclusively assigned to the DirectAccess server in AWS, as shown here.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Prerequisites Check

When first configuring DirectAccess, the administrator will encounter the following warning message.

“The server does not comply with some DirectAccess prerequisites. Resolve all issues before proceed with DirectAccess deployment.”

The warning message itself states that “One or more network adapters should be configured with a static IP address. Obtain a static address and assign it to the adapter.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

IP addressing for virtual machines are managed entirely by AWS. This means the DirectAccess server will have a DHCP-assigned address, even when an IP address is specified in AWS. Assigning static IP addresses in the guest virtual machine itself is also not supported. However, this warning message can safely be ignored.

No Support for Load Balancing

It is not possible to create load-balanced clusters of DirectAccess servers for redundancy or scalability on AWS. This is because enabling load balancing for DirectAccess requires the IP address of the DirectAccess server be changed in the operating system, which is not supported on AWS. To eliminate single points of failure in the DirectAccess architecture or to add additional capacity, multisite must be enabled. Each additional DirectAccess server must be provisioned as an individual entry point.

Network Topology

DirectAccess servers on AWS can be provisioned with one or two network interfaces. Using two network interfaces is recommended, with the external network interface of the DirectAccess server residing in a dedicated perimeter/DMZ network. The external network interface must use either the Public or Private Windows firewall profile. DirectAccess will not work if the external interface uses the Domain profile. For the Public and Private profile to be enabled, domain controllers must not be reachable from the perimeter/DMZ network. Ensure the perimeter/DMZ network cannot access the internal network by restricting network access in EC2 using a Security Group, or on the VPC using a Network Access Control List (ACL) or custom route table settings.

External Connectivity

A public IPv4 address must be associated with the DirectAccess server in AWS. There are several ways to accomplish this. The simplest way is to assign a public IPv4 address to the virtual machine (VM). However, a public IP address can only be assigned to the VM when it is deployed initially and cannot be added later. Alternatively, an Elastic IP can be provisioned and assigned to the DirectAccess server at any time.

An ACL must also be configured for the public IP that restricts access from the Internet to only inbound TCP port 443. To provide additional protection, consider deploying an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) appliance like the Citrix NetScaler or F5 BIG-IP to enforce client certificate authentication for DirectAccess clients.

Network Location Server (NLS)

If an organization is hosting all of its Windows infrastructure in AWS and all clients will be remote, Network Location Server (NLS) availability becomes much less critical than with traditional on-premises deployments. For cloud-only deployments, hosting the NLS on the DirectAccess server is a viable option. It eliminates the need for dedicated NLS, reducing costs and administrative overhead. If multisite is configured, ensure that the NLS is not using a self-signed certificate, as this is unsupported.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

However, for hybrid cloud deployments where on-premises DirectAccess clients share the same internal network with cloud-hosted DirectAccess servers, it is recommended that the NLS be deployed on dedicated, highly available servers following the guidance outlined here and here.

Client Provisioning

All supported DirectAccess clients will work with DirectAccess on AWS. If the domain infrastructure is hosted exclusively in AWS, provisioning clients can be performed using Offline Domain Join (ODJ). Provisioning DirectAccess clients using ODJ is only supported in Windows 8.x/10. Windows 7 clients cannot be provisioned using ODJ and must be joined to the domain using another form of remote network connectivity such as VPN.

Additional Resources

DirectAccess No Longer Supported in Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Server Software Support for Azure Virtual Machines

DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS) Guidance

DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS) Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Provisioning DirectAccess Clients using Offline Domain Join (ODJ)

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with F5 BIG-IP

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

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