DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Cipher Suites Not Available

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Cipher Suites Not AvailableMicrosoft first introduced support for null cipher suites for the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology in Windows Server 2012, and it is supported for DirectAccess in Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients. Using null cipher suites for IP-HTTPS eliminates the needless double encryption that occurs when using encrypted cipher suites. DirectAccess is a unique workload where SSL/TLS encryption isn’t really required because the payload being transported in HTTPS is already encrypted.

No Encryption by Design

When supporting Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients, ensuring null cipher suites (TLS_RSA_WITH_NULL_SHA and TLS_RSA_WITH_NULL_SHA256) are enabled and operational is crucial to providing the highest levels of performance and scalability for the remote access solution. When following implementation best practices, this isn’t really an issue. However, in some cases null cipher suites may be disabled. This will result in reduced scalability and degraded performance for Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients.

Validating SSL/TLS Configuration

The easiest way to verify that null cipher suites are being offered by the DirectAccess server is to use the Qualys SSL Labs server test site. Ideally you should see a result similar to this.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Cipher Suites Not AvailableFigure 1. Qualys SSL Labs server test site results for properly configured DirectAccess server.

Don’t be alarmed by the overall rating “F”. That happens because the Qualys test site is designed to test web servers where using null cipher suites would be a serious security issue. As I stated previously, the DirectAccess workload is unique in that its HTTPS payload is already encrypted, so using null cipher suites is acceptable in this scenario.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Cipher Suites Not AvailableFigure 2. Qualys SSL Labs server test site results for properly configured DirectAccess server showing support for null SSL/TLS cipher suites.

Null Cipher Suites Missing

When performing the Qualys SSL labs server test on a DirectAccess server, an overall rating of “A” is not desirable and indicates the DirectAccess server is misconfigured. This is caused by the lack of support for null cipher suites.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Cipher Suites Not AvailableFigure 3. Qualys SSL Labs server test site results for misconfigured DirectAccess server.

Common Causes

Null cipher suites for SSL and TLS can be disabled for a variety of reasons. Below are some of the most common causes for the lack of support for null cipher suites for DirectAccess.

Self-Signed Certificates – Using the Getting Started Wizard (simplified deployment) will configure DirectAccess using a self-signed certificate for IP-HTTPS. Using a self-signed certificate is discouraged for numerous reasons, most importantly because it disables support for null cipher suites.

Security Hardening – Security administrators may proactively disable support for null cipher suites in a misguided effort to “improve security” for DirectAccess. While this is acceptable and recommended on a web server, it is not advisable to disable null cipher suites on a DirectAccess server.

SSL Certificate Signing Algorithm – Using an SSL certificate signed with an Elliptical Curve (EC) key as opposed to an RSA key will result in the loss of support for null cipher suites for IP-HTTPS. High security/assurance certificates signed with EC keys are not recommended for use on DirectAccess servers and should be avoided if possible.

DirectAccess Configuration Options – Enabling One-Time Password (OTP) authentication on the DirectAccess server will also result in a loss of support for null cipher suites. Also, adding additional roles to the DirectAccess server such as client-based VPN or the Web Application Proxy (WAP) can also result in null cipher suites being disabled.

Summary

Null cipher suites are implemented by design on DirectAccess servers to enhance performance for Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients and improve overall scalability for the implementation. They eliminate the pointless double encryption of DirectAccess communication, which itself is already encrypted. For optimal performance and scalability, be sure to follow implementation best practices and use a PKI-managed (public or private) SSL certificate signed with an RSA key (SHA-256 recommended). Resist the urge to “harden” the DirectAccess server by disabling support for null cipher suites, and avoid the use of SSL certificates signed with EC keys. In addition, carefully consider DirectAccess deployment options such as OTP authentication and consider deploying roles such as VPN and WAP on a separate server.

Additional Information

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS SSL and TLS Insecure Cipher Suites

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Encryption and SSTP VPN

DirectAccess and FIPS Compliant Algorithms for Encryption

SSL Certificate Considerations for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS 

 

 

DirectAccess and FIPS Compliant Algorithms for Encryption

DirectAccess administrators may be required to enable Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) compliant algorithms for encryption, hashing, and signing on DirectAccess servers to meet certain regulatory and compliance requirements.

DirectAccess and FIPS Compliant Algorithms for Encryption

Performance Impact

Be advised that enabling this setting will disable support for null cipher suites for the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology. This will result in the double encryption of all DirectAccess client communication, which will increase resource consumption on DirectAccess servers. This leads to reduced scalability and degraded performance for all DirectAccess clients, including Windows 8.x and Windows 10.

If enabling FIPS compliant cannot be avoided, additional compute capacity (CPU and memory) should be provisioned. For best results, add additional servers to distribute the workload and improve performance for DirectAccess clients.

Always On VPN

If you’re looking for better security and performance, consider migrating to Windows 10 Always On VPN. Always On VPN fully supports FIPS compliant algorithms without the negative performance impact associated with DirectAccess. If you’d like to learn more about security and Always On VPN, fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you.

Additional Resources

Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess 

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know About Always On VPN 

3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess 

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