Always On VPN SSTP and HSTS

HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) is a feature commonly used by websites to protect against protocol downgrade attacks, where an attacker forces the use of insecure HTTP instead of HTTPS. If successful, the attacker can intercept unencrypted communication between the client and the web server. This is undesirable for obvious reasons. As such, web server administrators implement an HTTP response header named Strict-Transport-Security with some additional settings that instruct the user agent, in this case, a web browser, to only use secure HTTPS when communicating with the web server. Attempts to use HTTP will not work.

VPN and SSTP

As security is always a top concern when building an Always On VPN infrastructure, careful attention must be paid to VPN protocol configuration to ensure optimal security. Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) is a popular VPN protocol for Always On VPN user tunnel connections. SSTP uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) for encryption, so administrators are encouraged to implement recommended security configurations, such as disabling insecure protocols like TLS 1.0 and TLS 1.1 and optimizing TLS cipher suites as described here.

SSTP with HSTS

It would seem that enabling HSTS on a Windows RRAS VPN server would be ideal for improving SSTP security. However, that’s not the case. HSTS prevents protocol downgrade attacks from HTTPS to HTTP, but SSTP already uses HTTPS exclusively, making the use of HSTS irrelevant. If an attacker attempted a protocol downgrade attack on an SSTP VPN connection, it would fail because the service does not support HTTP between the client and the VPN gateway. Additionally, even if it were possible to configure RRAS to send an HSTS response header, it would be ignored by the client because the user agent is not a web browser.

Additional Information

Always On VPN SSTP Security Configuration

Always On VPN SSTP and TLS 1.3

Always On VPN SSTP Certificate Renewal

Always On VPN SSTP with Let’s Encrypt Certificates

Always On VPN SSTP Certificate Binding Error

SSL and TLS Training for Always On VPN Administrators

SSL and TLS Training for Always On VPN Administrators

Understanding Transport Layer Security (TLS) is essential for Always On VPN administrators. TLS (formerly Security Sockets Layer, or SSL) is used not only for Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP), the protocol of choice for the Always On VPN user tunnel in most deployments, but many other technologies such as secure websites and email, Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), secure LDAP (LDAPS), and many more. High-quality, affordable TLS training is challenging to find, however.

UPDATE! This course has been further discounted for a limited time. Details below!

Practical TLS

Thankfully, Ed Harmoush from Practical Networking has a fantastic training course called Practical TLS that meets these requirements. It is the most comprehensive TLS training course I’ve seen and is surprisingly affordable too!

Course Content

The Practical TLS training course includes the following modules.

  • Module 1 – SSL/TLS Overview (free preview!)
  • Module 2 – Cryptography
  • Module 3 – x509 Certificates and Keys
  • Module 4 – Security through Certificates
  • Module 5 – Cipher Suites
  • Module 6 – SSL/TLS Handshake
  • Module 7 – TLS Defenses

TLS 1.3

The Practical TLS training course does not yet include a module on the newest TLS protocol, TLS 1.3. However, it is due out imminently! Ed is working on the content as we speak, and a preview module is included in the course today. Look for the final TLS 1.3 module soon.

Bonus Content

In addition to excellent TLS training, the course includes free OpenSSL training! Administrators working with certificates in non-Microsoft environments are sure to find this helpful. Understanding OpenSSL will benefit administrators working with network and security appliances such as firewalls and load balancers.

Enroll Now

The cost of the Practical TLS training course is regularly $297.00. It is a perpetual license, so you can view the content whenever you like and as often as you wish. You will also have access to future updates, such as the upcoming TLS 1.3 module. In addition, you can save $100.00 on the course by using promotional code RICHARDHICKS when you sign up. Don’t hesitate. Register for Practical TLS training now!

Special Discount

For a limited time, you can use the code PracticalTLS13 to get this entire course for just $49.00! This won’t last long, so register soon!

Additional Information

Practical Networking Blog

Practical TLS Training Course – $100 Off!

OpenSSL Training Course

Microsoft Always On VPN and TLS 1.3

Microsoft Always On VPN SSTP Security Configuration

Microsoft Always On VPN SSTP Certificate Renewal

Microsoft Always On VPN SSTP with Let’s Encrypt Certificates

Always On VPN SSTP with Let’s Encrypt Certificates

Always On VPN SSTP Security Configuration

When configuring the Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) to support Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) for Always On VPN user tunnel connections, administrators must install a Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificate on the VPN server. The best practice is to use a certificate issued by a public Certification Authority (CA). In addition, administrators should use a TLS certificate using Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) for optimal security and performance.

Let’s Encrypt

Obtaining a public TLS certificate is not inherently difficult, nor is it expensive. However, Let’s Encrypt is a nonprofit public CA issues TLS certificates entirely for free. Always On VPN supports Let’s Encrypt TLS certificates, and installing a Let’s Encrypt certificate on the Always On VPN RRAS server is quite simple.

Pros and Cons

Using Let’s Encrypt certificates for Always On VPN has several significant advantages over traditional public CAs.

  • Cost – Let’s Encrypt certificates are free! No cost whatsoever.
  • Speed – Enrolling for a Let’s Encrypt certificate takes just a few minutes.
  • Trusted – Let’s Encrypt certificates are trusted by default in Windows 10 and Windows 11.

Let’s Encrypt is not without some drawbacks, however.

  • Lifetime – Let’s Encrypt certificates are only valid for 90 days.
  • Administration – Certificates must be redeployed frequently (every 90 days).
  • Security – PFX files (which include private keys) are left on disk by default.

It is possible to mitigate some of these drawbacks, though. For example, deleting PFX files after import can improve security. Alternatively, using a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) eliminates PFX files completely.

Also, it is possible to fully automate the Let’s Encrypt certificate enrollment and RRAS configuration process, which eases the administrative burden. And rotating certificates every 90 days could be considered an advantage from a security perspective! Enrolling new certificates (and specifically certificates with unique keys) is advantageous in that respect.

Certificate Enrollment

There are several different ways to enroll for Let’s Encrypt certificates. The preferred method is using PowerShell, as it works on both Windows Server with Desktop Experience (GUI) and Windows Server Core. Using PowerShell, administrators can also fully automate the enrollment and assignment of the certificate in RRAS.

PowerShell Module

To enroll for Let’s Encrypt TLS certificates on the VPN server, install the Posh-ACME PowerShell module. On the RRAS server, open an elevated PowerShell window and run the following command.

Install-Module Posh-ACME

Certificate Request

After installing the Posh-ACME PowerShell module, select a Let’s Encrypt environment by running the following command. Use LE_PROD for the production Let’s Encrypt server or LE_STAGE for the staging environment (used for testing).

Set-PAServer LE_PROD

Next, request a new certificate using the following command.

New-PACertificate -Domain vpn.example.net -Contact ‘[email protected]’ -CertKeyLength ec-256 -AcceptTOS -Install

The administrator is prompted to create a TXT record in public DNS to prove ownership of the domain. Using the example above, create a DNS record called _acme-challenge.vpn in the example.net DNS zone.

Once complete, the TLS certificate is automatically installed in the local computer certificate store on the VPN server and can be assigned in the RRAS management console, as shown here.

Note: R3 is a Let’s Encrypt issuing certification authority.

DNS Plugin

The Posh-ACME PowerShell module supports DNS plugins that allow administrators to automate the creation of the DNS TXT record used to authorize certificate enrollment. DNS plugins for many public DNS providers are available. Some of the more popular DNS providers are listed here.

  • Microsoft Azure
  • Amazon Route53
  • Cloudflare
  • Akamai
  • GoDaddy
  • Infoblox
  • Windows Server

A list of all supported DNS plugins for Posh-ACME can be found here.

Certificate Binding

Administrators can use the following PowerShell example code to automate the process of binding the new TLS certificate to the SSTP listener in RRAS.

$Thumbprint = <TLS certificate thumbprint>
$Cert = Get-ChildItem -Path Cert:\LocalMachine\My\$thumbprint
Set-RemoteAccess -SslCertificate $Cert
Restart-Service RemoteAccess -Passthru

Additional Information

Posh-ACME Tutorial

Windows 10 Always On VPN TLS Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSTP Security Configuration

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