NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling

NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force TunnelingDirectAccess employs a split tunneling network model by default. In this configuration, only network traffic destined for the internal network (as defined by the administrator) is tunneled over the DirectAccess connection. All other network traffic is routed directly over the Internet.

Force Tunneling Use Cases

For a variety of reasons, administrators may want to configure DirectAccess to use force tunneling, requiring all client traffic be routed over the DirectAccess connection, including public Internet traffic. Commonly this is done to ensure that all traffic is logged and, importantly, screened and filtered to enforce acceptable use policy and to prevent malware infection and potential loss of data.

DirectAccess and Force Tunneling

Enabling force tunneling for DirectAccess is not trivial, as it requires an on-premises proxy server to ensure proper functionality when accessing resources on the public Internet. You can find detailed guidance for configuring DirectAccess to use force tunneling here.

NetMotion Mobility and Force Tunneling

With NetMotion Mobility, force tunneling is enabled by default. So, if split tunneling is desired, it must be explicitly configured. Follow the steps below to create a split tunneling policy.

Create a Rule Set

  1. Open the NetMotion Mobility management console and click Policy > Policy Management.
  2. Click New.
  3. Enter a descriptive name for the new rule set.
  4. Click Ok.

NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling

Create a Rule

  1. Click New.
  2. Enter a descriptive name for the new rule.
  3. Click Ok.

NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling

Define an Action

  1. Click on the Actions tab.
  2. In the Addresses section check the box next to Allow network traffic for address(es)/port(s).NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling
  3. In the Base section select Pass through all network traffic.NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling

Define the Internal Network

  1. In the Policy rule definition section click the address(es)/port(s) link.NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling
  2. Click Add.
  3. In the Remote Address column select Network Address.
  4. Enter the network prefix and prefix length that corresponds to the internal network.
  5. Click Ok.
  6. Repeat the steps above to add any additional internal subnets, as required.
  7. Click Ok.
  8. Click Save.
  9. Click Save.NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling

Assign the Policy

  1. Click on the Subscribers tab.
  2. Choose a group to assign the policy to. This can be users, groups, devices, etc.NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling
  3. Click Subscribe.
  4. Select the Split Tunneling policy.
  5. Click Ok.NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling

Validation Testing

With split tunneling enabled the NetMotion Mobility client will be able to securely access internal network resources over the Mobility connection, but all other traffic will be routed over the public Internet. To confirm this, first very that internal resources are reachable. Next, open your favor Internet search engine and enter “IP”. The IP address you see should be the IP address of the client, not the on-premises gateway.


I’ve never been a big fan of force tunneling with DirectAccess. Not only is it difficult to implement (and requires additional infrastructure!) the user experience is generally poor. There are usability issues especially with captive portals for Wi-Fi, and performance often suffers. In addition, enabling force tunneling precludes the use of strong user authentication with one-time passwords.

With NetMotion Mobility, force tunneling is on by default, so no configuration changes are required. The user experience is improved as NetMotion Mobility intelligently recognizes captive portals. Performance is much better too. In addition, NetMotion Mobility is more flexible, allowing for the use of OTP authentication with force tunneling. Also, with NetMotion Mobility force tunneling is not a global setting. You can selectively apply force tunneling to users and/or groups as necessary.

Additional Information

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative for Microsoft DirectAccess

NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Trusted Network Detection

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration


What is the Difference Between DirectAccess and Always On VPN?

Always On VPN Device Tunnel Configuration Guidance Now AvailableDirectAccess has been around for many years, and with Microsoft now moving in the direction of Always On VPN, I’m often asked “What’s the difference between DirectAccess and Always On VPN?” Fundamentally they both provide seamless and transparent, always on remote access. However, Always On VPN has a number of advantages over DirectAccess in terms of security, authentication and management, performance, and supportability.


DirectAccess provides full network connectivity when a client is connected remotely. It lacks any native features to control access on a granular basis. It is possible to restrict access to internal resources by placing a firewall between the DirectAccess server and the LAN, but the policy would apply to all connected clients.

Windows 10 Always On VPN includes support for granular traffic filtering. Where DirectAccess provides access to all internal resources when connected, Always On VPN allows administrators to restrict client access to internal resources in a variety of ways. In addition, traffic filter policies can be applied on a per-user or group basis. For example, users in accounting can be granted access only to their department servers. The same could be done for HR, finance, IT, and others.

Authentication and Management

DirectAccess includes support for strong user authentication with smart cards and one-time password (OTP) solutions. However, there is no provision to grant access based on device configuration or health, as that feature was removed in Windows Server 2016 and Windows 10. In addition, DirectAccess requires that clients and servers be joined to a domain, as all configuration settings are managed using Active Directory group policy.

Windows 10 Always On VPN includes support for modern authentication and management, which results in better overall security. Always On VPN clients can be joined to an Azure Active Directory and conditional access can also be enabled. Modern authentication support using Azure MFA and Windows Hello for Business is also supported. Always On VPN is managed using Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions such as Microsoft Intune.


DirectAccess uses IPsec with IPv6, which must be encapsulated in TLS to be routed over the public IPv4 Internet. IPv6 traffic is then translated to IPv4 on the DirectAccess server. DirectAccess performance is often acceptable when clients have reliable, high quality Internet connections. However, if connection quality is fair to poor, the high protocol overhead of DirectAccess with its multiple layers of encapsulation and translation often yields poor performance.

The protocol of choice for Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments is IKEv2. It offers the best security and performance when compared to TLS-based protocols. In addition, Always On VPN does not rely exclusively on IPv6 as DirectAccess does. This reduces the many layers of encapsulation and eliminates the need for complex IPv6 transition and translation technologies, further improving performance over DirectAccess.


DirectAccess is a Microsoft-proprietary solution that must be deployed using Windows Server and Active Directory. It also requires a Network Location Server (NLS) for clients to determine if they are inside or outside the network. NLS availability is crucial and ensuring that it is always reachable by internal clients can pose challenges, especially in very large organizations.

Windows 10 Always On VPN supporting infrastructure is much less complex than DirectAccess. There’s no requirement for a NLS, which means fewer servers to provision, manage, and monitor. In addition, Always On VPN is completely infrastructure independent and can be deployed using third-party VPN servers such as Cisco, Checkpoint, SonicWALL, Palo Alto, and more.


Windows 10 Always On VPN is the way of the future. It provides better overall security than DirectAccess, it performs better, and it is easier to manage and support.

Here’s a quick summary of some important aspects of VPN, DirectAccess, and Windows 10 Always On VPN.

Traditional VPN DirectAccess Always On VPN
Seamless and Transparent No Yes Yes
Automatic Connection Options None Always on Always on, app triggered
Protocol Support IPv4 and IPv6 IPv6 Only IPv4 and IPv6
Traffic Filtering No No Yes
Azure AD Integration No No Yes
Modern Management Yes No (group policy only) Yes (MDM)
Clients must be domain-joined? No Yes No
Requires Microsoft Infrastructure No Yes No
Supports Windows 7 Yes Yes Windows 10 only

Always On VPN Hands-On Training

If you are interested in learning more about Windows 10 Always On VPN, consider registering for one of my hands-on training classes. More details here.

Additional Resources

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

5 Important Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know about Windows 10 Always On VPN

3 Important Advantages of Windows 10 Always On VPN over DirectAccess

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.


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 



Microsoft Ignite Conference 2017

Will you be attending the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, FL next week? Let’s connect! I’m not giving any talks this year, so I will be spending most of my time with the folks at Pointsharp in their booth in the expo hall. Want to talk security, remote access, multifactor authentication, load balancing/application delivery, PKI, or anything else? Stop by and say hi! Follow me on Twitter @richardhicks for live updates. In addition, I’ll be hosting a happy hour event with NetMotion on Tuesday, September 26 at 6PM at the Rocks lounge in the Hyatt Regency hotel just across the street from the conference center. Be sure to drop in and say hello! Hope to see you there!

Microsoft Ignite 2017

Managing and Supporting DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course on Pluralsight

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016I’m pleased to announce my newest video training course, Managing and Supporting DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016, is now available on Pluralsight! This new course is a follow-up to my previous course, Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016. This latest course builds upon the first one and covers advanced configuration such as enabling load balancing, configuring geographic redundancy, and enforcing strong user authentication using one-time passwords (OTP) and smart cards.

In addition, monitoring and reporting is covered, as well as implementing manage out for DirectAccess clients in supported scenarios. The course also includes a full hour of in-depth DirectAccess configuration and connectivity troubleshooting that will be valuable for all DirectAccess administrators.

The course includes the following training modules:

Configuring High Availability
Enabling Strong User Authentication
DirectAccess Monitoring and Reporting
Implementing Outbound Management for DirectAccess Clients
DirectAccess Troubleshooting

Throughout the course, I share valuable knowledge and insight gained from more than 5 years of experience deploying DirectAccess for some of the largest organizations in the world. Pluralsight offers a free trial subscription if you don’t already have one, so watch my latest DirectAccess video training course today!

Additional Resources

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 on Pluralsight
Managing and Supporting DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 on Pluralsight
Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 book

DirectAccess and Azure Multifactor Authentication


DirectAccess and Azure Multifactor AuthenticationDirectAccess can be configured to enforce strong user authentication using smart cards or one-time passwords (OTP). This provides the highest level of assurance for remote users connecting to the internal network via DirectAccess. OTP solutions are commonly used because they require less administration and are more cost effective than typical smart card implementations. Most OTP solutions will integrate with DirectAccess as long as they support Remote Access Dial-In User Service (RADIUS).

DirectAccess and Azure Multifactor Authentication

Azure Authentication-as-a-Service

Azure Multifactor Authentication (MFA) is a popular OTP provider used to enable strong user authentication for a variety of platforms, including web sites and client-based VPN. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with DirectAccess. This is because Azure MFA uses a challenge/response method for which DirectAccess does not support. To use OTP with DirectAccess, the user must be able to enter their PIN and OTP immediately when prompted. There is no provision to begin the authentication process and wait for a response from the OTP provider.

PointSharp ID Multifactor Authentication

An excellent alternative to Azure MFA is PointSharp ID. PointSharp is a powerful OTP platform that integrates easily with DirectAccess. It is also very flexible, allowing for more complex authentication schemes for those workloads that support it, such as Exchange and Skype for Business.

DirectAccess and Azure Multifactor AuthenticationEvaluate PointSharp

You can download a fully-functional trial version of PointSharp ID here (registration required). The PointSharp ID and DirectAccess integration guide with detailed step-by-step instructions for configuring DirectAccess and PointSharp ID can be downloaded here. Consulting services are also available to assist with integrating PointSharp ID with DirectAccess, VPN, Exchange, Skype for Business, Remote Desktop Services, or any other solution that requires strong user authentication. More information about consulting services can be found here.

Additional Information

PointSharp Multifactor Authentication
Configure DirectAccess with OTP Authentication
DirectAccess Consulting Services
Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016

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