Always On VPN Proxy Server Configuration

Always On VPN Proxy Server Configuration

Web proxy servers are not as common today as they once were, but a few organizations still leverage them to provide secure Internet access for their employees. Commonly they are used to inspect and control Internet traffic and to enforce acceptable use policies. Some organizations may wish to extend this protection to Always On VPN clients in the field by enabling force tunneling. Administrators can define a web proxy server for Always On VPN connections globally for web traffic or individual websites or domains.

VPN Proxy

A VPN web proxy server can be defined when the Always On VPN user tunnel connection uses force tunneling. Although you can still configure a VPN web proxy server with split tunneling enabled, it will not work. It is only functional when force tunneling is in use.

Administrators can configure a VPN web proxy server using the Microsoft Endpoint Manager UI or custom XML deployed with Endpoint Manager or PowerShell. Administrators can define a VPN web proxy server explicitly, or a proxy automatic configuration (PAC) file can be specified.

Note: VPN proxy server settings only work when force tunneling is enabled. Force tunneling is an unsupported configuration for the device tunnel, making the global proxy server setting for the device tunnel unsupported.

Proxy Autoconfiguration

Perform the following steps to configure a VPN web proxy server with a PAC file in Endpoint Manager.

  1. Expand the Proxy section in the Configuration settings of the Always On VPN configuration profile.
  2. Enter the URL for the PAC file in the Automatic configuration script field. Be sure to include the port number in the URL when using a non-standard port.
  3. Leave the Address and Port number fields blank.
  4. Choose Enable or Disable from the Bypass proxy for local addresses drop-down list.

To configure a VPN web proxy server with a PAC file using custom XML, include the following code between the <VPNProfile> and </VPNProfile> tags in the Always On VPN XML configuration file.

Explicit Proxy

Perform the following steps to configure an explicit VPN web proxy server in Endpoint Manager.

  1. Enter the IP address, hostname, or fully qualified domain name (recommended) in the Address field.
  2. Enter the port number in the Port number field.
  3. Choose Enable or Disable from the Bypass proxy for local addresses drop-down list.

To configure an explicit VPN web proxy server using custom XML, include the following code between the <VPNProfile> and </VPNProfile> tags in the Always On VPN XML configuration file.

Namespace Proxy

Administrators can also define VPN web proxy servers on a per-namespace or per-hostname basis. Namespace VPN proxy servers can be helpful for scenarios where routing public websites over the Always On VPN connection is required. Most commonly, this is necessary because the public website restricts access to the IP address of the on-premises Internet gateway.

A namespace VPN proxy server is implemented using a Name Resolution Policy Table (NRPT) rule. At the time of this writing, a bug in Microsoft Endpoint Manager prevents administrators from deploying this option using the UI.

As you can see here, administrators can specify a proxy server as part of an NRPT rule in the Endpoint Manager UI. Notice this section of the UI validates the proxy FQDN correctly.

Always On VPN Proxy Server Configuration

However, when you try to save the configuration profile, Endpoint Manager returns the following error.

“Unable to save due to invalid data. Update your data then try again: ProxyServerUri must be a valid URL or be empty.”

Interestingly, when entering a URL such as http://proxy.lab.richardhicks.net:8080/ in the Proxy field, the Endpoint Manager UI accepts it and successfully validates. But according to the VPNv2 Configuration Service Provider (CSP) reference, the value must be entered as an IP address. A hostname or FQDN also works based on my testing. Entering a URL as shown in the example above will not work at all.

With that, the only way to implement a namespace VPN web proxy server is to use custom XML. To do this, include the following code between the <VPNProfile> and </VPNProfile> tags in the Always On VPN XML configuration file.

Include the leading “.” to specify the entire domain, as shown above. Omit the leading “.” to specify an individual host (for example, app.richardhicks.com). Repeat this section for each additional host or domain, as required.

Caveat

Unfortunately, the Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser is the only browser that functions with the namespace VPN web proxy server. All modern web browsers, including Microsoft Edge, ignore the namespace proxy setting entirely, which seriously limits this feature’s usefulness in most organizations today.

Workaround

If routing a public website over the Always On VPN tunnel is required, adding its IP address(es) to the Always On VPN connection’s routing table is needed. However, doing this presents some unique challenges, as public websites frequently have many IP addresses, which are often dynamically changing. Also, it is common for public websites to pull content from many different domains or use Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), making the problem of identifying which IP addresses to add to the Always On VPN connection’s routing table even more challenging. Further, administrators must update the client configuration each a public website’s IP address changes, adding significant management overhead.

Summary

Routing client Internet traffic through an on-premises web proxy server for Always On VPN clients works well when force tunneling is enabled. Administrators can explicitly define a web proxy server or use a proxy automatic configuration (PAC) file. All web browsers work without issue in this scenario. Using a namespace proxy is only effective when browsing with Microsoft Internet Explorer. All modern web browsers, including Microsoft Edge, ignore namespace proxy settings.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN and the Name Resolution Policy Table (NRPT)

Windows 10 VPNv2 Configuration Service Provider (CSP) Reference

Windows 10 Always On VPN Client DNS Server Configuration

Always On VPN Class-Based Default Route and Intune

`Always On VPN Class-Based Default Route and IntuneIn a recent post, I described how to configure routing for Windows 10 Always On VPN clients. In that article, I shared guidance for disabling the class-based default route in favor of defining specific routes for the VPN client. While this is easy enough to do when you use custom XML (deployed via PowerShell, SCCM, or Intune), there is a known limitation when using the native Intune UI that could present some challenges.

Intune VPN Profile Configuration

Defining specific routes is easy to do in Intune using the native VPN configuration profile. In the Configuration settings expand Split Tunneling and click Enable. The administrator can then add routes by entering their Destination prefix and Prefix size, as shown here.

Always On VPN Class-Based Default Route and Intune

Class-Based Default Route

The limitation with using Intune to configure routes is that there is currently no option to disable the class-based default route as there is with custom XML. This means the routes shown in the example above will be added to the client, but the class-based route will also be added automatically, as shown here (class-based default route highlighted with the arrow).

Always On VPN Class-Based Default Route and Intune

Considerations

In most cases, the inclusion of the class-based default route along with the administrator-defined routes will not be a problem. However, in some scenarios, it could yield unexpected results. Specifically, Always On VPN clients may have unintended access to some networks over the VPN tunnel. This is most significant for the Always On VPN device tunnel, where it is common to limit access to only specific resources using individual host routes.

Workaround

Today there is no option to disable the class-based default route using the native Intune UI. Your only option is to deploy the Always On VPN profile using custom XML, as described here.

Additional Information

Deploying Windows 10 Always On VPN with Intune and Custom XML

Deploying Windows 10 Always On VPN Device Tunnel with Intune and Custom XML

Windows 10 Always On VPN Routing Configuration

Windows 10 Always On VPN Device Tunnel Operation and Best Practices

Always On VPN Split vs. Force Tunneling

Always On VPN Split vs. Force TunnelingDuring the planning phase of a Windows 10 Always On VPN implementation the administrator must decide between two tunneling options for VPN client traffic – split tunneling or force tunneling. When split tunneling is configured, only traffic for the on-premises network is routed over the VPN tunnel. Everything else is sent directly to the Internet. With force tunneling, all client traffic, including Internet traffic, is routed over the VPN tunnel. There’s been much discussion recently on this topic, and this article serves to outline the advantages and disadvantages for both tunneling methods.

Force Tunneling

Force tunneling is typically enabled to meet the following requirements.

Visibility and Control

By routing all the client’s Internet traffic over the VPN tunnel, administrators can inspect, filter, and log Internet traffic using existing on-premises security solutions such as web proxies, content filters, or Next Generation Firewalls (NGFW).

Privacy

Enabling force tunneling ensures privacy and protection of all Internet communication. By routing all Internet traffic over the VPN, administrators can be certain that all communication from the Always On VPN client is encrypted, even when clients access unencrypted web sites or use untrusted or insecure wireless networks.

Force Tunneling Drawbacks

While configuring force tunneling for Always On VPN has some advantages, it comes with some serious limitations as well.

Poor User Experience

User experience is often degraded when all Internet traffic is routed over the VPN. These suboptimal network paths increase latency, and VPN encapsulation and encryption overhead increase fragmentation, leading to reduced throughput. Most Internet traffic is already encrypted in some form, and encrypting traffic that is already encrypted makes the problem even worse. In addition, force tunneling short-circuits geographic-based Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) further reducing Internet performance. Further, location-based services are often broken which can lead to improper default language selection or inaccurate web search results.

Increased Resource Consumption

Additional resources may need to be provisioned to support force tunneling. With corporate and Internet traffic coming over the VPN, more CPU, memory, and network resources may be required. Deploying additional VPN servers and higher throughput load balancers to support the increase in network traffic may also be necessary. Force tunneling also places higher demands on Internet Service Provider (ISP) links to the corporate datacenter.

Split Tunneling

The alternative to force tunneling is “split tunneling”. With split tunneling configured, only traffic destined for the internal corporate network is routed over the VPN. All other traffic is sent directly to the Internet. Administrators define IP networks that should be routed over the VPN, and those networks are added to the routing table on the VPN client.

Security Enforcement

The challenge of providing visibility and control of Internet traffic with split tunneling enabled can be met using a variety of third-party security solutions. Microsoft Defender ATP recently introduced support for web content filtering. Also, there are numerous cloud-based security offerings from many vendors that allow administrators to monitor and control client-based Internet traffic. Zscaler and Cisco Umbrella are two popular solutions, and no doubt there are many more to choose from.

Recommendations

The general guidance I provide customers is to use split tunneling whenever possible, as it provides the best user experience and reduces demands on existing on-premises infrastructure. Enabling split or force tunneling is ultimately a design decision that must be made during the planning phase of an Always On VPN implementation project. Both configurations are supported, and they each have their merits.

In today’s world, with many applications accessible via public interfaces, force tunneling is an antiquated method for providing visibility and control for managed devices in the field. If required, investigate the use of Microsoft or other third-party solutions that enforce security policy in place without the requirement to backhaul client Internet traffic to the datacenter over VPN for inspection, logging, and filtering.

Additional Information

Whitepaper: Enhancing VPN Performance at Microsoft

Whitepaper: How Microsoft Is Keeping Its Remote Workforce Connected

Microsoft Defender ATP Web Content Filtering

Always On VPN Force Tunneling with Office 365 Exclusions

Always On VPN Force Tunneling with Office 365 ExclusionsWith the COVID-19 global pandemic forcing nearly everyone to work from home these days, organizations that implemented force tunneling for their VPN clients are likely encountering unexpected problems. When force tunneling is enabled, all client traffic, including Internet traffic, is routed over the VPN tunnel. This often overloads the VPN infrastructure and causes serious slowdowns, which degrades the user experience and negatively impacts productivity. This is especially challenging because so many productivity applications like Microsoft Office 365 are optimized for Internet accessibility. It is one of the main reasons that force tunneling is not generally recommended.

Force Tunneling with Exceptions

When enabling split tunneling is not an option, administrators frequently ask about enabling force tunneling with some exceptions. The most common configuration is enabling force tunneling while still allowing Office 365 traffic to go outside of the tunnel. While this is something that third-party solutions do easily, it has been a challenge for Always On VPN. Specifically, Always On VPN has no way to route traffic by hostname or Fully-Qualified Domain Name (FQDN).

Exclusion Routes

To address this challenge, the administrator can configure Exclusion Routes. Exclusion Routes are supported in Windows 10 1803 with update KB4493437, Windows 10 1809 with update KB4490481, and Windows 10 1903/1909.

Exclusion routes are defined in the client routing table that are excluded from the VPN tunnel. The real challenge here is determining all the required IP addresses required for Office 365.

Microsoft Published Guidance

Given current events and the heavy demands placed on enterprises supporting exclusively remote workforces, Microsoft has recently published guidance for configuring Always On VPN force tunneling while excluding Office 365 traffic. Their documentation includes all the required IP addresses to configure exclusions for. This will make it much simpler for administrators to configure Always On VPN to support this unique scenario. The following links provide detailed configuration guidance for enabling force tunneling for Always On VPN with exceptions.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN Split vs. Force Tunneling

Windows 10 Always On VPN Routing Configuration

Windows 10 Always On VPN Lockdown Mode

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