DirectAccess in Windows Server 2016 at Microsoft Ignite 2016

I’m pleased to announce that I will be delivering a community theater session at this year’s Microsoft ignite conference in Atlanta, GA. The session, THR2136 in the session catalog, is scheduled for Thursday, September 29 at 12:40PM. This is a level 200 talk where I’ll be providing a high-level overview of all remote access technologies in Windows Server 2016, including DirectAccess, client-based VPN, and Web Application Proxy (WAP). I’ll be focusing on what’s new in each of these technologies and demonstrating how each solution applies in different use cases.

DirectAccess in Windows Server 2016 at Microsoft Ignite 2016

In addition to the session, I’ll be spending time with the folks from PointSharp and Pluralsight in their respective booths too, answering questions and providing demonstrations. I hope to have copies of my new DirectAccess book to sign as well. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for up-do-date details. Hope to see you at the conference!

Enterprise Nirvana with Surface Pro 4, Windows 10, and DirectAccess

Introduction

DirectAccess and Windows 10 - Better Together

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 was made available for sale to the public on October 26, 2015. The latest in a line of powerful and flexible tablets from Microsoft, the Surface Pro 4 features a full version of the Windows 10 desktop client operating system and includes more available power, memory, and storage than previous editions. Significant improvements were also made to the keyboard and pen. The Surface Pro 4 is designed to be an all-in-one laptop replacement, enabling users to carry a single device for all of their needs.

Surface Pro 4 and the Enterprise

Microsoft is pushing the Surface Pro 4 heavily to large enterprise organizations by expanding the resale business channel and offering the device through companies like Dell and HP. In fact, Microsoft has made the Surface Pro 4 available through more than 5000 business resellers in 30 global markets. This new enterprise sales initiative strives to deliver world class service and support for enterprise customers adopting the new Surface Pro 4, and includes a new warranty offer and a business device trade-in program designed to promote the adoption of Surface and Windows 10 in the enterprise.

Enterprise Nirvana with Surface Pro 4, Windows 10, and DirectAccess

In addition, Microsoft will have a training program for IT management and support professionals as well as new Windows users that will help streamline the deployment of the Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10. Organizations are rapidly adopting the Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10, as Microsoft has already signed on a number of high-profile companies in the retail, financial services, education, and public sector verticals. Today, Microsoft has deployed Windows 10 to over 110 million devices since it was released in late October 2015, making it the most rapidly adopted operating system in their history.

Enterprise Requirements

One of the primary motivating factors for enterprise organizations migrating to the Surface Pro 4 is cost reduction. The Surface Pro 4 functions as both a full PC and a tablet, eliminating the need for users to carry two devices. More importantly, it eliminates the need for IT to procure, manage, and support two different hardware and software platforms (for example a Windows-based laptop and an iPad). Additionally, IT organizations can leverage their existing Windows systems management infrastructure and expertise to deploy and maintain their Surface devices.

DirectAccess and the Surface Pro 4

For organizations seeking to maximize their investment in the Surface Pro 4 with Windows 10, implementing a secure remote access solution using Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess is essential. DirectAccess provides seamless and transparent, always on secure remote corporate network connectivity for managed (domain-joined) Windows clients. DirectAccess enables streamlined access to on-premises application and data, improving end user productivity and reducing help desk costs. DirectAccess connectivity is bi-directional, making possible new and compelling management scenarios for field-based assets. DirectAccess clients can be managed the same way, regardless if they are inside or outside of the corporate network. DirectAccess ensures that clients are better managed, consistently maintained, and fully monitored.

Enterprise Nirvana with Surface Pro 4, Windows 10, and DirectAccess

Windows 10 and DirectAccess

The Surface Pro 4 with Windows 10 provides full support for all enterprise features of DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2, including automatic site selection and transparent fail over for multisite deployments, as well as scalability and performance improvements. In addition, supportability for Windows 10 clients is much improved with DirectAccess GUI integration and full PowerShell support. Additional information about how DirectAccess and Windows 10 are better together, click here.

Additional Cost Savings

Enterprise Nirvana with Surface Pro 4, Windows 10, and DirectAccess

DirectAccess does not require any additional software to be installed on the client, and does not incur per user licensing to implement. Another benefit is that DirectAccess can easily be deployed on most popular hypervisors such as Hyper-V and VMware, eliminating the need for expensive proprietary hardware-based remote access solutions and taking full advantage of current investments in virtual infrastructure. Additionally, existing Windows systems management skill sets can be leveraged to support a DirectAccess implementation, eliminating the need for expensive dedicated administrators.

Note: Windows 10 Enterprise edition is required to support DirectAccess, and it is assumed that large organizations will be deploying Surface Pro 4 with Windows 10 Enterprise.

Summary

The Surface Pro 4 is the thinnest, lightest, and most powerful Surface tablet ever. It features Windows 10, and it can run the full version of Office and any other applications you need. The Surface Pro 4 is aimed squarely at large enterprises, governments, and schools. Not coincidentally, these verticals are also excellent uses cases for DirectAccess. DirectAccess is the perfect complement to the Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10 in the enterprise, as it helps organizations address the unique pain points of large scale enterprise adoption of Windows devices. DirectAccess allows the Surface Pro 4 to be much more effectively managed, while at the same time significantly improving the end user experience.

To realize the full potential of your Windows 10 and Surface Pro 4 deployment, consider a DirectAccess consulting engagement. By leveraging our experience you’ll have the peace of mind knowing that you have deployed DirectAccess in the most optimal, flexible, secure, and highly available manner possible. For more information about a DirectAccess consulting engagement, click here.

DirectAccess, Windows 10, and Network Access Protection (NAP)

Windows 10, DirectAccess, and NAPFirst introduced with Windows Server 2008, Microsoft Network Access Protection (NAP) is a technology that allows IT administrators to create and enforce system health requirements that must be met before a computer can connect to the network. Common NAP enforcement points include Ethernet switches (802.1x), DHCP, IPsec, remote access VPN, and Terminal Services Gateway (TS Gateway) connections. DirectAccess also supports NAP integration, which allows administrators to extend this solution to include their DirectAccess clients.

Unfortunately, NAP has proven not to be very popular, and the adoption rate for this technology has been quite minimal. With that, Microsoft formally deprecated NAP in Windows Server 2012 R2, and removed it completely from Windows Server 2016.

Crucially the plumbing for NAP integration in the Windows 10 client operating system has also been removed. For DirectAccess deployments that have been configured to use NAP, this obviously presents a problem. In this scenario, Windows 7/8 clients will function normally. However, Windows 10 clients will not be able to connect. Since NAP integration with DirectAccess is a global setting, all clients must conform to NAP. There is no option to exclude only Windows 10 clients from NAP.

DirectAccess, Windows 10, and NAP

There are two ways in which to resolve this problem. The first is simply to disable NAP integration. However, if you still want to enforce NAP requirements for Windows 7/8 clients, but at the same time also want to allow Windows 10 clients to use DirectAccess, a separate dedicated DirectAccess deployment without NAP integration configured will have to be deployed to support Windows 10 DirectAccess clients.

New Pluralsight Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess, VPN, and WAP Video Training Course

Pluralsight IT Pro and Developer TrainingI’m very excited to announce that my latest video training course is now available on Pluralsight! Recently I had the opportunity record a “Play-by-Play” session entitled Secure Remote Access with Windows Server 2012 R2. In this course I cover all aspects of the Unified Remote Access role in Windows Server 2012 R2 including DirectAccess, client-based remote access VPN, site-to-site VPN, and the Web Application Proxy (WAP). This training course differs from some of the other DirectAccess video training content I’ve developed in the past. This course is much less formal, and takes a casual, conversational approach to delivering the content. Many scenarios are presented and discussed, and of course there is plenty of practical demonstration as well. I think you’ll really like this unique format.

Pluralsight IT Pro and Developer Training

Pluralsight video training is available as a monthly subscription. If you don’t already have a Pluralsight account, you can sign up immediately and get a 10-day free trial. In addition to viewing my new course, be sure to browse their amazing video training course catalog. The amount and quality of content they have is astounding. You’ll find my DirectAccess with Windows Server 2012 R2 course there, along with many others. I’m confident you’ll find the service a tremendous value. Get started now!

Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) 2015

Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP)Once again I’m very pleased to announce that I have been awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award for 2015! This marks my 7th consecutive year receiving this prestigious award from Microsoft. It is a tremendous honor to be recognized for my technical expertise and community contributions over the last year. I thoroughly enjoy working with Microsoft technologies and helping organizations implement secure remote access and Azure virtual networking solutions. I look forward to engaging with customers and the community even more over the next year. And to all of my fellow MVPs, I look forward to seeing you at the summit in November!

DirectAccess and VPN on RunAs Radio

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 on RunAs RadioRecently I had the opportunity to once again join Richard Campbell on his popular RunAs Radio podcast to chat about all things remote access in Windows Server 2012 R2. The conversation starts out with DirectAccess, but we also touch upon important topics like client-based VPN and BYOD access. We also talk a little bit about DirectAccess in Windows Server 2016 and what the future might look like for DirectAccess in Windows.RunAs Radio

You can listen to the podcast here.

Enjoy!

DirectAccess and Surface Pro for the Enterprise

DirectAccess, Windows 10, and Surface ProToday Microsoft announced a new partnership with Dell to deliver the Surface Pro and Windows 10 to enterprise customers around the world. This new initiative addressees the specific needs of large enterprises, whose increasingly mobile workforce places unique demands on IT to provide high levels of security and consistent platform management. This partnership will ensure that Dell’s enterprise customers have access to the Microsoft Surface Pro along with Dell’s enterprise-class service and support offerings.

Of course DirectAccess on Windows Server 2012 R2 complements this initiative quite nicely. Using DirectAccess with it’s always on functionality ensures that remote Windows devices like the Surface Pro are always managed and consistently updated, providing IT administrators greater control and visibility for their field-based assets than traditional VPN is capable of providing. In addition, DirectAccess connectivity is bi-directional, allowing administrators to “manage out” to their connected DirectAccess devices. This opens up compelling use cases such as initiating remote desktop sessions for the purposes of troubleshooting or conducting vulnerability scans to determine the client’s security posture.

In addition, Windows 10 now supports the full enterprise feature set of DirectAccess on Windows Server 2012 R2, including geographic redundancy and transparent site failover, along with significant performance improvements over Windows 7 for perimeter/DMZ deployments. DirectAccess with Windows 10 is also easier to manage and support.

For more information about the Microsoft/Dell partnership, watch Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s message here. For assistance with the planning, design, and implementation of a DirectAccess solution, click here.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

With last week’s release of Windows 10, many organizations who chose to skip Windows 8 are now beginning to deploy Windows 10. To maximize investment in Windows 10, DirectAccess can be leveraged to provide employees with seamless and transparent, always on, secure remote corporate network connectivity. DirectAccess has been around for many years, and today the most popular DirectAccess client is Windows 7. However, Windows 10 provides better support for DirectAccess features that enhance performance and availability, while at the same making it easier to implement and support. Windows 10 opens up many new and compelling deployment scenarios for small businesses to large scale enterprises.

Full Support for Geographic Redundancy

Without a doubt the most important DirectAccess feature Windows 10 supports is automatic entry point selection and transparent failover for multisite deployments. DirectAccess multisite deployment provides essential geographic redundancy for organizations with multiple physical locations. Windows 7 has only minimal support for multisite deployment, with clients required to be assigned to a single entry point. Windows 10 clients are aware of all entry points and will intelligently select the closest entry point when establishing a DirectAccess connection. If the entry point becomes unavailable during the connection, Windows 10 clients will transparently connect to another entry point automatically.

Better Scalability and Performance

Windows 10, like Windows 8 before it, includes support for IP-HTTPS null encryption. This feature greatly improves scalability on the DirectAccess server by eliminating the needless double encryption that Windows 7 clients perform. This reduces resource consumption on the server and enables the server to support many more DirectAccess client connections.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Enhanced Supportability

Many will also appreciate Windows 10’s built-in DirectAccess connectivity status indicator. No longer will administrators have to deploy, manage, and maintain additional software to provide this essential functionality.

To access DirectAccess information in Windows 10, press Window Key + I, click Network & Internet, and then click the DirectAccess tab. Here you will find vital details about DirectAccess configuration and status such as connection state, currently connected entry point, and a site selection drop down box (if manual site selection is enabled by an administrator). In addition you can generate and collect log information for troubleshooting purposes.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Native PowerShell Support

Anyone tasked with troubleshooting DirectAccess configuration and connectivity issues will appreciate the native PowerShell integration with DirectAccess in Windows 10. With just a few commands a wealth of information about DirectAccess configuration and connectivity status can be obtained.

Need to quickly determine if a Windows 10 client has been provisioned for DirectAccess successfully?

Get-DAClientExperienceConfiguration

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Has the Windows 10 client connected successfully? If not, why?

Get-DAConnectionStatus

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Need to identify the Network Location Server (NLS) the client is configured to use?

Get-NCSIPolicyConfiguration

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Looking for DirectAccess multisite entry point details and connection status?

Get-DAEntryPointTableItem

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

PKI Optional (But Recommended)

Finally, when Windows 10 (and Windows 8.x) clients are supported exclusively a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is optional. Here instead the Kerberos Proxy is leveraged to perform DirectAccess client authentication, which reduces infrastructure requirements by eliminating the need for a PKI. However, this configuration offers only limited support for DirectAccess features. For example, a PKI is still required if any Windows 7 clients are deployed. Also, PKI is required to support features such as one-time password (OTP) authentication, Microsoft Network Access Protection (NAP) integration, load balancing (integrated or external), force tunneling, and multisite configuration.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

For optimum security and maximum deployment flexibility it is recommended that PKI be used to manage certificates for all DirectAccess deployments including those supporting only Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients.

Summary

DirectAccess and Windows 10 are much better together. Windows 10 provides full support for the geographic load balancing features of DirectAccess and at the same time offers improved scalability and performance. Windows 10 also makes supporting and troubleshooting DirectAccess clients much easier. And for smaller deployments, Windows 10 can lower the barrier to entry for organizations considering DirectAccess by eliminating the need for a full PKI deployment.

Additional Resources

Video: DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Action
DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Education
Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book
Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2012 R2 Video Training Course
DirectAccess Consulting Services

DirectAccess Consulting Services Now Available

Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)For the last five years I’ve been helping organizations large and small deploy DirectAccess. During that time I have amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience with this unique technology. DirectAccess is not trivial to install, configure, or troubleshoot. Also, it’s easy to make mistakes in the planning and design phase that can turn in to serious issues later in the deployment. To make matters worse, many organizations are deploying DirectAccess for the first time, and without essential guidance they are prone to making common mistakes or choosing configuration options that are less than optimal both in terms of supportability and performance.

Having deployed DirectAccess for some of the largest companies in the world, there isn’t much I haven’t already encountered. If you are looking for the best chance of success for your DirectAccess deployment, consider a consulting engagement with me. I can provide assistance with all facets of DirectAccess implementation including planning and design, installation, configuration, and troubleshooting. Consulting services at reasonable rates are available for all types of DirectAccess work including:

  • New DirectAccess installations
  • Migration from previous versions of DirectAccess
  • Upgrade or expansion of existing DirectAccess deployment
  • Enterprise planning and design for large-scale, multisite DirectAccess deployments
  • DirectAccess high availability (local and geographic)
  • Manage-out for DirectAccess with external hardware load balancers and/or multisite configuration
  • Multisite DirectAccess with geographic redundancy for Windows 7 clients
  • Existing DirectAccess design review and security assessment
  • Windows Server 2012 R2 client-based VPN configuration
  • DirectAccess client connectivity troubleshooting
  • DirectAccess training

Additionally, consulting services are available for a variety of security solutions as well as on-premises and cloud networking technologies such as:

  • Azure networking and infrastructure
  • Cross-premises connectivity to Azure
  • Certificate services (PKI)
  • IP address management
  • ISA Server and Forefront Threat Management Gateway (TMG) migration

All services can be performed on-site or remotely. If you are interested in obtaining my services, drop me a note at rich@richardhicks.com for more details.

DirectAccess and the TLS Logjam Attack

Another critical flaw affecting Transport Layer Security (TLS) was discovered recently that could put some organizations at risk. The “Logjam” attack exploits a weakness in how the Diffie-Hellman key exchange is used. An attacker, acting as a man-in-the-middle, can potentially force a downgrade of the TLS connection, resulting in the use of weak cryptography. The Qualys SSL Labs SSL Server Test has been updated to identify this vulnerability. When testing a DirectAccess server you will receive the following warning message.

“This server supports weak Diffie-Hellman (DH) key exchange parameters. Grade capped to B.”

DirectAccess and the Logjam Attack

DirectAccess leverages SSL and TLS as part of the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition protocol, which is used to tunnel IPv6 packets over the IPv4 Internet. These IPv6 packets are encrypted using IPsec. If an attacker were to break the SSL/TLS connection they would gain nothing. Because of this, a dedicated DirectAccess server is unaffected by the Logjam attack. Mitigating it would provide no additional protection, so you can safely ignore the warning about weak DH key exchange parameters being supported.

However, if DirectAccess has been configured to use one-time password (OTP) authentication, the client-based VPN role has been enabled and configured, or the Web Application Proxy (WAP) role has been installed on the DirectAccess server, then the Logjam attack represents a serious risk and should be mitigated. Also, in some cases it may be desirable to make this change on a dedicated DirectAccess server just to prevent an audit finding and avoid having to explain why the DirectAccess workload would be unaffected by this attack.

To mitigate this vulnerability it will be necessary to remove support for cipher suites that use the Diffie-Hellman key exchange protocol on the DirectAccess server. This is accomplished by opening the Local Group Policy Editor (gpedit.msc) on the DirectAccess server and expanding Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, and Network. Select SSL Configuration Settings and then double-click SSL Cipher Suite Order. Select Enabled and then replace the default list of cipher suites with the following list.

TLS_ECDHE_ECDSA_WITH_AES_256_GCM_SHA384_P384
TLS_ECDHE_ECDSA_WITH_AES_128_GCM_SHA256_P256
TLS_ECDHE_ECDSA_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA384_P384
TLS_ECDHE_ECDSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA256_P256
TLS_ECDHE_ECDSA_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA_P384
TLS_ECDHE_ECDSA_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA_P256
TLS_ECDHE_ECDSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA_P384
TLS_ECDHE_ECDSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA_P256
TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA_P384
TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA_P256
TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA256_P384
TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA256_P256
TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA_P384
TLS_ECDHE_RSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA_P256
TLS_RSA_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA256
TLS_RSA_WITH_AES_256_CBC_SHA
TLS_RSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA256
TLS_RSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA
TLS_RSA_WITH_NULL_SHA256
TLS_RSA_WITH_NULL_SHA

DirectAccess and the Logjam Attack

Once complete, restart the DirectAccess server. The Qualys SSL Labs server test should no longer give a warning about the use of weak Diffie-Hellman keys. In addition, this reordering and optimization of cipher suites will also improve the protocol support and key exchange scores, as shown here.

DirectAccess and the Logjam Attack

As a reminder, and overall rating of “F” is expected when testing a dedicated DirectAccess server. By design, DirectAccess provides support for null cipher suites to improve scalability and performance for Windows 8.x and later DirectAccess clients. More details here.

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