DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

Introduction

Communication between the DirectAccess client and server takes place exclusively over IPv6. When DirectAccess servers and/or clients are on the IPv4 Internet, an IPv6 transition technology must be employed to allow those clients to connect to the DirectAccess server. DirectAccess deployment best practices dictate that only the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology be used. IP-HTTPS uses SSL/TLS for server authentication and optionally encryption. To improve security and performance for IP-HTTPS, an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) like the Citrix NetScaler can be configured to perform SSL offloading and client preauthentication for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS connections.

Please note that the following caveats apply when enabling SSL offload for DirectAccess clients:

  • Enabling SSL offload and IP-HTTPS preauthentication on an ADC for DirectAccess is formally unsupported by Microsoft.
  • SSL offload should not be enabled with DirectAccess is configured to use one-time password (OTP) authentication. Offloading SSL will break OTP functionality.

IP-HTTPS Challenges

The IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology is a simple and effective way to allow DirectAccess clients and servers to communicate by encapsulating IPv6 traffic in HTTP and routing it over the public IPv4 Internet. However, there are two critical issues with the default implementation of IP-HTTPS in DirectAccess. One is a security issue, the other affects performance.

Security

The DirectAccess server does not authenticate clients establishing IP-HTTPS connections. This could allow an unauthorized client to obtain an IPv6 address from the DirectAccess server using the IPv6 Neighbor Discovery (ND) process. With a valid IPv6 address, the unauthorized user could perform internal network reconnaissance or launch a variety of Denial of Service (DoS) attacks on the DirectAccess infrastructure and connected clients. More details here.

Performance

Windows 7 DirectAccess clients use encrypted cipher suites when establishing IP-HTTPS connections. However, the payload being transported is already encrypted using IPsec. This double encryption increases resource utilization on the DirectAccess server, reducing performance and limiting scalability. More details here.


Note: Beginning with Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, Microsoft introduced support for null encryption for IP-HTTPS connections. This eliminates the needless double encryption, greatly improving scalability and performance for DirectAccess clients using IP-HTTPS.


SSL Offload for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS

The Citrix NetScaler can be configured to perform SSL offload to improve performance for Windows 7 DirectAccess clients using IP-HTTPS. Since DirectAccess does not natively support SSL offload, the NetScaler must be configured in a non-traditional way. While the NetScaler will be configured to terminate incoming IP-HTTPS SSL connections, it must also use SSL for the back-end connection to the DirectAccess server. However, the NetScaler will be configured only to use null cipher suites when connecting to the DirectAccess server. Even though Windows 7 clients will still perform double encryption to the NetScaler, this configuration effectively offloads from the server the heavy burden of double encrypting every IP-HTTPS connection for all connected DirectAccess clients. This results in reduced CPU utilization on the DirectAccess server, yielding better scalability and performance.

SSL Offload and Windows 8.x/10 Clients

Offloading SSL for Windows 8.x/10 clients will not improve performance because they already use null cipher suites for IP-HTTPS when connecting to a Windows Server 2012 or later DirectAccess server. However, terminating SSL on the NetScaler is still required to perform IP-HTTPS preauthentication.

Supported NetScaler Platforms for DirectAccess SSL Offloading

The following configuration for Citrix NetScaler can be performed on any release of the VPX virtual ADC platform. However, be advised that there is a known issue with older releases on the MDX and SDX hardware platforms that will prevent this from working. For MDX and SDX deployments, upgrading to release 11.1 build 50.10 or later will be required.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for IP-HTTPS SSL Offload

To enable SSL offloading for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS on the Citrix NetScaler, open the NetScaler management console, expand Traffic Management and Load Balancing, and then perform the following procedures in order.

Add Servers

  1. Click Servers.
  2. Click Add.
  3. In the Name field enter a descriptive name for the first DirectAccess server.
  4. Select IP Address.
  5. In the IP Address field enter the IP address of the first DirectAccess server.
  6. Click Create.
  7. Repeat these steps for any additional servers in the load-balanced cluster.

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

Add Services

  1. Click Services.
  2. Click Add.
  3. In the Service Name field enter a descriptive name for the service.
  4. Select Existing Server from the Server drop-down list.
  5. Choose the first DirectAccess server in the cluster.
  6. Choose SSL from the Protocol drop-down list.
  7. Click Ok.DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler
  8. Edit SSL Parameters.
    1. In the Protocol section uncheck SSLv3.
    2. Click Ok.
  9. Edit SSL Ciphers.
    1. Click Remove All.
    2. Click Add.
    3. Type NULL in the Search Ciphers box.
    4. Check the box next to the first entry for SSL3-NULL-SHA.
    5.  Click the right arrow to add the cipher to the list.
    6. Click Ok.
    7. Click Done.
    8. Repeat these steps for any additional servers in the load-balanced cluster.DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

A warning message may be displayed indicating that no usable ciphers are configured on the SSL vserver/service. This message can be safely ignored.

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

Add Virtual Server

  1. Click Virtual Servers.
    1. Click Add.
    2. In the Name field enter a descriptive name for the virtual server.
    3. Choose SSL from the Protocol drop-down list.
    4. In the IP Address field enter the IP address for the virtual server.
    5. Click Ok.DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

      Note: When enabling load balancing in DirectAccess, the IP address assigned to the first DirectAccess server is reallocated for use as the load balancing Virtual IP Address (VIP). Ideally this IP address will be assigned to the load balancing virtual server on the NetScaler. However, this is not a hard requirement. It is possible to configure the VIP on the NetScaler to reside on any subnet that the load balancer has an interface to. More details here.


  2. In the Services and Groups section click No Load Balancing Virtual Server Service Binding.
    1. Click on the Select Service field.
    2. Check all DirectAccess server services and click Select.
    3. Click Bind.
    4. Click Continue.
  3. In the Certificate section click No Server Certificate.
    1. Click on the Select Server Certificate field.
    2. Choose the certificate to be used for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS.
    3. Click Select.
    4. Click Bind.
    5. Click Continue.
  4. Edit SSL Ciphers.
    1. Click Remove All.
    2. Click Add.
    3. Type ECDHE in to the Search Ciphers box.
    4. Check the box next to TLS1-ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA.
    5. Click the right arrow to add the cipher to the list.
    6. Type NULL in to the Search Ciphers box.
    7. Check the box next to SSL3-NULL-SHA.
    8. Click the right arrow to add the cipher to the list.
    9. Click Ok.
    10. Click Done.DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

      Note: If Windows 8.x/10 clients are supported exclusively, SSL3-NULL-SHA is the only cipher suite required to be configured on the virtual server. If Windows 7 client support is required, the TLS1-ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA cipher suite should also be configured on the virtual server.


  5. Edit SSL Parameters.
    1. Uncheck SSLv3.
    2. Click Ok.

      Note: If Windows 8.x/10 clients are supported exclusively, TLSv1 can also be unchecked on the virtual server. If Windows 7 client support is required, TLSv1 must be enabled.


  6. In the Advanced Settings section click Persistence.
    1. Choose SSLSESSION.
    2. Enter 10 minutes for the Time-out (mins) value.
    3. Click Ok.
    4. Click Done.

Optional IP-HTTPS Preauthentication

To enable IP-HTTPS preauthentication to prevent unauthorized network access, perform the following procedures on the Citrix NetScaler appliance.

  1. Expand Traffic Management, Load Balancing, and then click Virtual Servers.
  2. Select the DirectAccess virtual server and click Edit.
    1. In the Certificate section click No CA Certificate.
    2. Click the Select CA Certificate field.
    3. Choose the certificate for the CA that issues certificates to DirectAccess clients and servers.

      Note: The CA certificate used for DirectAccess can be found by opening the Remote Access Management console, clicking Edit on Step 2, and then clicking Authentication. Alternatively, the CA certificate can be found by running the following PowerShell command.

      (Get-RemoteAccess).IPsecRootCertificate | Format-Table Thumbprint


    4. Click Select.
    5. Choose CRL Optional from the CRL and OCSP Check drop-down list.
    6. Click Bind.
  3. Edit SSL Parameters.
    1. Check the box next to Client Authentication.
    2. Choose Mandatory from the Client Certificate drop-down list.
    3. Click Ok.
    4. Click Done.
      DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

Summary

Leveraging the advanced capabilities of the Citrix NetScaler ADC can improve performance when supporting Windows 7 clients and enhance security for all DirectAccess clients using IP-HTTPS. In terms of supportability, all of the changes described in this article are completely transparent and do not alter the native DirectAccess client or server configuration. If a Microsoft support engineer declines support due to this configuration, switching from SSL offload to SSL bridge is all that’s required to restore full supportability.

Additional Resources

NetScaler release 11.1 build 50.10 (requires login) – https://www.citrix.com/downloads/netscaler-adc/firmware/release-111-build-5010

Release notes for build 50.10 of NetScaler 11.1 release – https://www.citrix.com/content/dam/citrix/en_us/documents/downloads/netscaler-adc/NS_11_1_50_10.html

VIDEO: Enable Load Balancing for DirectAccess – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tdqgY9Y-uo

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS preauthentication using F5 BIG-IP – https://directaccess.richardhicks.com/2016/05/23/directaccess-ip-https-preauthentication-using-f5-big-ip/

DirectAccess SSL offload for IP-HTTPS using F5 BIG-IP – https://directaccess.richardhicks.com/2013/07/10/ssl-offload-for-ip-https-directaccess-traffic-from-windows-7-clients-using-f5-big-ip/

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 book – http://directaccessbook.com/

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication


Introduction

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS PreauthenticationRecently I’ve written about the security challenges with DirectAccess, specifically around the use of the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology. In its default configuration, the DirectAccess server does not authenticate the client when an IP-HTTPS transition tunnel is established. This opens up the possibility of an unauthorized user launching Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks and potentially performing network reconnaissance using ICMPv6. More details on this can be found here.

Mitigation

The best way to mitigate these security risks is to implement an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) such as the F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager or the Citrix NetScaler. I’ve documented how to configure those platforms here and here.

No ADC?

For those organizations that do not have a capable ADC deployed, it is possible to configure the IP-HTTPS listener on the Windows Server 2012 R2 server itself to perform preauthentication.

Important Note: Making the following changes on the DirectAccess server is not formally supported. Also, this change is incompatible with one-time passwords (OTP)  and should not be performed if strong user authentication is enabled. In addition, null cipher suites will be disabled, resulting in reduced scalability and degraded performance for Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients. Making this change should only be done if a suitable ADC is not available.

Configure IP-HTTPS Preauthentication

To configure the DirectAccess server to perform preauthentication for IP-HTTPS connections, open an elevated PowerShell command window and enter the following command.

ls Cert:\LocalMachine\My

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication

Copy the thumbprint that belongs to the SSL certificate assigned to the IP-HTTPS listener. Open an elevated command prompt window (not a PowerShell window!) and enter the following commands.

netsh http delete sslcert ipport=0.0.0.0:443
netsh http add sslcert ipport=0.0.0.0:443 certhash=[thumbprint]
appid={5d8e2743-ef20-4d38-8751-7e400f200e65}
dsmapperusage=enable clientcertnegotiation=enable

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication

For load-balanced clusters and multisite deployments, repeat these steps on each DirectAccess server in the cluster and/or enterprise.

Summary

Once these changes have been made, only DirectAccess clients that have a computer certificate with a subject name that matches the name of its computer account in Active Directory will be allowed to establish an IP-HTTPS transition tunnel connection.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication using F5 BIG-IP

Note: For information about configuring the Citrix NetScaler to perform IP-HTTPS preauthentication, click here. For information about configuring Windows Server 2012 R2 to perform IP-HTTPS preauthentication natively, click here.

Introduction

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication using F5 BIG-IPRecently I wrote about security challenges with DirectAccess and the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology. Specifically, IP-HTTPS transition tunnel connections are not authenticated by the DirectAccess server, only the client. This allows an unauthorized device to obtain an IPv6 address on the DirectAccess client network. With it, an attacker can perform network reconnaissance using ICMPv6 and potentially launch a variety of Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks. For more details, click here.

Note: DirectAccess IPsec data connections not at risk. Data is never exposed at any time with the default configuration.

Mitigation

To mitigate these issues, it is recommended that an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) be used to terminate SSL connections and enforce client certificate authentication. Doing this will ensure that only authorized connections will be accepted by the DirectAccess server. In addition, there are some scalability and performance benefits to implementing this configuration when supporting Windows 7 clients.

Important Considerations

Performing IP-HTTPS preauthentication on the F5 BIG-IP is formally unsupported by Microsoft. In addition, terminating IP-HTTPS on the F5 appliance breaks OTP authentication.

F5 BIG-IP Configuration

To configure the F5 BIG-IP to perform SSL offload for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS, follow the guidance documented here. In addition, to configure the F5 BIG-IP to perform preauthentication for DirectAccess clients, when creating the client SSL profile, click Custom above the Client Authentication section and choose Require from the Client Certificate drop-down list and Always from the Frequency drop-down list. In addition, choose your internal PKI’s root Certification Authority (CA) certificate from the Trusted Certificate Authorities drop-down list and from the Advertised Certificate Authorities drop-down list.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication using F5 BIG-IP

Summary

Enabling client certificate authentication for IP-HTTPS connections ensures that only authorized DirectAccess clients can establish a connection to the DirectAccess server and obtain an IPv6 address. It also prevents an unauthorized user from performing network reconnaissance or launching IPv6 Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication using Citrix NetScaler

Note: For information about configuring the F5 BIG-IP to perform IP-HTTPS preauthentication, click hereFor information about configuring Windows Server 2012 R2 or Windows Server 2016 to perform IP-HTTPS preauthentication natively, click here.

Introduction

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication using Citrix NetScalerIP-HTTPS is an IPv6 transition technology used by DirectAccess. It enables DirectAccess clients to communicate with the DirectAccess server using IPv6 over the public IPv4 Internet by encapsulating IPv6 packets in HTTP and authenticating (and optionally encrypting) them using SSL/TLS. IP-HTTPS is supported for all DirectAccess network deployment configurations and is enabled by default.

When a DirectAccess client connection is established, only the server is authenticated by the client. The client is not authenticated by the server. The DirectAccess server will thus accept IP-HTTPS connections from any client, valid or not.

IP-HTTPS Connection

Once a client has established an IP-HTTPS transition tunnel, it will go through the standard IPv6 neighbor discovery process to identify routers and obtain an IPv6 prefix for the link. It will use this information to build its own IPv6 address, which it uses to communicate with the DirectAccess server and begin establishing IPsec security associations for DirectAccess.

ICMP and IPsec

By design, ICMP is exempt from DirectAccess IPsec policy processing. If an unauthorized client were to establish an IP-HTTPS transition tunnel, even without authentication (Kerberos Proxy or certificate) it would be able to ping the DirectAccess server tunnel endpoint IPv6 addresses, the DNS64 IPv6 address, and any intranet hosts (assuming host firewalls allow this access).

Security Risk

This default posture opens up the DirectAccess server and intranet to unauthorized remote network reconnaissance and some IPv6-related Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks. These were demonstrated by security researcher Ali Hardudi at the recent Troopers16 security conference. You can view his very informative session here.

Note: DirectAccess IPsec data connections are unaffected and are completely secure. Data is never exposed at any time with the default configuration.

IP-HTTPS Preauthentication

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication using Citrix NetScalerTo mitigate these risks, it is recommended that an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) such as the Citrix NetScaler be configured to preauthenticate DirectAccess clients prior to establishing the IP-HTTPS transition tunnel.

Note: To configure the F5 BIG-IP to perform IP-HTTPS preauthentication, click here.

Citrix NetScaler Configuration

To perform DirectAccess preauthentication, it will be necessary to configure the Citrix NetScaler to perform SSL termination for IP-HTTPS. The virtual server on the NetScaler must use the SSL protocol. In addition, a CA certificate must be bound to the virtual server. Also, Client Authentication must be enabled under SSL Parameters and be set to Mandatory.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication using Citrix NetScaler

Once configured, the NetScaler appliance will ensure that the DirectAccess IPsec certificate is present on the client before establishing the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition tunnel. This will prevent unauthorized connections to the DirectAccess server.

Important Considerations

Performing IP-HTTPS preauthentication on the Citrix NetScaler is formally unsupported by Microsoft. In addition, terminating IP-HTTPS on the NetScaler appliance breaks OTP authentication.

Summary

The default security posture of DirectAccess leaves the internal network open to unauthorized network reconnaissance, and exposes the DirectAccess infrastructure to potential denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. To mitigate these security risks, implement the Citrix NetScaler ADC and enable client certificate authentication.

References

Security Assessment of Microsoft DirectAccess [Overview] – https://www.insinuator.net/2016/04/security-assessment-of-microsoft-directaccess/

Security Assessment of Microsoft DirectAccess [Full Document] – https://www.ernw.de/newsfeed/newsletter-53-may-2016-security-assessment-of-microsoft-directaccess/index.html

Security Assessment of Microsoft DirectAccess Troopers16 Presentation by Ali Hardudi [Video] – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wW1x7ow0V9w

Chiron IPv6 Penetration Testing Framework – https://www.insinuator.net/2014/10/chiron-an-all-in-one-ipv6-penetration-testing-framework/

IP-HTTPS specification on MSDN – https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd358571.aspx

Configure F5 BIG-IP to Perform IP-HTTPS Preauthentication – https://directaccess.richardhicks.com/2016/05/23/directaccess-ip-https-preauthentication-using-f5-big-ip/

Configure Windows Server 2012 R2  and Windows Server 2016 to Perform IP-HTTPS Preauthentication – https://directaccess.richardhicks.com/2016/06/13/directaccess-ip-https-preauthentication/

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Introduction

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Windows Server Core is an operating system configuration option that does not include a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Server Core was first introduced with Windows Server 2008 and originally included only a limited number of supported roles. With each subsequent release, Microsoft continues to add support for additional roles on Server Core. Beginning with Windows Server 2012, the Routing and Remote Access (RRAS) role, which includes DirectAccess, is a supported workload on Server Core.

Advantages of Server Core

There are a number of important advantages that come with running DirectAccess on Server Core. Server Core has a greatly reduced attack surface compared to the full GUI version, which is positive from a security perspective. Server Core also features a dramatically reduced footprint, consuming less RAM and disk space. System startup times are faster, and this refactored installation option also reduces servicing requirements (patching), eliminating many reboots and increasing availability and overall system uptime.

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Figure 1 – Windows Server 2012 R2 Core Desktop (Yes, that’s it!)

Server Core Configuration

DirectAccess is a workload that lends itself well to running on Server Core, and I highly recommend leveraging this configuration whenever possible. Based on my experience, I suggest performing initial configuration and testing of the DirectAccess solution with the GUI installed, and then removing the GUI just before placing the DirectAccess server in to production. Removing the GUI can be accomplished by executing the following PowerShell command:

Remove-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra –Restart

Once the server has been converted to Server Core, all administration must be performed at the command line on the server, or remotely from a management server or workstation using the command line or GUI administration tools. You can install the Remote Access Management console on any Windows Server 2012 R2 server using the following PowerShell command:

Install-WindowsFeature RSAT-RemoteAccess

Optionally you can download and install the Windows Server Remote Administrations Tools (RSAT) on a Windows client workstation, if desired.

Minimal Server Interface Configuration

If you prefer to be able to manage the DirectAccess server locally using the GUI, consider enabling the Minimal Server Interface. Minimal Server Interface is a configuration option that lies between Server Core and the full GUI interface. It features some of the benefits of Server Core, while at the same time providing local access to GUI management tools such as the Remote Access Management console. You can configure Minimal Server Interface using the following PowerShell command:

Remove-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Shell -Restart

You can access the Remote Access Management console by entering RaMgmtUI.exe from the command line.

Revert to Full GUI

If at any point in the future you require the GUI for some reason, re-installing it can be accomplished using the following PowerShell command:

Install-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Shell –Restart

Summary

With the Unified Remote Access role supported on Windows Server Core, consider implementing DirectAccess using this option to improve the security and increase the availability of your remote access solution. You’ll find that almost all ongoing server maintenance and support can be accomplished remotely using GUI tools, or locally using PowerShell. And if you ever need the GUI again, you can always add it back if necessary!

DirectAccess Manage Out from Windows 10 Does Not Work

For DirectAccess manage out deployments using ISATAP, you may encounter a scenario in which you are unable to initiate outbound connections to connected DirectAccess clients from a Windows 10 computer. Outbound connections using ISATAP from Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2008/R2, or Windows Server 2012/R2 systems work without issue.

DirectAccess Manage Out from Windows 10 Does Not Work

As it turns out, there is a bug in the Windows 10 DNS client code that prevents manage out using ISATAP from a Windows 10 client from working correctly. Thanks to the diligent effort of DirectAccess administrators Mike Piron and Jason Kuhns, a workaround has been identified. To deploy the workaround, it will be necessary to implement registry changes to alter the default behavior of the DNS resolver in Windows 10. You can implement these changes on a Windows 10 DirectAccess manage out machine by using the following PowerShell commands:

New-ItemProperty -Path “HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Dnscache\Parameters\” -Name DisableParallelAandAAAA -PropertyType dword -Value 1 -Force

New-ItemProperty -Path “HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Dnscache\Parameters\” -Name DisableServerUnreachability -PropertyType dword -Value 1 –Force

Once these registry changes have been made, you should now be able to use ISATAP for DirectAccess manage out connections from a Windows 10 machine.

DirectAccess Client and Server Settings GPOs Deleted

Microsoft Windows Server Active DirectoryFor DirectAccess deployments where domain controllers are running Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2003 R2 using the File Replication Service (FRS) for replication, DirectAccess client and server settings Group Policy Objects (GPOs) may be deleted. If these GPOs are deleted, DirectAccess connectivity will be disrupted. If the GPOs cannot be recovered via backup, it will be necessary to rebuild the entire DirectAccess deployment from scratch.

Microsoft recently updated their DirectAccess Unsupported Configurations documentation to reflect new guidance for DirectAccess deployments where the FRS is used for the distribution of Active Directory GPOs. DirectAccess is no longer supported in environments where FRS is used for SYSVOL replication.

What this means is that if you plan to deploy DirectAccess, domain controllers must be running Windows Server 2008 or later, and Distributed File System Replication (DFS-R) must be used for replication.

More details can be found here.

DirectAccess DNS Records Explained

After installing and configuring DirectAccess with Windows Server 2012 R2, several new host records appear automatically in the internal DNS (assuming dynamic DNS is supported, of course). One of them is directaccess-corpConnectivityHost and the other is directaccess-WebProbeHost. These DirectAccess DNS entries are used by Windows 8 and later clients for connectivity checks at various stages of DirectAccess connection establishment.

DirectAccess DNS Records Explained

Figure 1 – DirectAccess DNS records for IPv4-only network.

DirectAccess DNS Records Explained

Figure 2 – DirectAccess DNS records for dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 network.

Here is a detailed description for each of these DirectAccess DNS entries.

directaccess-corpConnectivityHost – This DNS host record includes both A and AAAA records when deployed on IPv4-only networks. Its A host record resolves to 127.0.0.1, which is the IPv4 loopback address. Its AAAA host record resolves to an IPv6 address that is a combination of the DirectAccess NAT64 IPv6 prefix and 7F00:1 (the hexadecimal equivalent of 127.0.0.1). When DirectAccess is configured on a network with native IPv6, the directaccess-corpConnectivityHost DNS record will only include a single AAAA record resolving to ::1.

This host record is used by the DirectAccess client to determine if name resolution for the corporate namespace is working after the IPv6 transition tunnel (6to4, Teredo, or IP-HTTPS) has been established. It does this by attempting to resolve the hostname directaccess-corpConnectivityHost.<corp_fqdn> (e.g. directaccess-corpConnectivityHost.corp.example.net) to an IPv6 address that it expects (the organization’s NAT64 prefix + 7F00:1 or ::1). If it does not resolve, or resolves to a different address, the client will assume that the transition tunnel was not established successfully and, if possible, fall back to another IPv6 transition protocol and repeat the process until it is successful.

Note: The DirectAccess client does not attempt to connect to the IP address resolved by directaccess-corpConnectivityHost. It simply compares the IP address returned by the query to the expected address (NAT64 prefix + 7F00:1 or ::1).

directaccess-WebProbeHost – This DNS host record includes only A records and resolves to the IPv4 address assigned to the internal network interface of the DirectAccess server. If load balancing is enabled, this host record will resolve to the virtual IP address (VIP) of the array. For multisite deployments there will be directaccess-WebProbeHost A host records for each entry point in the organization.

This host record is used by the DirectAccess client to verify end-to-end corporate network connectivity over the DirectAccess connection. The client will attempt to connect to the directaccess-WebProbeHost URL using HTTP. If successful, the DirectAccess connectivity status indicator will show Connected.

If any of these DirectAccess DNS records are missing or incorrect, a number of issues may arise. If the directaccess-corpConnectivityHost host record is missing or incorrect, DirectAccess IPv6 transition tunnel establishment may fail. If the directaccess-WebProbeHost record is missing or incorrect, the DirectAccess connectivity status indicator will perpetually show Connecting. This commonly occurs when an external load balancer is used and a virtual server isn’t created for the web probe host port (TCP 80). In addition, these DirectAccess DNS entries are not static and may be deleted if DNS scavenging of stale resource records is enabled on the DNS server.

Provisioning DirectAccess Clients using Windows Offline Domain Join

DirectAccess on Microsoft WindowsOne of the many advantages DirectAccess has over traditional client-based VPN is the ease with which DirectAccess clients can be provisioned. DirectAccess does not require any special software to be installed on the client. Everything that DirectAccess needs is included as part of the operating system. This makes onboarding a client for DirectAccess is as simple as adding a computer account to the DirectAccess client security group in Active Directory. That’s it! As soon as the client restarts it will be configured for DirectAccess.

This process works great if the client computer is already joined to the domain and has access to the LAN (either directly connected or via client-based VPN). But what if the client is in a remote location and isn’t yet joined to the domain? Offline Domain Join (ODJ) can help. ODJ is a feature of the Windows operating system introduced with Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 that allows an administrator to join a host to the domain without requiring the host to contact a domain controller. Beginning with Windows 8 and Server 2012, ODJ supports new command-line parameters that allow the administrator to configure the client machine to include DirectAccess certificates and policies.

Note: ODJ will only provision DirectAccess certificates and policies for Windows 8.x and later clients. ODJ with Windows 7 clients is limited to joining the domain only. ODJ cannot provision Windows 7 clients for DirectAccess.

To use ODJ to provision a DirectAccess client, first create a computer account in Active Directory and then add the account to the DirectAccess client security group. Next, open an elevated Command Prompt window on the DirectAccess server and execute the following command.

djoin.exe /provision /machine <client_machine_name>
/domain <domain_name> /policynames
<DirectAccess_client_settings_ GPO_name>
/certtemplate <DirectAccess_certificate_template_name>
/savefile <filename> /reuse

For example:

djoin.exe /provision /machine client5
/domain lab.richardhicks.net
/policynames "DirectAccess Client Settings"
/certtemplate machine
/savefile c:\users\rhicks\desktop\provision.txt /reuse

Provisioning DirectAccess Clients using Windows Offline Domain Join

On the DirectAccess client, copy the ODJ provisioning file locally. Open an elevated Command Prompt window and execute the following command.

djoin.exe /requestodj /loadfile <filename>
/windowspath <Windows_directory> /localos

For example:

djoin.exe /requestodj /loadfile c:\users\setup\provision.txt
/windowspath C:\Windows /localos

Provisioning DirectAccess Clients using Windows Offline Domain Join

After a restart, the client will be joined to the domain and now be able to establish a DirectAccess connection to the corporate network. Users can now log on with their domain credentials.

DirectAccess and the Free Kemp Technologies LoadMaster

Kemp Technologies Load BalancersBeginning with Windows Server 2012, DirectAccess includes native support for external load balancers. Where high availability is required (which is most deployments!) the use of an external load balancer (physical or virtual) has many advantages over Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB).

While NLB is easy to configure, it is not without serious drawbacks. NLB relies on network broadcasts, which limits its effectiveness in some environments. In addition, NLB supports only a single load distribution mode, which is round robin. NLB also lacks a convenient monitoring interface.

A dedicated load balancing solution provides more robust load balancing and better, more granular traffic control than NLB. Along with this greater control comes increased traffic visibility, with most solutions providing details and insight in to node health, status, and performance. Many solutions also offer Global Server Load Balancing (GSLB) support, which enhances geographic redundancy and offers improvements when performing automatic site selection in multisite deployments.

Often the barrier to adoption for a dedicated external load balancer is cost. Many of the leading solutions are incredibly powerful and feature-rich, but come with a substantial price tag. The Kemp Technologies LoadMaster Load Balancers solution is an excellent, cost-effective alternative and works quite well providing load balancing support for DirectAccess. And to make things even more interesting, they recently announced a completely FREE version of their commercial load balancing product.

The Free Kemp Technologies LoadMaster Load Balancer is fully functional and supported for use in production environments. It provides full layer 4-7 support and includes reverse proxy, edge security, web application firewall (WAF) functionality, and GSLB. It can be installed on most major virtualization platforms including Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware, and more. The free LoadMaster is also available in Kemp Technologies LoadMaster Load Balancer on the Microsoft Azure Public Cloud Platform, as well as the VMware and Amazon public cloud platforms.

The free LoadMaster does have some restrictions, however. For example, you cannot create high availability clusters of LoadMasters. Also, the free LoadMaster is limited in terms of network throughput (20Mbps) and SSL/TLS transaction per second (50, using 2048 bit keys). There is also a limit on the number of virtual servers you can create (1000). The free LoadMaster must also have access to the Internet as it must be able to call home to validate its license every 30 days. You can find a complete model comparison matrix between the free and commercial Kemp LoadMasters Kemp LoadMaster Comparison Chart.

As the free version of the Kemp LoadMaster does not support clustering, technically you still have a single point of failure. However, it can still deliver a net improvement in stability and uptime, as the LoadMaster is a purpose-built platform that requires much less servicing and maintenance than a typical Windows server.

DirectAccess Deployment Guide for Kemp LoadMaster Load BalancersFor detailed information about configuring the Kemp LoadMaster to provide load balancing services for DirectAccess, be sure to download the DirectAccess Deployment Guide for Kemp LoadMaster Load Balancers. And if you end up liking the free Kemp LoadMaster load balancer (and I’m confident you will!) you can always upgrade to the full commercial release at any time.

For more information about the free Kemp LoadMaster load balancer, click Free Kemp LoadMaster Load Balancer.

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