Always On VPN SSTP with Let’s Encrypt Certificates

Always On VPN SSTP Security Configuration

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

Let’s Encrypt

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

Pros and Cons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Certificate Enrollment

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

PowerShell Module

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

Install-Module Posh-ACME

Certificate Request

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

Set-PAServer LE_PROD

Next, request a new certificate using the following command.

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

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

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

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

DNS Plugin

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

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

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

Certificate Binding

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

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

Additional Information

Posh-ACME Tutorial

Windows 10 Always On VPN TLS Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSTP Security Configuration

Always On VPN Book Available for Pre-Order

Great news! My new book, Implementing Always On VPN, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com. This new book, scheduled for release in late 2021, is a comprehensive implementation guide for Windows 10 Always On VPN. Drawing on many years of experience deploying Always On VPN for organizations worldwide, it covers all aspects of an Always On VPN deployment, including planning and design, prerequisite gathering, infrastructure preparation, and client deployment.

In addition, it contains detailed, prescriptive guidance for advanced configuration options such as application and traffic filtering and proxy server configuration. Cloud deployments using Azure VPN gateway and Virtual WAN are covered, and it includes guidance for configuring Azure MFA and Conditional Access.

Also, the book includes thorough guidance for provisioning certificates using Microsoft Endpoint Manager/Intune using both PKCS and SCEP. It outlines options for high availability for VPN and authentication infrastructure and provides details for ongoing system maintenance and operational support.

Finally, the book has an entire chapter dedicated to troubleshooting and resolving common (and not so common!) issues encountered with Windows 10 Always On VPN.

Reserve your copy today. Pre-order Implementing Always On VPN now!

Chapter List

  1. Always On VPN Overview
  2. Plan an Always On VPN Deployment
  3. Prepare the Infrastructure
  4. Configure Windows Server for Always On VPN
  5. Provision Always On VPN clients
  6. Advanced Configuration
  7. Cloud Deployments
  8. Deploy Certificates with Intune
  9. Integrating Azure MFA
  10. High Availability
  11. Monitor and Report
  12. Troubleshooting

Troubleshooting Always On VPN Error 853

Troubleshooting Always On VPN Error 691 and 812 – Part 2

Using Windows Server Network Policy Server (NPS) servers is a common choice for authenticating Microsoft Windows 10 Always On VPN user tunnel connections. The NPS server is joined to the domain and configured with a Network Policy that defines the authentication scheme used by clients for authentication when establishing an Always On VPN connection. Protected Extensible Authentication Protocol (PEAP) using client authentication certificates recommended for most Always On VPN deployment scenarios.

Can’t Connect

Users establishing an Always On VPN user tunnel connection using PEAP and client authentication certificates may encounter a scenario in which a VPN connection attempt fails with the following error message.

“The remote access connection completed, but authentication failed because the certificate that authenticates the client to the server is not valid. Ensure that the certificate used for authentication is valid.”

Error 853

In addition, the Application event log records an event ID 20227 from the RasClient source that includes the following error message.

“The user <username> dialed a connection named <connection name> which has failed. The error code is 853.”

Missing NTAuth Certificate

Error code 853 is commonly caused by a missing issuing Certification Authority (CA) certificate in the NTAuth store on the NPS server. The NPS server must have the issuing CA certificate included in this store to perform authentication using client certificates. You can see the contents of the NTAuth certificate store by opening an elevated command window on the NPS server and running the following command.

certutil.exe -enterprise -viewstore NTAuth

Install Certificate

To install the issuing CA server’s certificate into the NTAuth store, copy the CA certificate to the NPS server, open an elevated command window, then run the following command.

certutil.exe -enterprise -addstore NTAuth <issuing CA certificate>

Once complete, view the store again, and you’ll see the issuing CA certificate listed in the NTAuth certificate store.

Additional Information

Troubleshooting Always On VPN Error Code 858

Troubleshooting Always On VPN Error Code 864

Always On VPN and Windows Server 2019 NPS Bug

Always On VPN Network Policy Server (NPS) Load Balancing

Microsoft Network Policy Server (NPS) Reason Codes

Always On VPN SSTP Security Configuration

Always On VPN SSTP Security Configuration

When using Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) to terminate Always On VPN client connections, administrators can leverage the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) VPN protocol for client-based VPN connections. SSTP is a Microsoft proprietary VPN protocol that uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) to secure connections between the client and the VPN gateway. SSTP provides some crucial advantages over IKEv2 in terms of operational reliability. It uses the TCP port 443, the standard HTTPS port, which is universally available and ensures Always On VPN connectivity even behind highly restrictive firewalls.

TLS Certificate

When configuring SSTP, the first thing to consider is the certificate installed on the server. A certificate with an RSA key is most common, but for SSTP, provisioning a certificate with an ECDSA key is recommended for optimal security and performance. See the following two articles regarding SSTP certificate requirements and ECDSA Certificate Signing Request (CSR) creation.

Always On VPN SSL Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Always On VPN ECDSA SSL Certificate Request for SSTP

TLS Configuration

Much like IKEv2, the default TLS security settings for SSTP are less than optimal. However, SSTP can provide excellent security with some additional configuration.

TLS Protocols

There are several deprecated TLS protocols enabled by default in Windows Server. These include SSLv3.0, TLS 1.0, and TLS 1.1. They should be disabled to improve security for TLS. To do this, open an elevated PowerShell window on the VPN server and run the following commands.

New-Item -Path ‘HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SecurityProviders\SCHANNEL\Protocols\SSL 3.0\Server\’ -Force

New-ItemProperty -Path ‘HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SecurityProviders\SCHANNEL\Protocols\SSL 3.0\Server\’ -Name Enabled -PropertyType DWORD -Value ‘0’

New-Item -Path ‘HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SecurityProviders\SCHANNEL\Protocols\TLS 1.0\Server\’ -Force

New-ItemProperty -Path ‘HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SecurityProviders\SCHANNEL\Protocols\TLS 1.0\Server\’ -Name Enabled -PropertyType DWORD -Value ‘0’

New-Item -Path ‘HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SecurityProviders\SCHANNEL\Protocols\TLS 1.1\Server\’ -Force

New-ItemProperty -Path ‘HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SecurityProviders\SCHANNEL\Protocols\TLS 1.1\Server\’ -Name Enabled -PropertyType DWORD -Value ‘0’

Cipher Suites

Many weak TLS cipher suites and enabled by default in Windows Server. To further enhance security and performance, they can be optimized using a tool such as IIS Crypto. For example, consider prioritizing cipher suites that use ECDHE and GCM with ECDSA to improve security. Also, remove ciphers that use AES-256 to enhance scalability and performance.

Note: AES-256 does not provide any additional practical security over AES-128. Details here.

PowerShell Script

I have published a PowerShell script on GitHub that performs security hardening and TLS cipher suite optimization to streamline the configuration TLS on Windows Server RRAS servers. You can download the script here.

Validation Testing

After running the script and restarting the server, visit the SSL Labs Server Test site to validate the configuration. You should receive an “A” rating, as shown here.

Note: An “A” rating is not achievable on Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2 when using an RSA TLS certificate. A TLS certificate using ECDSA is required to receive an “A” rating on these platforms.

Additional Information

Always On VPN SSL/TLS Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Always On VPN ECDSA SSL Certificate Request for SSTP

Qualys SSL Labs Server Test Site

Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server RRAS

Microsoft SSTP Specification on MSDN

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