Always On VPN Updates to Improve Connection Reliability

Always On VPN Updates to Improve Connection ReliabilityA longstanding issue with Windows 10 Always On VPN is that of VPN tunnel connectivity reliability and device tunnel/user tunnel interoperability. Many administrators have reported that Always On VPN connections fail to establish automatically at times, that only one tunnel comes up at a time (user tunnel or device tunnel, but not both), or that VPN tunnels fail to establish when coming out of sleep or hibernate modes. Have a look at the comments on this post and you’ll get a good understanding of the issues with Always On VPN.

Recent Updates

The good news is that most of these issues have been resolved with recent updates to Windows 10 1803 and 1809. Specifically, the February 19, 2019 update for Windows 10 1803 (KB4487029) and the March 1, 2019 update for Windows 10 1809 (KB4482887) include fixes to address these known issues. Administrators are encouraged to deploy Windows 10 1803 with the latest updates applied when implementing Always On VPN. Windows 10 1809 with the latest updates applied is preferred though.

Persistent Issues

Although initial reports are favorable for these updates and based on my experience the effectiveness and reliability of Windows 10 Always On VPN is greatly improved, there have still been some reports of intermittent VPN tunnel establishment failures.

Possible Causes

During my testing, after applying the updates referenced earlier both device tunnel and user tunnel connections are established much more consistently than before the updates were applied. I did encounter some issues, however. Specifically, when coming out of sleep or hibernate, VPN connections would fail to establish. Occasionally VPN connections would fail after a complete restart.

NCSI

After further investigation it was determined that the connectivity failure was caused by the Network Connectivity Status Indicator (NCSI) probe failing, causing Windows to report “No Internet access”.

Always On VPN Updates to Improve Connection Reliability

Cisco Umbrella Roaming Client

In this instance the NCSI probe failure was caused by the Cisco Umbrella Roaming Client installed and running on the device. The Umbrella Roaming Client is security software that provides client protection by monitoring and filtering DNS queries. It operates by configuring a DNS listener on the loopback address. NCSI probes are known to fail when the DNS server is running on a different interface than is being tested.

Resolution

Microsoft released a fix for this issue in Windows 10 1709. The fix involves changing a group policy setting to disable interface binding when perform DNS lookups by the NCSI. You can enable this setting via Active Directory group policy by navigating to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Network > Network Connectivity Status Indicator > Specify global DNS. Select Enabled and check the option to Use global DNS, as shown here.

Always On VPN Updates to Improve Connection Reliability

For testing purposes this setting can be enabled individual using the following PowerShell command.

New-ItemProperty -Path “HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\NetworkConnectivityStatusIndicator\” -Name UseGlobalDNS -PropertyType DWORD -Value 1 -Force

Third-Party Software

As Always On VPN connectivity can be affected by NCSI, any third-party firewall or antivirus/antimalware solution could potentially introduce VPN connection instability. Observe NCSI operation closely when troubleshooting unreliable connections with Always On VPN.

Additional Information

Windows 10 1803 Update KB4487029

Windows 10 1809 Update KB4482887

Cisco Umbrella Roaming Client Limited Network Connectivity Warning

Network Connectivity Status Indicator (NCSI) Operation Explained

Always On VPN IKEv2 Features and Limitations

Always On VPN IKEv2 Features and LimitationsThe Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) VPN protocol is a popular choice for Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments. IKEv2 is a standards-based IPsec VPN protocol with customizable security parameters that allows administrators to provide the highest level of protection for remote clients. In addition, it provides important interoperability with a variety of VPN devices, including Microsoft Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) and non-Microsoft platforms such as Cisco, Checkpoint, Palo Alto, and others.

IKEv2 Limitations

IKEv2 is clearly the protocol of choice in terms of security. It supports modern cryptography and is highly resistant to interception. It’s not without some operational challenges, however. Consider the following.

Firewalls

IKEv2 uses UDP ports 500 and 4500 for communication. Unfortunately, these ports are not always open. Often, they are blocked by network administrators to prevent users from bypassing security controls or attackers from exfiltrating data.

Fragmentation

IKEv2 packets can become quite large at times, especially when using client certificate authentication with the Protected Extensible Authentication Protocol (PEAP). This can result in fragmentation occurring at the network layer. Unfortunately, many firewalls and network devices are configured to block IP fragments by default. This can result in failed connection attempts from some locations but not others.

Load Balancing

Load balancing IKEv2 connections is not entirely straightforward. Without special configuration, load balancers can cause intermittent connectivity issues for Always On VPN connections. Guidance for configuring IKEv2 load balancing on the Kemp LoadMaster and the F5 BIG-IP can be found here:

IKEv2 Fragmentation

IKEv2 fragmentation can be enabled to avoid IP fragmentation and restore reliable connectivity. IKEv2 fragmentation is supported in Windows 10 and Windows Server beginning with v1803. Guidance for enabling IKEv2 fragmentation on Windows Server RRAS can be found here. Support for IKEv2 fragmentation on non-Microsoft firewall/VPN devices is vendor-specific. Consult with your device manufacturer for more information.

IKEv2 Security and RRAS

Be advised that the default security settings for IKEv2 on Windows Server RRAS are very poor. The minimum recommended security settings and guidelines for implementing them can be found here.

IKEv2 or TLS?

IKEv2 is recommend for deployments where the highest level of security and protection is required for remote connections. In these scenarios, the sacrifice of ubiquitous availability in favor of ultimate security might be desired.

SSTP or another TLS-based VPN protocol is recommended if reliable operation and connectivity are desired. SSTP and TLS VPNs can be configured to provide very good security by following the security and implementation guidelines found here.

IKEv2 with TLS Fallback

In theory, preferring IKEv2 and falling back to the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) or another TLS-based VPN protocol when IKEv2 is unavailable would seem like a logical choice. This would ensure the highest level of protection, while still providing reliable connectivity. Unfortunately, the Windows VPN client doesn’t work this way in practice. Details here.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with F5 BIG-IP

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with Kemp LoadMaster

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Fragmentation

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 and SSTP Fallback

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Windows 10 Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for IKEv2

Windows 10 Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server RRAS

Always On VPN and Third Party VPN Devices

Always On VPN and Third Party VPN DevicesOne of the most important advantages Windows 10 Always On VPN has over DirectAccess is infrastructure independence. That is, Always On VPN does not rely exclusively on a Windows Server infrastructure to support Always On VPN connections. Always On VPN will work with many third-party firewalls and VPN devices, as long as they meet some basic requirements.

Advantages

Third-party firewalls or VPN devices offer some important advantages over Windows Servers running the Routing and Remote Access Services (RRAS), both in terms of security and performance.

Security

Dedicated security devices (physical or virtual) provide better security than a common Windows server. They commonly run specialized, security-hardened operating systems that are highly secure and resistant to attack. In addition, these solutions typically allow the administrator to define policy to restrict access to internal resources and do so in a centralized way. This is often easier to implement and manage than using traffic filters on the client side. They often include advanced security features such as URL filtering and malware inspection to better protect remote clients. Some solutions include Hardware Security Module (HSM) integration to further enhance security.

Performance

Purpose-built solutions often provide better throughput and performance than do Windows Servers by virtue of their proprietary operating systems. This allows for better network throughput and the ability to support many more connections per device.

Disadvantages

The main drawbacks for using a third-party device are cost and administrative overhead. Third-party solutions must be acquired, for which there is typically a non-trivial cost associated. They often need additional per-user licensing. In addition, many of these solutions require specialized skill sets to implement, manage, and support which could further increase the overall cost of the solution.

Interoperability Requirements

Any firewall or VPN device can be used for Always On VPN as long as they support the Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) VPN protocol for remote access connections. Most modern firewalls today support IKEv2, but some (such as the Sophos XG firewall) do not. Check with your vendor to validate support.

Native Client

If the firewall or VPN device supports IKEv2 for remote access connections, the native Windows VPN provider can be used to establish an Always On VPN connection. The native provider is used when the Always On VPN ProfileXML is configured using the NativeProfile element.

Plug-In VPN Client

One crucial drawback to using IKEv2 is that it is commonly blocked by firewalls. Many third-party VPN vendors offer a plug-in client that enables support for TLS-based transport, which is more firewall friendly than IKEv2. Plug-in VPN providers are available in the Microsoft store.

Below is a current list of available third-party VPN plug-in providers for Windows 10. (Updated April 5 to now include Cisco AnyConnect!)

  • Check Point Capsule
  • Cisco AnyConnect
  • F5 Access
  • Fortinet Forticlient
  • Palo Alto GlobalProtect
  • Pulse Secure
  • SonicWall Mobile Connect

Always On VPN and Third-Party VPN Devices

Note: Win32 VPN client applications from third-party vendors are not supported with Windows 10 Always On VPN.

Additional Information

What is the Difference Between DirectAccess and Always On VPN?

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know about Always On VPN

3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess

3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess

3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess Windows 10 Always On VPN hands-on training classes now forming. Details here.

Windows 10 Always On VPN provides seamless and transparent, always on remote network access similar to DirectAccess. The mechanics of how it is delivered and managed are fundamentally different, as I discussed here. Some of these changes will no doubt present challenges to our way of thinking, especially in the terms of client provisioning. However, Always On VPN brings along with it some important and significant advantages too.

No More NLS

A Network Location Server (NLS) is used for inside/outside detection by DirectAccess clients. By design, the NLS is reachable by DirectAccess machines only when they are on the internal network. NLS availability is crucial. If the NLS is offline or unreachable for any reason at all, DirectAccess clients on the internal network will mistakenly believe they are outside the network. In this scenario, the client will attempt to establish a DirectAccess connection even though it is inside. This often fails, leaving the DirectAccess client in a state where it cannot connect to any internal resources by name until the NLS is brought back online.

Always On VPN eliminates the frailty of NLS by using the DNS connection suffix for trusted network detection. When a network connection is established, an Always On VPN connection will not be established if the DNS connection suffix matches what the administrator has defined as the internal trusted network.

Full Support for IPv4

DirectAccess uses IPv6 exclusively for communication between remote DirectAccess clients and the DirectAccess server. IPv6 translation technologies allow for communication to internal IPv4 hosts. While this works for the vast majority of scenarios, there are still many challenges with applications that do not support IPv6.

Always On VPN supports both IPv4 and IPv6, so application incompatibility issues will be a thing of the past! With full support for IPv4, the need for IPv6 transition and translation technologies is eliminated. This reduces protocol overhead and improves network performance.

Infrastructure Independent

3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess Windows servers are required to implement DirectAccess. Always On VPN can be implemented using Windows servers as well, but it isn’t a hard requirement. Always On VPN is implemented entirely on the Windows 10 client, which means any third-party VPN device can be used on the back end, including Cisco, Checkpoint, Juniper, Palo Alto, Fortinet, SonicWALL, F5, strongSwan, and others! This provides tremendous deployment flexibility, making it possible to mix and match backend infrastructure if required. For example, a Windows RRAS VPN server with Palo Alto and SonicWALL firewalls could all be implemented at the same time (using the Windows built-in VPN client). Importantly, making changes to VPN infrastructure is much less impactful and disruptive to clients in the field. VPN devices can be upgraded, replaced, and moved internally without requiring corresponding policy changes on the client.

Additional Information

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess 

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know about Always On VPN 

Contact Me

Have questions about Windows 10 Always On VPN? Interested in learning more about this new solution? Fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you.

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