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 Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

Introduction

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic ManagerTo provide geographic redundancy, DirectAccess can be deployed in a multisite configuration. In this scenario, Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients are aware of all entry points in the enterprise and will automatically select the nearest available entry point to connect to. The nearest entry point is defined as the one that responds the quickest. When a Windows 8.x or Windows 10 client attempts to establish DirectAccess connectivity, an HTTP GET is sent to all entry points and the client will select the one with the shortest Round Trip Time (RTT) for the request.

Note: Windows 7 clients can be provisioned when DirectAccess is configured for multisite access, but they must be assigned to an individual entry point.

Challenges

There are a number of challenges that come with the default multisite configuration. Choosing an entry point based solely on network latency is rather simplistic and can often produce unexpected results. It also lacks support for granular traffic distribution or active/passive configuration.

GSLB

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic ManagerFor the best experience, DirectAccess can be configured to use a Global Server Load Balancing (GSLB) solution to enhance transparent site selection and failover for Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients. Commonly this is implemented using an on-premises appliance (Citrix NetScaler, F5 Global Traffic Manager, Kemp LoadMaster, A10 Thunder, etc.). These solutions offer exceptional control over DirectAccess traffic distribution, but they add expense and complexity.

Azure Traffic Manager

Azure Traffic Manager is a cloud-based GSLB solution that is a simple and cost-effective alternative to dedicated on-premises appliances. While it does not offer all of the features that GSLB appliances provide, it does provide better traffic distribution options than the default configuration. Importantly, it enables active/passive failover, which is a common requirement not supported natively with DirectAccess.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

Traffic Manager Configuration

In the Azure portal (the new one, not the old one!) click New, Networking, and then Traffic Manager profile.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

Provide a name and select a Routing method.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

Routing method options are Performance, Weighted and Priority.

  • Performance. Select this option to enable clients to connect to the entry point with the lowest network latency.
  • Weighted. Select this option to enable clients to prefer some entry points more than others. Assign a weight value of 1 to 1000 for each entry point. Higher values have more preference. Values for entry points can be the same, if desired.
  • Priority. Select this option to enable clients to connect to a primary entry point, then fail over to a secondary or tertiary entry point in the event of an outage. Assign a priority value of 1 to 1000 for each entry point. Lower values take precedence. Each entry point must be assigned a unique priority value.

Click Create when finished. Next click Settings for the new traffic manager profile and click Configuration. Change Protocol to HTTPS, Port to 443, and Path to /IPHTTPS. Click Save when finished.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

Next click Endpoints and click Add. Select External endpoint from the drop down list, provide a descriptive name, and then enter the Fully-Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) of the first DirectAccess entry point. When using the Performance routing method, choose a location that best represents the geography where the DirectAccess entry point is located. When using the Weighted or Priority routing methods, specify an appropriate value accordingly. Click Ok when finished. Repeat these steps for each entry point in the organization.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

DirectAccess Configuration

In the Remote Access Management console, highlight DirectAccess and VPN below Configuration in the navigation tree and then click Configure Multisite Settings below Multisite Deployment in the Tasks pane. Click Global Load Balancing and choose Yes, use global load balancing. Enter the FQDN of the Azure Traffic Manager profile and click Next, and then click Commit.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

Note: An SSL certificate with a subject name matching that of the GSLB FQDN is not required.

In some cases, the management console may report that global load balancing addresses cannot be identified automatically for some or all entry points.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

If this occurs, it will be necessary to run the Set-DAEntryPoint PowerShell cmdlet to assign GLSB IP addresses to each entry point. The GSLB IP address is the public IPv4 address that the entry point public hostname resolves to.

Set-DAEntryPoint -Name [entrypoint_name] -GslbIP [external_ip_address]

For example:

Set-DAEntryPoint -Name "US West" -GslbIP 203.0.113.195
Set-DAEntryPoint -Name "US East" -GslbIP 198.51.100.21

Summary

DirectAccess includes native functionality to enable geographic load balancing for Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients. The site selection process used by DirectAccess clients in this scenario is basic, and has the potential to yield unexpected results. Azure Traffic Manager is a simple, cost-effective alternative to dedicated on-premises GSLB appliances. It can be integrated with DirectAccess to address some of the shortcomings with the native entry point selection process.

Additional Resources

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Introduction

For a DirectAccess deployment, the Network Location Server (NLS) is an infrastructure component that allows DirectAccess clients to determine if they are inside or outside of the corporate network. If the DirectAccess client can successfully connect to the NLS, it is on the internal network and DirectAccess is not used. If the NLS cannot be contacted, the client is outside of the network and will attempt to establish remote corporate network connectivity using DirectAccess.

High Availability

It is recommended that the NLS be made highly available by deploying at least two servers in a load balanced configuration to avoid potential service disruptions for DirectAccess clients inside the corporate network. While this approach is sufficient for networks that are contained in a single physical location, it does present some challenges for large organizations with internal networks that span multiple physical locations.

NLS Challenges

For DirectAccess, only a single NLS URL can be configured per DirectAccess deployment, as shown here.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

If a WAN outage occurs on an internal network that spans multiple physical locations, internal DirectAccess clients in locations other than where the NLS resides will mistakenly believe they are outside of the corporate network. This can lead to degraded performance and potential loss of connectivity. NLS reliability can still be improved when the internal network spans multiple physical locations by deploying NLS at each physical location and configuring clients to use a local NLS. This will keep traffic off of the WAN and prevent service disruptions in the event of a WAN outage.

Redundant NLS

There are several strategies that can be used to configure internal DirectAccess clients to use a local NLS, including DNS round robin, a network load balancer, or Active Directory Group Policy. Using DNS or a load balancer requires only a single NLS URL. Using Active Directory Group Policy requires a unique NLS URL per physical location.

DNS

The simplest way to enable DirectAccess clients to use a local NLS is to use DNS round robin and take advantage of subnet prioritization. To do this, create an “A” resource record in DNS that resolves to the IPv4 address for each NLS. On the DNS server, open the DNS Manager, right-click the DNS server and choose Properties. Click the Advanced tab and select the options to Enable round robin and Enable netmask ordering.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

This will ensure that name resolution requests for the NLS FQDN will be returned with the nearest NLS. More information about DNS netmask ordering can be found here.

Load Balancer

A Global Server Load Balancing (GSLB) solution can also be employed to route requests to a local NLS. Examples include F5 Global Traffic Manager (GTM) and Kemp Technologies LoadMaster GEO. Prescriptive guidance for configuring the Kemp LoadMaster for this scenario can be found here.

Group Policy

This method involves creating unique NLS URLs per site and overriding the default DirectAccess client configuration using Active Directory Group Policy. Separate Group Policy Objects (GPOs) are created and linked to Active Directory Sites to assign a local NLS to internal DirectAccess clients. To accomplish this, create a new GPO for each location where NLS will reside. Edit the GPO and navigate to Computer Configuration/Policies/Administrative Templates/Network/Network Connectivity Status Indicator. Double-click Specify domain location determination URL, choose Enabled, and then enter the URL that corresponds to the NLS for that location.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

In the Remote Access Management Console, edit the Infrastructure Server Setup (Step 3) and add the FQDN for each NLS. Do not specify a DNS server. This effectively creates a Name Resolution Policy Table (NRPT) exemption so the NLS cannot be reached when the DirectAccess client is connected remotely.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

In the Group Policy Management Console right-click on Sites and choose Show Sites.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Select each Active Directory site where NLS will reside.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Link the GPOs for each NLS to the corresponding site, then right-click the linked GPO and choose Enforced.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Note: Do not install the NLS on a domain controller! By design, the NLS is not reachable remotely by DirectAccess clients. This can lead to potential authentication issues and may prevent DirectAccess clients from connecting successfully.

Client Testing

To confirm that a client computer has been configured to use a local NLS, verify the currently associated Active Directory site by issuing the following command on the DirectAccess client computer:

nltest /dsgetsite

Next, confirm the setting of the NLS by issuing the following command:

Get-NCSIPolicyConfiguration

As a reference, here are examples from two DirectAccess clients in two different internal physical locations:

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Summary

The limitation of a single Network Location Server (NLS) URL for a DirectAccess deployment presents some challenges for DirectAccess architects seeking to eliminate single points of failure in their design. Using the techniques described in this article, administrators can ensure that DirectAccess clients will always connect to a local NLS, eliminating potential failure points and improving the overall reliability of the solution.

Configure F5 BIG-IP for DirectAccess NLS

Recently I wrote about the Network Location Server (NLS) and its importance for DirectAccess deployments. As I described previously, the NLS is nothing more than a web server with an SSL certificate installed. It should also be made highly available to prevent potential service disruption caused by planned or unplanned NLS server downtime. Any web server can serve as the NLS. In addition, if you have the F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) in your environment, you can easily configure the LTM to serve as the NLS.

To accomplish this, import the SSL certificate for the NLS and create an SSL client profile using its certificate and private key. Next, create a new iRule that contains the following code.

when HTTP_REQUEST {
HTTP::respond 200 
}

Configure F5 BGIP for DirectAccess NLS

Finally, create a new virtual server listening on TCP port 443 and assign this iRule as a resource for the virtual server. Once NLS reachability has been verified, update the DirectAccess configuration using the Remote Access Management console or the Set-DANetworkLocationServer PowerShell cmdlet.

DirectAccess Network Location Server Guidance

Introduction

The Network Location Server (NLS) is a critical component in a DirectAccess deployment. The NLS is used by DirectAccess clients to determine if they are inside or outside of the corporate network. If a DirectAccess client can connect to the NLS, it must be inside the corporate network. If it cannot, it must be outside of the corporate network. It is for this reason that the NLS must not be reachable from the public Internet. A client configured for DirectAccess will probe the NLS when it first starts, and on subsequent network interface status changes.

What is the NLS?

The NLS itself is nothing more than a web server with an SSL certificate installed. Beginning with Windows Server 2012, the NLS can be collocated on the DirectAccess server itself. Although there may be scenarios in which this is acceptable, it is generally recommended that NLS be configured on a server dedicated to this role.

NLS Configuration

Any web server can be used, including IIS, Apache, Nginx, Lighttpd, and others. You can also use an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) like the F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM), as described here. The web server must have a valid SSL certificate installed that includes a subject name that matches the NLS FQDN (e.g. nls.corp.example.com). The DNS record for the NLS must configured using an A host record. A CNAME DNS entry will not work. In addition, the NLS must also respond to ICMP echo requests.

DirectAccess Network Location Server Guidance

DirectAccess Network Location Server Guidance

The certificate can be issued by an internal PKI or a public third-party Certificate Authority (CA). A self-signed certificate can be used if the certificate is distributed to all DirectAccess clients and servers, but this is not advisable. To avoid possible service disruptions, the NLS should be made highly available by deploying at least two NLS in a load balanced configuration.

What Happens if the NLS is Offline?

If the NLS is offline for any reason, remote DirectAccess clients will be unaffected. However, DirectAccess clients on the internal network will mistakenly believe they are outside of the corporate network and attempt to establish a DirectAccess connection. If the DirectAccess server is not accessible from the internal network, the client will be unable to connect to any local network resources by name until the NLS is brought online or other actions are taken.

Collocation Issues

As mentioned previously, it is possible in some scenarios to collocate the NLS on the DirectAccess server. This is probably acceptable for proof-of-concept deployments, but any production deployment should have the NLS configured on a server dedicated to this role. If the NLS is located on the DirectAccess server and the server is offline for any reason, DirectAccess clients on the internal network will be unable to access local resources by name until the DirectAccess server is back online.

Don’t Use Existing Web Application Servers

Occasionally I will encounter a scenario in which an administrator who wants to avoid implementing additional infrastructure will use an existing internal web application server for the NLS, such as a SharePoint server. Although this will work, it quickly becomes an issue when remote DirectAccess clients need to access the server. Since the NLS is not resolvable or reachable externally, connectivity will fail, preventing DirectAccess clients from reaching the internal application.

Summary

The NLS is a vitally important piece of the DirectAccess architecture. DirectAccess clients use the NLS to determine their location, and if the service is unavailable for any reason (planned or unplanned) internal DirectAccess clients will be negatively affected. The NLS isn’t necessarily complicated, as it is nothing more than a web server with an SSL certificate installed. However, don’t overlook the importance of this service, and make sure it is highly available to avoid any potential network connectivity issues.

DirectAccess Clients in Connecting State when using External Load Balancer

After configuring a Windows Server 2012/R2 DirectAccess server to use an external load balancer, the network connectivity status indicator on the DirectAccess client may perpetually indicate a connecting state.

DirectAccess Clients in Connecting State when using External Load Balancer

In addition, the Get-DAConnectionStatus PowerShell cmdlet returns the following error:

Status : Error
Substatus : RemoteNetworkAuthenticationFailure

DirectAccess Clients in Connecting State when using External Load Balancer

In spite of what the network connectivity status indicator reports, DirectAccess clients are connected and can successfully connect to corporate network resources via DirectAccess.

DirectAccess Clients in Connecting State when using External Load Balancer

To verify that resources on the corporate network are reachable after the DirectAccess session is established, a DirectAccess client makes an HTTP request to the host directaccess-WebProbeHost. This hostname resolves to the IPv4 address assigned to the internal network interface of the DirectAccess server. However, when an external load balancer is configured, the original dedicated IP address (DIP) of the first DirectAccess server becomes the new virtual IP address (VIP) of the cluster, which now resides on the load balancer. After configuring an external load balancer, the DNS record for directaccess-WebProbeHost now resolves to the virtual IP address (VIP) of the cluster, and if this VIP isn’t configured to deliver HTTP requests to the DirectAccess servers, the client-side connectivity check fails.

DirectAccess Clients in Connecting State when using External Load Balancer

To resolve this issue it is necessary to also create a virtual server on the load balancer with the internal IPv4 address that directaccess-WebProbeHost resolves to. The service port should be configured for HTTP (TCP port 80) and can use the same pool used by the external virtual server.

DirectAccess Clients in Connecting State when using External Load Balancer

Once this virtual server is configured, the network connectivity status indicator for DirectAccess will now accurately reflect that it is connected via DirectAccess.

DirectAccess Clients in Connecting State when using External Load Balancer

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Encryption and SSTP VPN

An important scalability improvement introduced in Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess is the support for null encryption for Windows 8.x DirectAccess clients using the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition protocol. Using null encryption eliminates the overhead imposed by the needless encryption of DirectAccess IPsec communication, which itself is already encrypted. This double encryption significantly increases resource consumption on both the client and server, and can have a negative impact on scalability and performance. When a Windows 8.x client establishes an IP-HTTPS connection to a Windows Server 2012 or 2012 R2 DirectAccess server, it will negotiate only cipher suites that use null encryption. Windows 7 clients cannot take advantage of null encryption and continue to use encrypted cipher suites.

Note: It is possible to replicate some of the benefits of null encryption for Windows 7 clients using an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) such as the F5 Networks Local Traffic manager (LTM) to perform SSL offloading. See SSL Offload for IP-HTTPS DirectAccess Traffic from Windows 7 Clients using F5 BIG-IP for more information.

For both performance and scalability, the best deployment results are achieved when using a Windows Server 2012 or 2012 R2 DirectAccess server and Windows 8.x clients. However, null encryption for IP-HTTPS is no longer available in the scenario where client-based remote access VPN is configured on the same server as DirectAccess. As you can see below, when DirectAccess is deployed by itself, the server offers null encryption cipher suites which Windows 8.x clients can take advantage of.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Encryption and SSTP VPN

Figure 1 – Cipher Suites for DirectAccess Only

However, when the client-based remote access VPN role is enabled on the same DirectAccess server, null encryption cipher suites are no longer available for use by DirectAccess clients.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Encryption and SSTP VPN

Figure 2- Cipher Suites for DirectAccess and VPN

This occurs because the Secure Sockets Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) client-based remote access VPN protocol requires SSL/TLS encryption to provide confidentiality for tunneled network communication. Unfortunately, disabling support for SSTP alone does not return null encryption cipher suites for DirectAccess clients unless the VPN role is removed completely. Of course none of this is readily apparent to the administrator, who may be completely unaware that they’ve sacrificed the efficiency of IP-HTTPS null encryption for Windows 8.x clients in order to support SSTP for client-based remote access VPN clients.

Note: There are additional scenarios in which null encryption for Windows 8.x DirectAccess clients is not supported. For example, if you enable the Web Application Proxy (WAP) role on the DirectAccess server, or if you configure DirectAccess to use one-time password (OTP) authentication, null encryption support is lost for Windows 8.x clients.

If you plan to support Windows 8.x clients using IP-HTTPS and want to take full advantage of the scalability and performance benefits associated with IP-HTTPS null encryption in Windows Server 2012/R2 DirectAccess, it is recommend that you deploy client-based remote access on a separate system.

SSL Offload for IP-HTTPS DirectAccess Traffic from Windows 7 Clients using F5 BIG-IP

From a client perspective, DirectAccess is an IPv6 only solution. It requires IPv6 connectivity from end-to-end to provide seamless, transparent, always-on remote access. DirectAccess clients are most commonly connected to the IPv4 Internet, so to overcome the limitations imposed by the exclusive use of IPv6 for transport, DirectAccess leverages IPv6 transition technologies such as 6to4, Teredo, or IP-HTTPS to tunnel IPv6 DirectAccess client communication over the IPv4 Internet. These transition protocols are favored by the operating system in the order in which I have listed them here. 6to4 uses IP protocol 41 for transport and requires that the client have a public IPv4 address, so if the DirectAccess client is behind a firewall that does not allow outbound IP protocol 41, or is located behind a NAT and has a private IPv4 address, it will fall back to Teredo. Teredo uses UDP for transport on port 3544, and if this communication is blocked by a firewall the DirectAccess client will then fall back to IP-HTTPS. IP-HTTPS, as its name implies, tunnels DirectAccess IPv6 traffic in HTTP, which is authenticated and encrypted using SSL or TLS.

Historically the challenge with the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition protocol is that it encrypts DirectAccess communication which is already encrypted using IPsec. This double encryption places significant demands on CPU and memory resources on the DirectAccess server, resulting in poor throughput and performance and limiting the overall scalability of the solution. To address these shortcomings, Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess introduced support for IP-HTTPS NULL encryption. SSL/TLS is still used for authentication, but the IPsec traffic is no longer double encrypted. This dramatically reduces resource consumption on the DirectAccess server, resulting in improved performance and allowing many more DirectAccess clients to be handled by a single server. The only drawback is that IP-HTTPS NULL encryption is only supported with Windows 8 clients. When Windows 7 clients connect to a Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess server using IP-HTTPS, they will continue to use encrypted IP-HTTPS.

An ideal solution would be to terminate SSL off box using a dedicated hardware appliance like the F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM). Unfortunately there is no provision in Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess to enable SSL termination for IP-HTTPS traffic. However, using some of the advanced features of the LTM, we can effectively offload SSL on the F5 by configuring LTM to emulate Windows 8 DirectAccess client behavior. This is accomplished by having the F5 LTM exclusively negotiate the use of a NULL encryption cipher suite with the Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess server on behalf of Windows 7 DirectAccess clients.

Note: This post assumes that you are familiar with the configuration and management of the F5 BIG-IP LTM solution, and that you’ve already imported your SSL certificates and configured nodes, pools, and virtual servers for your Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess server.

To configure the F5 LTM to provide SSL offload for Windows 7 DirectAccess clients, we’ll need to create SSL profiles to allow the use of specific cipher suites for our IP-HTTPS traffic. In its default configuration, the BIG-IP LTM does not support the use of NULL encryption cipher suites. Since Windows 8 DirectAccess clients use NULL cipher suites exclusively, we need to explicitly enable these on the LTM to support our Windows 8 clients. Since our Windows 7 clients will use only encrypted cipher suites, we’ll be sure to include those as well. To do this, open the F5 management console, expand Local Traffic, Profiles, SSL, and then click the green icon next to Client.

f5_directaccess_iphttps_offload_01

Provide a name for the new Client SSL Profile, select Advanced configuration, check the Custom box and specify DEFAULT:NULL for Ciphers. Be sure to select the appropriate SSL certificate and key. Click Finished at the bottom of the screen to save these settings. This change allows NULL cipher suites in addition to encrypted cipher suites, allowing us to support both Windows 8 and Windows 7 DirectAccess clients.

f5_directaccess_iphttps_offload_02

Next we need to configure the LTM to use only NULL cipher suites when communicating with the Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess server. To do this, expand Profiles, SSL, and then click the green icon next to Server.

f5_directaccess_iphttps_offload_03

Provide a name for the new Server SSL Profile, select Advanced configuration, check the Custom box and specify NULL-SHA for Ciphers. Click Finished at the bottom of the screen to save these settings. The end result here will be to force the exclusive use NULL encryption cipher suites for all IP-HTTPS traffic, regardless if it is a Windows 8 or Windows 7 client.

f5_directaccess_iphttps_offload_04

Once you’ve completed the client and server SSL profiles, it will be necessary to assign these profiles to the virtual servers that represent your Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess server. Navigate to Virtual Servers and click on Virtual Server List. Click the virtual server that corresponds to your DirectAccess server, and then scroll down to the bottom of the page. For SSL Profile (Client), select DA_IPHTTPS_CLIENT and add that to the list. Repeat this step for the SSL Profile (Server), this time selecting DA_IPHTTPS_SERVER. Click Update to apply these changes.

f5_directaccess_iphttps_offload_05

Once complete, the F5 BIG-IP LTM will now effectively be offloading SSL traffic on behalf of Windows 7 DirectAccess clients by emulating the Windows 8 DirectAccess client behavior and using only NULL encryption for IP-HTTPS sessions established with the Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess server. Although I can see no issues with this deployment model, be advised that this configuration may not be supported by Microsoft, so make these changes at your own risk. I’ll be working with Microsoft and F5 to get this solution reviewed and tested and I will provide clarification on supportability here once I have that information.

Special thanks to Jeff Bellamy, Ryan Korock, and John Wagnon at F5 for their assistance with this developing solution.

DirectAccess and NAT

One of the more common barriers to adoption for DirectAccess in Windows Server 2008 R2 and Forefront Unified Access Gateway (UAG) 2010 is the strict requirement for two consecutive public IPv4 addresses to be assigned to the external network interface of the DirectAccess server. Many small and mid-sized businesses have only a single public IPv4 address, or have a very small range of public IPv4 addresses that are already in use. For large organizations, corporate security policies often dictate that Windows-based systems cannot be internet facing, and many object to having a domain-joined Windows system exposed directly to the Internet. Further complicating matters is the fact that deploying a Window Server 2008 R2 or Forefront UAG 2010 DirectAccess server behind a border router or edge firewall performing Network Address Translation (NAT) is explicitly not supported.

Beginning with Windows Server 2012, deploying the DirectAccess server behind a border router or edge firewall performing NAT is now fully supported. No longer is there a requirement to have public IPv4 addresses assigned to the DirectAccess server’s external network interface. In fact, DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 can be deployed with a single network adapter, allowing the DirectAccess server to be completely isolated in a perimeter or DMZ network.

Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess Network Topology

Be advised that deploying a Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess server behind a NAT device will result in all DirectAccess client communication being delivered to the server exclusively using the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition protocol. If you are using Windows 8 clients, there’s nothing to worry about in terms of performance and scalability because Windows 8 clients leverage NULL encryption for IP-HTTPS traffic. However, Windows 7 clients cannot utilize NULL encryption and will instead encrypt all DirectAccess client communication using SSL/TLS. DirectAccess communication is already encrypted using IPsec, so this presents a problem. Double encryption places high demands on the DirectAccess server’s CPU and memory and will significantly impact performance on the client and the server. It will also impede the scalability of the solution by dramatically reducing the number of DirectAccess clients supported on a single DirectAccess server.

So, if you’re planning to deploy a Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess server behind a NAT, and you are also planning to support a lot of Windows 7 clients, please proceed cautiously. Monitor the DirectAccess server performance closely during your pilot and, if at all possible, offload SSL/TLS off box using F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) or equivalent device.

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