Always On VPN Split vs. Force Tunneling

Always On VPN Split vs. Force TunnelingDuring the planning phase of a Windows 10 Always On VPN implementation the administrator must decide between two tunneling options for VPN client traffic – split tunneling or force tunneling. When split tunneling is configured, only traffic for the on-premises network is routed over the VPN tunnel. Everything else is sent directly to the Internet. With force tunneling, all client traffic, including Internet traffic, is routed over the VPN tunnel. There’s been much discussion recently on this topic, and this article serves to outline the advantages and disadvantages for both tunneling methods.

Force Tunneling

Force tunneling is typically enabled to meet the following requirements.

Visibility and Control

By routing all the client’s Internet traffic over the VPN tunnel, administrators can inspect, filter, and log Internet traffic using existing on-premises security solutions such as web proxies, content filters, or Next Generation Firewalls (NGFW).

Privacy

Enabling force tunneling ensures privacy and protection of all Internet communication. By routing all Internet traffic over the VPN, administrators can be certain that all communication from the Always On VPN client is encrypted, even when clients access unencrypted web sites or use untrusted or insecure wireless networks.

Force Tunneling Drawbacks

While configuring force tunneling for Always On VPN has some advantages, it comes with some serious limitations as well.

Poor User Experience

User experience is often degraded when all Internet traffic is routed over the VPN. These suboptimal network paths increase latency, and VPN encapsulation and encryption overhead increase fragmentation, leading to reduced throughput. Most Internet traffic is already encrypted in some form, and encrypting traffic that is already encrypted makes the problem even worse. In addition, force tunneling short-circuits geographic-based Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) further reducing Internet performance. Further, location-based services are often broken which can lead to improper default language selection or inaccurate web search results.

Increased Resource Consumption

Additional resources may need to be provisioned to support force tunneling. With corporate and Internet traffic coming over the VPN, more CPU, memory, and network resources may be required. Deploying additional VPN servers and higher throughput load balancers to support the increase in network traffic may also be necessary. Force tunneling also places higher demands on Internet Service Provider (ISP) links to the corporate datacenter.

Split Tunneling

The alternative to force tunneling is “split tunneling”. With split tunneling configured, only traffic destined for the internal corporate network is routed over the VPN. All other traffic is sent directly to the Internet. Administrators define IP networks that should be routed over the VPN, and those networks are added to the routing table on the VPN client.

Security Enforcement

The challenge of providing visibility and control of Internet traffic with split tunneling enabled can be met using a variety of third-party security solutions. Microsoft Defender ATP recently introduced support for web content filtering. Also, there are numerous cloud-based security offerings from many vendors that allow administrators to monitor and control client-based Internet traffic. Zscaler and Cisco Umbrella are two popular solutions, and no doubt there are many more to choose from.

Recommendations

The general guidance I provide customers is to use split tunneling whenever possible, as it provides the best user experience and reduces demands on existing on-premises infrastructure. Enabling split or force tunneling is ultimately a design decision that must be made during the planning phase of an Always On VPN implementation project. Both configurations are supported, and they each have their merits.

In today’s world, with many applications accessible via public interfaces, force tunneling is an antiquated method for providing visibility and control for managed devices in the field. If required, investigate the use of Microsoft or other third-party solutions that enforce security policy in place without the requirement to backhaul client Internet traffic to the datacenter over VPN for inspection, logging, and filtering.

Additional Information

Whitepaper: Enhancing VPN Performance at Microsoft

Whitepaper: How Microsoft Is Keeping Its Remote Workforce Connected

Microsoft Defender ATP Web Content Filtering

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 SSTP Connects then Disconnects

Always On VPN SSTP Connects then DisconnectsWhen Always On VPN clients are configured to use the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) with Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS), administrators may encounter a scenario in which a client can establish a VPN connection using SSTP successfully, but is then disconnected immediately. The system event log contains an entry with Event ID 6 from the RasSstp source that includes the following error message.

“The SSTP-based VPN connection to the remote access server was terminated because of a security check failure. Security settings on the remote access server do not match settings on this computer. Contact the system administrator of the remote access server and relay the following information.”

Always On VPN Connect and Disconnect with SSTP

Common Causes

The two most common causes of this issue are when SSTP is configured for SSL offload, and when a VPN client is on a network where SSL inspection is taking place.

SSTP Offload

The most common cause of this issue is when SSL offload is configured for SSTP on an external load balancer or application delivery controller (ADC). To prevent interception from a Man-in-the-Middle attack, the VPN client sends the certificate hash of the SSL certificate used when the VPN connection was established. If this information does not match what is configured on the RRAS server, the connection is assumed to be compromised and the connection is immediately dropped.

SSL Inspection

Another scenario where this issue may occur is when a VPN client is behind a network device configured to perform SSL deep-packet inspection (DPI). SSTP VPN clients will be unable to connect to the VPN server in this scenario.

Resolution

When offloading SSL to another device, the RRAS server must be configured to know which SSL certificate is being presented to remote clients. This information is stored in the following registry key.

HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\SstpSvc\Parameters\SHA256CertificateHash

However, this registry entry requires a binary value, which makes it a challenge to configure manually. To resolve this problem, it is recommended that the same SSL certificate installed on the load balancer/ADC also be installed on the VPN server (even though SSL will be offloaded). To do this, first import the SSL certificate and private key in to the Local Computer certificate store, then open the RRAS management console and perform the following steps.

  1. Right-click the VPN server and choose Properties.
  2. Select the Security tab.
  3. Uncheck Use HTTP in the SSL Certificate Binding section.
  4. Select the appropriate SSL certificate from the Certificate drop-down list (click View to verify).
  5. Click Apply.

This will add the correct SSL certificate information to the registry. Next, re-enable HTTP for SSL offload by performing the following steps.

  1. Check Use HTTP in the SSL Certificate Binding section.
  2. Click Apply.

PowerShell Configuration

If the SSL certificate cannot be installed on the VPN server, or to automate this configuration across multiple servers remotely, download and run the Enable-SstpOffload PowerShell script from my GitHub repository here and run the following command.

Enable-SSTPOffload -CertificateHash [SHA256 Certificate Hash of Public SSL Certificate] -Restart

For example…

Enable-SSTPOffload -CertificateHash “C3AB8FF13720E8AD9047DD39466B3C8974E592C2FA383D4A3960714CAEF0C4F2” -Restart

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN Load Balancing and SSL Offload

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

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSL Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Windows 10 Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server RRAS

 

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