Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing and NAT

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing and NATOver the last few weeks, I’ve worked with numerous organizations and individuals troubleshooting connectivity and performance issues associated with Windows 10 Always On VPN, and specifically connections using the Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) VPN protocol. An issue that appears with some regularity is when Windows 10 clients fail to connect with error 809. In this scenario, the server will accept connections without issue for a period of time and then suddenly stop accepting requests. When this happens, existing connections continue to work without issue in most cases. Frequently this occurs with Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) servers configured in a clustered array behind an External Load Balancer (ELB).

Network Address Translation

It is not uncommon to use Network Address Translation (NAT) when configuring Always On VPN. In fact, for most deployments the public IP address for the VPN server resides not on the VPN server, but on an edge firewall or load balancer connected directly to the Internet. The firewall/load balancer is then configured to translate the destination address to the private IP address assigned to the VPN server in the perimeter/DMZ or the internal network. This is known a Destination NAT (DNAT). Using this configuration, the client’s original source IP address is left intact. This configuration presents no issues for Always On VPN.

Source Address Translation

When troubleshooting these issues, the common denominator seems to be the use of Full NAT, which includes translating the source address in addition to the destination. This results in VPN client requests arriving at the VPN server as appearing not to come from the client’s original IP address, but the IP address of the network device (firewall or load balancer) that is translating the request. Full NAT may be explicitly configured by an administrator, or in the case of many load balancers, configured implicitly because the load balancer is effectively proxying the connection.

Known Issues

IKEv2 VPN connections use IPsec for encryption, and by default, Windows limits the number of IPsec Security Associations (SAs) coming from a single IP address. When a NAT device is performing destination/full NAT, the VPN server sees all inbound IKEv2 VPN requests as coming from the same IP address. When this happens, clients connecting using IKEv2 may fail to connect, most commonly when the server is under moderate to heavy load.

Resolution

The way to resolve this issue is to ensure that any load balancers or NAT devices are not translating the source address but are performing destination NAT only. The following is configuration guidance for F5, Citrix ADC (formerly NetScaler), and Kemp load balancers.

F5

On the F5 BIG-IP load balancer, navigate to the Properties > Configuration page of the IKEv2 UDP 500 virtual server and choose None from the Source Address Translation drop-down list. Repeat this step for the IKEv2 UDP 4500 virtual server.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing and NAT

Citrix ADC

On the Citrix ADC load balancer, navigate to System > Settings > Configure Modes and check the option to Use Subnet IP.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing and NAT

Next, navigate to Traffic Management > Load Balancing > Service Groups and select the IKEv2 UDP 500 service group. In the Settings section click edit and select Use Client IP. Repeat these steps for the IKEv2 UDP 4500 service group.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing and NAT

Kemp

On the Kemp LoadMaster load balancer, navigate to Virtual Services > View/Modify Services and click Modify on the IKEv2 UDP 500 virtual service. Expand Standard Options and select Transparency. Repeat this step for the IKEv2 UDP 4500 virtual service.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing and NAT

Caveat

Making the changes above may introduce routing issues in your environment. When configuring these settings, it may be necessary to configure the VPN server’s default gateway to use the load balancer to ensure proper routing. If this is not possible, consider implementing the workaround below.

Workaround

To fully resolve this issue the above changes should be made to ensure the VPN server can see the client’s original source IP address. If that’s not possible for any reason, the following registry key can be configured to increase the number of established SAs from a single IP address. Be advised this is only a partial workaround and may not fully eliminate failed IKEv2 connections. There are other settings in Windows that can prevent multiple connections from a single IP address which are not adjustable at this time.

To implement this registry change, open an elevated PowerShell command window on the RRAS server and run the following commands. Repeat these commands on all RRAS servers in the organization.

New-ItemProperty -Path ‘HKLM:SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\IKEEXT\Parameters\’ -Name IkeNumEstablishedForInitialQuery -PropertyType DWORD -Value 50000 -Force

Restart-Service IKEEXT -Force -PassThru

Additional Information

IPsec Traffic May Be Blocked When A Computer is Behind a Load Balancer

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

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

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with Kemp LoadMaster

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADCThe Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) VPN protocol is the protocol of choice when the highest level of security is required for Always On VPN connections. It uses IPsec and features configurable security parameters that allow administrators to adjust policies to meet their specific security requirements. IKEv2 is not without some important limitations, but organizations may insist on the use of IKEv2 to provide the greatest protection possible for remote connected clients. Due to complexities of the IKEv2 transport, special configuration on the Citrix ADC is required when load balancing this workload.

Special Note: In December 2019 a serious security vulnerability was discovered on the Citrix ADC that gives an unauthenticated attacker the ability to arbitrarily execute code on the appliance. As of this writing a fix is not available (due end of January 2020) but a temporary workaround can be found here.

Load Balancing IKEv2

When an Always On VPN client establishes a connection using IKEv2, communication begins on UDP port 500, but switches to UDP port 4500 if Network Address Translation (NAT) is detected in the communication path between the client and the server. Because UDP is connectionless, custom configuration is required to ensure that VPN clients maintain connectivity to the same backend VPN server during this transition.

Initial Configuration

Load balancing IKEv2 using the Citrix ADC is similar to other workloads. Below are specific settings and parameters required to load balance IKEv2 using the Citrix ADC.

Note: This article is not a comprehensive configuration guide for the Citrix ADC. It assumes the administrator is familiar with basic load balancing concepts and has experience configuring the Citrix ADC.

Service Settings

The load balancing services for IKEv2 VPN will use UDP ports 500 and 4500. Create the service group and assign group members for UDP 500 as follows.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Repeat the steps above to create the service group for UDP port 4500.

Virtual Server Settings

Two virtual servers are required, one for UDP port 500 and one for UDP port 4500. Ensure that the service group using UDP port 500 is bound to the virtual server using the same port.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Repeat the steps above to create the virtual service for UDP port 4500.

Service Monitoring

Since IKEv2 uses the UDP protocol, the only option for service monitoring is to use PING, which is configured by default. Ensure that the firewall on the VPN server allows inbound ICMPv4 and ICMPv6 Echo Request. The default PING monitor on the Citrix ADC will ping the resource every 5 seconds. If a different interval is required, the administrator can edit the PING monitor and bind that to the service or service group as necessary.

Persistency Group

A Persistency Group on the Citrix ADC will be configured to ensure that IKEv2 VPN client requests from the same client are always routed to the same backend server. Follow the steps below to create a Persistency Group and assign it to both IKEv2 virtual servers created previously.

  1. In the Citrix ADC management console expand Traffic Management > Load Balancing > Persistency Groups.
  2. Click Add.
  3. Enter a descriptive name for the Persistency Group.
  4. Select SOURCEIP from the Persistence drop-down list.
  5. Next to the Virtual Server Name section click the Add button.
  6. Add both previously configured IKEv2 virtual servers for UDP 500 and 4500.
  7. Click Create.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Use Client IP

To ensure reliable connectivity for IKEv2 VPN connections it is necessary for the VPN server to see the client’s original source IP address. Follow the steps below to configure the Service Group to forward the client’s IP address to the VPN server.

  1. In the Citrix ADC management console expand System, click Settings, and then click Configure Modes.
  2. Select Use Subnet IP.
  3. Click Ok.Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing and NAT
  4. Expand Traffic Management, click Load Balancing, and then click Service Groups.
  5. Select the IKEv2 UDP 500 Service Group.
  6. Click Edit in the Settings section.
  7. Select Use Client IP.
  8. Repeat these steps on the IKEv2 UDP 4500 Service Group.Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing and NAT

Note: Making the above changes will require configuring the VPN server to use the Citrix ADC as its default gateway.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing and NAT

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Features and Limitations

Windows 10 AlWAYS On VPN and IKEv2 Fragmentation

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Windows 10 Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for IKEv2

Always On VPN IKEv2 Policy Mismatch Error

Always On VPN IKEv2 Policy Mismatch ErrorThe Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) VPN protocol is the protocol of choice for Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments where the highest levels of security and assurance are required. However, as I’ve written about in the past, often the default IKEv2 security settings are less than desirable. Before using IKEv2 VPN in a production environment the administrator will need to update these security settings accordingly.

Connection Failure

When configuring Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) or a third-party VPN appliance to support IKEv2 using custom security policies, the administrator may encounter a scenario in which a connection cannot be established due to a policy mismatch error. When the connection attempt fails, an error will be recorded in the Windows Application event log from the RasClient source with Event ID 20227. The error message states the following:

“The user [username] dialed a connection named [connection name] which has failed. The error code returned on failure is 13868.”

Always On VPN IKEv2 Policy Mismatch Error

Error Code 13868

Error code 13868 translates to ERROR_IPSEC_IKE_POLICY_MATCH. Essentially this error indicates that the IKEv2 security policy on the client did not match the configuration on the server.

Server Configuration

To view the current IKEv2 IPsec policy configuration, open an elevated PowerShell command window and run the following command.

Get-VpnServerIPsecConfiguration

Always On VPN IKEv2 Policy Mismatch Error

Client Configuration

To ensure interoperability, the VPN client must be configured to use the same IKEv2 security policy as defined on the sever. To view a VPN client’s currently configured IKEv2 security policy, open an elevated PowerShell command window and run the following command.

Get-VpnConnection -Name [connection name] | Select-Object -ExpandProperty IPsecCustomPolicy

Always On VPN IKEv2 Policy Mismatch Error

Note: If this PowerShell command returns no output, the VPN connection is not using a custom IKEv2 IPsec security policy.

Updating Settings

Guidance for configuring IKEv2 security policies on Windows Server RRAS and Windows 10 can be found here.

Summary

IKEv2 policy mismatch errors can be resolved easily by ensuring both the VPN server and client are configured to use the same IPsec security policies. Use the PowerShell commands in the above referenced above to validate settings and make changes when necessary.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Features and Limitations

Show-VpnConnectionIPsecConfiguration PowerShell script on Github

Set-IKEv2SecurityBaseline PowerShell script on Github

Always On VPN IKEv2 Connection Failure Error Code 800

Always On VPN administrators may encounter a scenario in which Windows 10 clients are unable to establish an IKEv2 VPN connection to a Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) server or a third-party VPN device under the following conditions.

  1. The VPN connection is configured using ProfileXML.
  2. ProfileXML includes the <CryptographySuite> element.
  3. The VPN server is configured to use a custom IPsec policy.
  4. The VPN server supports only IKEv2.
  5. The <NativeProtocolType> in ProfileXML is set to Automatic.

When these specific conditions are met, the client will be unable to connect to the VPN server using IKEv2. The error message states:

The remote connection was not made because the attempted VPN tunnels failed. The VPN server might be unreachable. If this connection is attempting to use an L2TP/IPsec tunnel, the security parameters required for IPsec negotiation might not be configured properly.

Always On VPN IKEv2 VPN Connection Failure Error Code 800

In addition, the event log will include an error message from the RasClient source with event ID 20227 that includes the following error message.

The user [username] dialed a connection named [connection name] which has failed. The error code returned on failure is 800.

Always On VPN IKEv2 VPN Connection Failure Error Code 800

A manually configured VPN connection using IKEv2 will connect successfully under these same conditions, however.

IKEv2 Error Code 800

Error code 800 translates to ERROR_AUTOMATIC_VPN_FAILED, which is somewhat ambiguous. The error description is:

Unable to establish the VPN connection. The VPN server may be unreachable, or security parameters may not be configured properly for this connection.

Digging Deeper

A network trace of the IKEv2 VPN connection reveals the true source of the problem, which is a failure of the client and server to successfully negotiate an IKEv2 security association (SA). During the SA initiation process, the parameters offered by the client are unacceptable to the server, resulting in a NO_PROPOSAL_CHOSEN notification being returned by the server.

Always On VPN IKEv2 VPN Connection Failure Error Code 800

Custom Cryptography Settings Ignored

It appears that the Always On VPN connection ignores the custom cryptography settings defined in the CryptographySuite element in ProfileXML. However, this only occurs when the NativeProtocolType is set to Automatic. Presumably, this is a bug. 🙂

Workaround

As a workaround, set the NativeProtocolType to IKEv2. When NativeProtocolType is set to IKEv2, the VPN connection recognizes the IKEv2 parameters defined in the CryptographySuite element and the VPN connection will be established successfully.

Additional Information

Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for IKEv2

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with the KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Always On VPN IKEv2 Security ConfigurationWhen deploying Windows 10 Always On VPN, many administrators choose the Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) protocol to provide the highest level of security and protection for remote connections. However, many do not realize the default security parameters for IKEv2 negotiated between a Windows Server running the Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) and a Windows 10 VPN client are far less than ideal from a security perspective. Additional configuration on both the server and the client will be required to ensure adequate security and protection for IKEv2 VPN connections.

Windows 10 and RRAS IKEv2 Defaults

In their default configuration, a Windows 10 client connecting to a Windows Server running RRAS will negotiate an IKEv2 VPN connection using the following IPsec security parameters.

  • Encryption: 3DES
  • Authentication/Integrity: SHA-1
  • Key Size: DH Group 2 (1024 bit)

This information can be obtained by opening an elevated PowerShell command window and running the following command.

Get-NetIPsecMainModeSA | Select-Object -First 1

Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

This can also be confirmed by viewing a network trace as shown here.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

These IPsec security parameters might have been acceptable in the 90’s, but they certainly are not today. 🙂

Improving IKEv2 Security

To provide a baseline level of protection to meet today’s requirements for security and privacy for IKEv2 VPN connections, the following are the minimum recommended IPsec security parameters.

  • Encryption: AES128
  • Authentication/Integrity: SHA-256
  • Key Size: DH Group 14 (2048 bit)

RRAS Custom IPsec Policy

To implement these recommended security baselines for IKEv2 on a Windows Server running RRAS it will be necessary to define a custom IPsec security policy. To do this, open an elevated PowerShell command window and run the following commands on each RRAS server.

Set-VpnServerConfiguration -CustomPolicy -AuthenticationTransformConstants SHA256128 -CipherTransformConstants AES128 -DHGroup Group14 -EncryptionMethod AES128 -IntegrityCheckMethod SHA256 -PFSgroup PFS2048 -SADataSizeForRenegotiationKilobytes 102400

Restart the Remote Access Management service for the changes to take effect.

Restart-Service RemoteAccess -PassThru

Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Note: A PowerShell script to implement the custom IPsec security policy settings shown above can be downloaded here.

Windows 10 Client Settings

The IPsec policy must match on both the server and the client for an IKEv2 VPN connection to be successful. Unfortunately, none of the IKEv2 IPsec security association parameters proposed by default on Windows 10 clients use 2048-bit keys (DH Group 14), so it will be necessary to define a custom IPsec security policy on the client to match the settings configured on the server.

To configure a matching IPsec security policy on an individual Windows 10 VPN client, open an elevated PowerShell command window and run the following command.

$connection = “[connection name]”
Set-VpnConnectionIPsecConfiguration -ConnectionName $connection -AuthenticationTransformConstants SHA256128 -CipherTransformConstants AES128 -DHGroup Group14 -EncryptionMethod AES128 -IntegrityCheckMethod SHA256 -PFSgroup PFS2048 -Force

Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Restore Defaults

In the process of testing it may be necessary to restore the default IKEv2 configuration on both the client and the server. This can be accomplished by running the following PowerShell commands.

Server – Set-VpnServerConfiguration -RevertToDefault

Client – Set-VpnConnectionIPsecConfiguration -ConnectionName [connection_name] -RevertToDefault -Force

Always On VPN XML Settings

To implement a custom IPsec policy using the minimum recommended security settings for an Always On VPN connection using IKEv2, add the following settings to your ProfileXML.

<VPNProfile>
 <NativeProfile>
  <CryptographySuite>
   <AuthenticationTransformConstants>SHA256128</AuthenticationTransformConstants>
   <CipherTransformConstants>AES128</CipherTransformConstants>
   <EncryptionMethod>AES128</EncryptionMethod>
   <IntegrityCheckMethod>SHA256</IntegrityCheckMethod>
   <DHGroup>Group14</DHGroup>
   <PfsGroup>PFS2048</PfsGroup>
  </CryptographySuite>
 </NativeProfile>
</VPNProfile>

Why Not AES 256?

In the examples above you’ll notice that I’ve chosen to use AES128 and not AES256. This is by design, as AES256 does not provide any practical additional security in most use cases. Details here.

Enhanced Security and Performance

To further improve security and performance for IKEv2, consider implementing Elliptic Curve Cryptography (EC) certificates and using Galois Counter Mode (GCM) cipher suites such as GCMAES128 for authentication and encryption.

Additional Information

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for IKEv2

Always On VPN IKEv2 Connection Failure Error Code 800

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with the KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

 

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMasterIKEv2 is an IPsec-based VPN protocol with configurable security parameters that allows administrators to ensure the highest level of security for Windows 10 Always On VPN clients. It is the protocol of choice for deployments that require the best possible protection for communication between remote clients and the VPN server. IKEv2 has some unique requirements when it comes to load balancing, however. Because it uses UDP on multiple ports, configuring the load balancer requires some additional steps for proper operation. This article demonstrates how to enable IKEv2 load balancing using the KEMP LoadMaster load balancer.

IKEv2 and NAT

IKEv2 VPN security associations (SAs) begin with a connection to the VPN server that uses UDP port 500. During this initial exchange, if it is determined that the client, server, or both are behind a device performing Network Address Translation (NAT), the connection switches to UDP port 4500 and the connection establishment process continues.

IKEv2 Load Balancing Challenges

Since UDP is connectionless, there’s no guarantee that when the conversation switches from UDP 500 to UDP 4500 that the load balancer will forward the request to the same VPN server on the back end. If the load balancer forwards the UDP 500 session from a VPN client to one real server, then forwards the UDP 4500 session to a different VPN server, the connection will fail. The load balancer must be configured to ensure that both UDP 500 and 4500 from the same VPN client are always forwarded to the same real server to ensure proper operation.

Port Following

To meet this unique requirement for IKEv2 load balancing, it is necessary to use a feature on the KEMP LoadMaster load balancer called “port following”. Enabling this feature will ensure that a VPN client using IKEv2 will always have their UDP 500 and 4500 sessions forwarded to the same real server.

Load Balancing IKEv2

Open the web-based management console and perform the following steps to enable load balancing of IKEv2 traffic on the KEMP LoadMaster load balancer.

Create the Virtual Server

  1. Expand Virtual Services.
  2. Click Add New.
  3. Enter the IP address to be used by the virtual server in the Virtual Address field.
  4. Enter 500 in the Port field.
  5. Select UDP from the Protocol drop-down list.
  6. Click Add this Virtual Service.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster

Add Real Servers

  1. Expand Real Servers.
  2. Click Add New.
  3. Enter the IP address of the VPN server in the Real Server Address field.
  4. Click Add This Real Server.
  5. Repeat the steps above for each VPN server in the cluster.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster

Repeat all the steps above to create another virtual server using UDP port 4500.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster

Enable Layer 7 Operation

  1. Click View/Modify Services below Virtual Services in the navigation tree.
  2. Select the first virtual server and click Modify.
  3. Expand Standard Options.
  4. Uncheck Force L4.
  5. Check Transparency (additional configuration may be required – details here).
  6. Select Source IP Address from the Persistence Options drop-down list.
  7. Choose an appropriate value from the Timeout drop-down list.
  8. Choose an appropriate setting from the Scheduling Method drop-down list.
  9. Click Back.
  10. Repeat these steps on the second virtual server.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster

Enable Port Following

  1. Click View/Modify Services below Virtual Services in the navigation tree.
  2. Select the first virtual server and click Modify.
  3. Expand Advanced Properties.
  4. Select the virtual server using UDP 500 from the Port Following drop-down list.
  5. Click Back.
  6. Repeat these steps on the second virtual server.

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster

Demonstration Video

The following video demonstrates how to enable IKEv2 load balancing for Windows 10 Always On VPN using the KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer.

Summary

With the KEMP LoadMaster load balancer configured to use port following, Windows 10 Always On VPN clients using IKEv2 will be assured that their connections will always be delivered to the same back end VPN server, resulting in reliable load balancing for IKEv2 connections.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for IKEv2

Windows 10 Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server RRAS

What is the Difference Between DirectAccess and Always On VPN?

Always On VPN Device Tunnel Configuration Guidance Now AvailableDirectAccess has been around for many years, and with Microsoft now moving in the direction of Always On VPN, I’m often asked “What’s the difference between DirectAccess and Always On VPN?” Fundamentally they both provide seamless and transparent, always on remote access. However, Always On VPN has a number of advantages over DirectAccess in terms of security, authentication and management, performance, and supportability.

Security

DirectAccess provides full network connectivity when a client is connected remotely. It lacks any native features to control access on a granular basis. It is possible to restrict access to internal resources by placing a firewall between the DirectAccess server and the LAN, but the policy would apply to all connected clients.

Windows 10 Always On VPN includes support for granular traffic filtering. Where DirectAccess provides access to all internal resources when connected, Always On VPN allows administrators to restrict client access to internal resources in a variety of ways. In addition, traffic filter policies can be applied on a per-user or group basis. For example, users in accounting can be granted access only to their department servers. The same could be done for HR, finance, IT, and others.

Authentication and Management

DirectAccess includes support for strong user authentication with smart cards and one-time password (OTP) solutions. However, there is no provision to grant access based on device configuration or health, as that feature was removed in Windows Server 2016 and Windows 10. In addition, DirectAccess requires that clients and servers be joined to a domain, as all configuration settings are managed using Active Directory group policy.

Windows 10 Always On VPN includes support for modern authentication and management, which results in better overall security. Always On VPN clients can be joined to an Azure Active Directory and conditional access can also be enabled. Modern authentication support using Azure MFA and Windows Hello for Business is also supported. Always On VPN is managed using Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions such as Microsoft Intune.

Performance

DirectAccess uses IPsec with IPv6, which must be encapsulated in TLS to be routed over the public IPv4 Internet. IPv6 traffic is then translated to IPv4 on the DirectAccess server. DirectAccess performance is often acceptable when clients have reliable, high quality Internet connections. However, if connection quality is fair to poor, the high protocol overhead of DirectAccess with its multiple layers of encapsulation and translation often yields poor performance.

The protocol of choice for Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments is IKEv2. It offers the best security and performance when compared to TLS-based protocols. In addition, Always On VPN does not rely exclusively on IPv6 as DirectAccess does. This reduces the many layers of encapsulation and eliminates the need for complex IPv6 transition and translation technologies, further improving performance over DirectAccess.

Supportability

DirectAccess is a Microsoft-proprietary solution that must be deployed using Windows Server and Active Directory. It also requires a Network Location Server (NLS) for clients to determine if they are inside or outside the network. NLS availability is crucial and ensuring that it is always reachable by internal clients can pose challenges, especially in very large organizations.

Windows 10 Always On VPN supporting infrastructure is much less complex than DirectAccess. There’s no requirement for a NLS, which means fewer servers to provision, manage, and monitor. In addition, Always On VPN is completely infrastructure independent and can be deployed using third-party VPN servers such as Cisco, Checkpoint, SonicWALL, Palo Alto, and more.

Summary

Windows 10 Always On VPN is the way of the future. It provides better overall security than DirectAccess, it performs better, and it is easier to manage and support.

Here’s a quick summary of some important aspects of VPN, DirectAccess, and Windows 10 Always On VPN.

Traditional VPN DirectAccess Always On VPN
Seamless and Transparent No Yes Yes
Automatic Connection Options None Always on Always on, app triggered
Protocol Support IPv4 and IPv6 IPv6 Only IPv4 and IPv6
Traffic Filtering No No Yes
Azure AD Integration No No Yes
Modern Management Yes No (group policy only) Yes (MDM)
Clients must be domain-joined? No Yes No
Requires Microsoft Infrastructure No Yes No
Supports Windows 7 Yes Yes Windows 10 only

Always On VPN Hands-On Training

If you are interested in learning more about Windows 10 Always On VPN, consider registering for one of my hands-on training classes. More details here.

Additional Resources

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

5 Important Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know about Windows 10 Always On VPN

3 Important Advantages of Windows 10 Always On VPN over DirectAccess

Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS)

Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS)Windows 10 Always On VPN is infrastructure independent and can be implemented using third-party VPN devices. It is not necessary to deploy any Windows servers at all to support an Always On VPN solution. However, in a recent blog post I outlined some compelling reasons to consider using Windows Server 2016’s Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) feature to terminate VPN connections. RRAS supports both modern and legacy VPN protocols, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The choice of which protocols to support will be determined by many factors, but it is important to understand the capabilities of each to make an informed decision.

RRAS VPN Protocols

Windows RRAS supports the following VPN protocols.

  • Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) – RFC7296
  • Secure Sockets Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) – Microsoft
  • Layer Two Tunneling Protocol over IPsec (L2TP/IPsec) – RFC2661
  • Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) – RFC2637

There are pros and cons associated with each of these VPN protocols. Here’s a breakdown of each.

IKEv2

This IPsec-based VPN protocol is the preferred choice for most deployments. IKEv2 provides the best security and performance, with native features that enhance mobility. This latest version of IKE (v2) features streamlined messaging during connection establishment and enhanced session management that reduce protocol overhead and improve performance.

Advantages: Best security and performance.
Disadvantages: Firewalls may block required UDP ports.

SSTP

SSTP is an excellent alternative to IKEv2. It uses industry standard Transport Layer Security (TLS), making it widely accessible from most locations. It provides good security out of the box, but can be improved upon with additional configuration. SSTP lends itself well to load balancing, making it much easier to scale out than IKEv2. Optionally, TLS can be offloaded to an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) to reduce resource utilization on the RRAS server and further improve performance.

Advantages: Easy to configure with firewall friendly access.
Disadvantages: Not as secure IKEv2.

L2TP

While technically supported for Always On VPN, L2TP is a legacy VPN protocol that offers no real advantages over IKEv2. Its use is unnecessary and should be avoided.

Advantages: None.
Disadvantages: Firewalls may block required UDP ports.

PPTP

PPTP is considered an obsolete VPN protocol with many known security vulnerabilities. Its use should be avoided at all costs.

Advantages: None.
Disadvantages: Insecure.

Summary

Implementation best practices dictate that IKEv2 and SSTP be enabled to support Windows 10 Always On VPN connections when using Windows Server 2016 RRAS. The use of L2TP/IPsec and PPTP should be avoided. The combination of IKEv2 and SSTP will provide the best security and availability for remote workers. Clients that can establish IKEv2 VPN connections can take advantages of the security and performance benefits it provides. SSTP can be enabled as a fallback for clients that are unable to establish an IKEv2 connection due to restricted firewall access.

Always On VPN Hands-On Training

Interested in learning more about Windows 10 Always On VPN? Hands-on training classes are now forming. More details here.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions about Microsoft’s PPTP Implementation

Always On VPN and Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Services (RRAS)

Windows 10 Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess 

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know about Always On VPN 

3 Important Advantages of Windows 10 Always On VPN over DirectAccess 

Windows 10 Always On VPN Hands-On Training Classes

 

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know About Always On VPN

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know About Always On VPNWindows 10 Always On VPN hands-on training classes now forming. Details here.

As I’ve written about previously, Microsoft is no longer investing in DirectAccess going forward. There will be no new features or functionality added to the product in the future. Microsoft is now investing in Always On VPN in Windows 10, with new features being released with each semi-annual update of the operating system. But as Microsoft continues to make the push toward Always On VPN over DirectAccess, many administrators have asked about the ramifications of this shift in focus for enterprise remote access. Here are a few points to consider.

It’s the same thing, only different.

Always On VPN provides the same seamless, transparent, always on experience as DirectAccess. Under the covers, the mechanics of how that’s accomplished changes a bit, but fundamentally the user experience is exactly the same. Once a user logs on to their device, a VPN connection is established automatically and the user will have secure remote access to corporate resources.

The connection is still secure.

Where DirectAccess uses IPsec and Connection Security Rules (CSRs) to establish its secure tunnels, Always On VPN uses traditional client-based VPN protocols such as IKEv2, SSTP, L2TP, and PPTP. Both DirectAccess and Always On VPN use certificates for authentication. However, where DirectAccess uses machine certificates to authenticate the computer, Always On VPN leverages user certificates to authenticate the user.

(Note: Machine certificates will be required for Always On VPN when using the optional device tunnel configuration. I will publish more details about this configuration option in a future article.)

Provisioning and managing clients is different.

The administrative experience for Always On VPN is much different than it is with DirectAccess. Where DirectAccess made use of Active Directory and group policy for managing client and server settings, Always On VPN clients must be provisioned using a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution such as Microsoft Intune, or any third-party MDM platform. Optionally, Always On VPN clients can be provisioned using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), or manually using PowerShell.

Security is enhanced.

Always On VPN has the potential to provide much more security and protection than DirectAccess. Always On VPN supports traffic filtering, allowing administrators to restrict remote client communication by IP address, protocol, port, or application. By contrast, DirectAccess allows full access to the internal network after user logon with no native capability to restrict access. In addition, Always On VPN supports integration with Azure Active Directory, which enables conditional access and multifactor authentication scenarios.

It’s built for the future.

Always On VPN also provides support for modern authentication mechanisms like Windows Hello for Business. In addition, Windows Information Protection (WIP) integration is supported to provide essential protection for enterprise data.

Summary

Microsoft set the bar pretty high with DirectAccess. Users love the seamless and transparent access it provides, and administrators reap the benefit of improved systems management for field based devices. Always On VPN provides those same benefits, with additional improvements in security and protection. If you’d like more information about Always On VPN, fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you.

Additional Information

Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess

3 Important Advantages of Windows 10 Always On VPN over Microsoft DirectAccess

Windows 10 Always On VPN Hands-On Training

Top 5 DirectAccess Troubleshooting PowerShell Commands

Top 5 DirectAccess Troubleshooting PowerShell CommandsNative PowerShell commands in Windows 10 make DirectAccess troubleshooting much easier than older operating systems like Windows 7. For example, with one PowerShell command an administrator can quickly determine if a DirectAccess client has received the DirectAccess client settings policy. In addition, PowerShell can be used to view the status of the connection and retrieve additional information or error codes that can be helpful for determining the cause of a failed connection. Further, PowerShell can also be used to review configuration details and perform other troubleshooting and connectivity validation tasks.

Here are my top 5 PowerShell commands for troubleshooting DirectAccess on Windows 10.

1. Get-DAClientExperienceConfiguration

Ensuring that the DirectAccess Client Settings group policy has been applied to the client is one of the first steps in troubleshooting failed DirectAccess connections. While it is possible to use gpresult to do this, using the Get-DAClientExperienceConfiguration PowerShell command is much simpler. If DirectAccess client settings have been applied, the output of the command will include information such as the IPsec tunnel endpoint IPv6 addresses and the Network Connectivity Assistant (NCA) corporate resource URL. If DirectAccess client settings have not been applied, this information will be missing.

Top 5 DirectAccess Troubleshooting PowerShell Commands

Figure 1. DirectAccess Client Settings group policy successfully applied.

Top 5 DirectAccess Troubleshooting PowerShell Commands

Figure 2. DirectAccess Client Settings group policy not applied.

2. Get-NetIPHttpsState

Performance improvements first introduced in Windows 8 have made IP-HTTPS the IPv6 transition technology of choice when it comes to supporting DirectAccess client connectivity. Also, if the DirectAccess server is located behind an edge device performing Network Address Translation (NAT), IP-HTTPS is the only supported transition technology. Using the Get-NetIPHttpsState PowerShell command, the DirectAccess administrator can quickly determine if the IP-HTTPS connection was successful. If it was not, the command will return an error code and interface status that will indicate why the IP-HTTPS connection was unsuccessful.

Top 5 DirectAccess Troubleshooting PowerShell Commands

Figure 3. Get-NetIPHttpsState

3. Get-NetIPHttpsConfiguration

When troubleshooting IP-HTTPS connection failures, it is necessary to obtain additional information to continue the troubleshooting process. Using the Get-NetIPHttpsConfiguration PowerShell command, the DirectAccess administrator can obtain the public hostname for the DirectAccess server and ensure that the name resolves to the correct IP address in DNS and that it is reachable on TCP port 443.

Top 5 DirectAccess Troubleshooting PowerShell Commands

Figure 4. Get-NetIPHttpsConfiguration

4. Resolve-DnsName

Using the Resolve-DnsName PowerShell command is crucial when performing any name resolution tasks on the DirectAccess client. This is because Resolve-DnsName is aware of the Name Resolution Policy Table (NRPT) and will direct name resolution requests accordingly. Tools like nslookup are DNS server testing tools and are unaware of the NRPT. Typically they do not yield expected results when testing name resolution on a DirectAccess client.

Top 5 DirectAccess Troubleshooting PowerShell Commands

Figure 5. Name resolution results from Resolve-DnsName and nslookup.

5. Get-DnsClientNrptPolicy

Often the cause of DirectAccess client connectivity issues is a misconfigured NRPT. Using the Get-DnsClientNrptPolicy PowerShell command the DirectAccess administrator can validate that name resolution requests for host names in any internal namespaces are being sent to the DirectAccess DNS64 IPv6 address.

Top 5 DirectAccess Troubleshooting PowerShell Commands

Figure 6. Get-DnsClientNrptPolicy

Additional Resources

Top 5 DirectAccess Troubleshooting Tips

Troubleshooting Name Resolution Issues on DirectAccess Clients

Learn PowerShell in a Month of Lunches Book by Don Jones and Jeff Hicks

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course

Managing and Supporting DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course

 

 

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