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 Options for Azure Deployments

Always On VPN Options for Azure DeploymentsOrganizations everywhere are rapidly adopting Microsoft Azure public cloud infrastructure to extend or replace their existing datacenter. As traditional on-premises workloads are migrated to the cloud, customers are looking for options to host VPN services there as well.

Windows Server

Windows Server with the Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) installed is a popular choice for on-premises Always On VPN deployments. Intuitively it would make sense to deploy Windows Server and RRAS in Azure as well. However, at the time of this writing, RRAS is not a supported workload on Windows Server in Azure.

Always On VPN Options for Azure Deployments

Reference: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/2721672/microsoft-server-software-support-for-microsoft-azure-virtual-machines/

Although explicitly unsupported, it is possible to deploy Windows Server and RRAS in Azure for Always On VPN. In my experience it works well and can be an option for organizations willing to forgo formal support by Microsoft.

Azure Gateway

Options for supporting Always On VPN connections using native Azure VPN infrastructure depend on the type of VPN gateway chosen.

VPN Gateway

The Azure VPN Gateway can be configured to support client-based (point-to-site) VPN. With some additional configuration it can be used to support Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments. Azure VPN gateway supports both IKEv2 and SSTP VPN protocols for client connections. The Azure VPN gateway has some limitations though. Consider the following:

  • A route-based VPN gateway is required
  • A maximum of 1000 concurrent IKEv2 connections are supported when using the VpnGw3 or VpnGw3AZ SKUs (2000 supported in active/active mode)
  • A maximum of 128 concurrent SSTP connections are supported on all gateway SKUs (256 supported in active/active mode)

Virtual WAN

Azure Virtual WAN is the future of remote connectivity for Azure. It includes support for client-based VPN (currently in public preview at the time of this writing), but only supports IKEv2 and OpenVPN VPN protocols for client connections. SSTP is not supported at all. Further, OpenVPN is not supported for Windows 10 Always On VPN, leaving IKEv2 as the only option, which poses some potential operational challenges. Virtual WAN offer much better scalability though, supporting up to 10,000 concurrent client-based VPN connections.

Virtual Appliance

The most supportable option for hosting VPN services in Azure for Windows 10 Always On VPN is to deploy a third-party Network Virtual Appliance (NVA). They are available from a variety of vendors including Cisco, Check Point, Palo Alto Networks, Fortinet, and many others. To support Windows 10 Always On VPN, the NVA vendor must either support IKEv2 for client-based VPN connections or have a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) VPN plug-in client available from the Microsoft store. Click here to learn more about Always On VPN and third-party VPN devices.

Note: Be careful when choosing an NVA as some vendors support IKEv2 only for site-to-site VPN, but not client-based VPN!

Hybrid Deployments

For organizations with hybrid cloud deployments (infrastructure hosted on-premises and in Azure), there are several options for choosing the best location to deploy VPN services. In general, it is recommended that client VPN connections be established nearest the resources accessed by remote clients. However, having VPN servers hosted both on-premises and in Azure is fully supported. In this scenario Azure Traffic Manager can be configured to intelligently route VPN connections for remote clients.

NetMotion Mobility

The NetMotion Mobility purpose-built enterprise VPN is a popular replacement for Microsoft DirectAccess. It is also an excellent alternative for enterprise organizations considering a migration to Always On VPN. It is a software-based solution that can be deployed on Windows Server and is fully supported running in Microsoft Azure. It offers many advanced features and capabilities not included in other remote access solutions.

Summary

Administrators have many options for deploying VPN servers in Azure to support Windows 10 Always On VPN. Windows Server and RRAS is the simplest and most cost-effective option, but it is not formally supported by Microsoft. Azure VPN gateway is an interesting alternative but lacks enough capacity for larger deployments. Azure Virtual WAN is another option but has limited protocol support. Deploying an NVA is a good choice, and NetMotion Mobility is an excellent alternative to both DirectAccess and Always On VPN that is software-based and fully supported in Azure.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN with Azure Gateway

Windows 10 Always On VPN and Third-Party VPN Devices

Windows 10 Always On VPN and Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS)

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Features and Limitations

Windows 10 Always On VPN Multisite with Azure Traffic Manager

Comparing DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility

Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Microsoft Azure

 

 

DirectAccess Force Tunneling and Proxy Server Configuration

By default, DirectAccess is configured to use split tunneling. In this scenario, a remote DirectAccess client is connected to the internal corporate network and the public Internet at the same time. Some security administrators perceive split tunneling as a security risk, and the use of split tunneling may be prohibited by corporate security policy. In addition, enforcing web browsing policies on remote DirectAccess clients might be desired to reduce the risk of exposure from browsing unapproved web sites. In either case, force tunneling can be configured to meet these requirements.

When force tunneling is enabled, DirectAccess administrators can also define an on-premises proxy server for DirectAccess clients to use. The following is guidance for enabling force tunneling and configuring DirectAccess clients to use a proxy server to access the Internet.

Enabling Force Tunneling

To enable force tunneling, open the Remote Access Management console and perform the following steps.

  1. Expand Configuration and select DirectAccess and VPN.
  2. Click Edit on Step 1 Remote Clients.
  3. Click Select Groups in the navigation tree.
  4. Select the option to Use force tunneling.

DirectAccess Force Tunneling and Proxy Server ConfigurationFigure 1. Enable DirectAccess force tunneling in the Remote Access Management console.

Alternatively, force tunneling can quickly be enabled by opening an elevated PowerShell command window and running the following command.

Set-DAClient -ForceTunnel Enabled -PassThru

DirectAccess Force Tunneling and Proxy Server ConfigurationFigure 2. Enable DirectAccess force tunneling using PowerShell.

Configure a Proxy Server

Once force tunneling has been enabled, run the following PowerShell script to configure an on-premises proxy server for DirectAccess clients to use. Be sure to substitute the fully-qualified domain name (FQDN) and port for your proxy server in the $proxy variable below.

$gpo = (Get-RemoteAccess).ClientGpoName
$gpo = $gpo.Split(‘\’)[1]

$proxy = “proxy.corp.example.net:8080”

$rule = (Get-DnsClientNrptRule -GpoName $gpo | Where-Object Namespace -eq “.” | Select-Object -ExpandProperty “Name”)

Set-DnsClientNrptRule -DAEnable $true -DAProxyServerName $proxy -DAProxyType “UseProxyName” -Name $rule -GpoName $gpo

If multisite is enabled and Windows 7 clients are supported, run the following PowerShell script on one DirectAccess server in each entry point.

$downlevelgpo = (Get-RemoteAccess).DownlevelGpoName
$downlevelgpo = $downlevelgpo.Split(‘\’)[1]

$proxy = “proxy.corp.example.net:8080”

$downlevelrule = (Get-DnsClientNrptRule -GpoName $downlevelgpo | Where-Object Namespace -eq “.” | Select-Object -ExpandProperty “Name”)

Set-DnsClientNrptRule -DAEnable $true -DAProxyServerName $proxy -DAProxyType “UseProxyName” -Name $downlevelrule -GpoName $downlevelgpo

Remove Proxy Server

Run the following PowerShell script to remove the proxy server, if necessary.

$gpo = (Get-RemoteAccess).ClientGpoName
$gpo = $gpo.Split(‘\’)[1]

Set-DnsClientNrptRule -DAEnable $true -DAProxyType “UseDefault” -Name $rule -GpoName $gpo

$downlevelgpo = (Get-RemoteAccess).DownlevelGpoName
$downlevelgpo = $downlevelgpo.Split(‘\’)[1]

Set-DnsClientNrptRule -DAEnable $true -DAProxyType “UseDefault” -Name $downlevelrule -GpoName $downlevelgpo

Disable Force Tunneling

To disable force tunneling completely, run the following PowerShell command.

Set-DAClient -ForceTunnel Disabled -PassThru

Force Tunneling Caveats

When force tunneling is enabled, the user experience is typically poor when accessing the Internet. Web browsing performance is significantly reduced because of the added protocol overhead imposed by DirectAccess IPv6 transition technologies and IPsec encryption. This problem is further compounded when users access resources that are already encrypted, such as secure web sites. Increased packet fragmentation, along with the additional network latency caused by suboptimal network paths and increased network load on the server and Internet connection all contribute to degraded network performance for DirectAccess clients.

Force Tunneling Alternatives

Instead of enabling force tunneling, consider alternative solutions to address the security concerns associated with split tunneling. For example, implement technologies that enforce web browsing policies on the client. Many secure web gateways and next-generation firewalls (NGFW) have remote filtering capabilities that allow administrators to enforce web browsing policies on remote client machines. In addition, there are some excellent cloud-based solutions such as Zscaler and OpenDNS that can protect DirectAccess clients without the drawbacks associated with force tunneling.

Additional Information

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 video training course on Pluralsight
Managing and Supporting DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 video training course on Pluralsight
Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

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