NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling

NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force TunnelingDirectAccess employs a split tunneling network model by default. In this configuration, only network traffic destined for the internal network (as defined by the administrator) is tunneled over the DirectAccess connection. All other network traffic is routed directly over the Internet.

Force Tunneling Use Cases

For a variety of reasons, administrators may want to configure DirectAccess to use force tunneling, requiring all client traffic be routed over the DirectAccess connection, including public Internet traffic. Commonly this is done to ensure that all traffic is logged and, importantly, screened and filtered to enforce acceptable use policy and to prevent malware infection and potential loss of data.

DirectAccess and Force Tunneling

Enabling force tunneling for DirectAccess is not trivial, as it requires an on-premises proxy server to ensure proper functionality when accessing resources on the public Internet. You can find detailed guidance for configuring DirectAccess to use force tunneling here.

NetMotion Mobility and Force Tunneling

With NetMotion Mobility, force tunneling is enabled by default. So, if split tunneling is desired, it must be explicitly configured. Follow the steps below to create a split tunneling policy.

Create a Rule Set

  1. Open the NetMotion Mobility management console and click Policy > Policy Management.
  2. Click New.
  3. Enter a descriptive name for the new rule set.
  4. Click Ok.

NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling

Create a Rule

  1. Click New.
  2. Enter a descriptive name for the new rule.
  3. Click Ok.

NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling

Define an Action

  1. Click on the Actions tab.
  2. In the Addresses section check the box next to Allow network traffic for address(es)/port(s).NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling
  3. In the Base section select Pass through all network traffic.NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling

Define the Internal Network

  1. In the Policy rule definition section click the address(es)/port(s) link.NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling
  2. Click Add.
  3. In the Remote Address column select Network Address.
  4. Enter the network prefix and prefix length that corresponds to the internal network.
  5. Click Ok.
  6. Repeat the steps above to add any additional internal subnets, as required.
  7. Click Ok.
  8. Click Save.
  9. Click Save.NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling

Assign the Policy

  1. Click on the Subscribers tab.
  2. Choose a group to assign the policy to. This can be users, groups, devices, etc.NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling
  3. Click Subscribe.
  4. Select the Split Tunneling policy.
  5. Click Ok.NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Split vs. Force Tunneling

Validation Testing

With split tunneling enabled the NetMotion Mobility client will be able to securely access internal network resources over the Mobility connection, but all other traffic will be routed over the public Internet. To confirm this, first very that internal resources are reachable. Next, open your favor Internet search engine and enter “IP”. The IP address you see should be the IP address of the client, not the on-premises gateway.

Summary

I’ve never been a big fan of force tunneling with DirectAccess. Not only is it difficult to implement (and requires additional infrastructure!) the user experience is generally poor. There are usability issues especially with captive portals for Wi-Fi, and performance often suffers. In addition, enabling force tunneling precludes the use of strong user authentication with one-time passwords.

With NetMotion Mobility, force tunneling is on by default, so no configuration changes are required. The user experience is improved as NetMotion Mobility intelligently recognizes captive portals. Performance is much better too. In addition, NetMotion Mobility is more flexible, allowing for the use of OTP authentication with force tunneling. Also, with NetMotion Mobility force tunneling is not a global setting. You can selectively apply force tunneling to users and/or groups as necessary.

Additional Information

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative for Microsoft DirectAccess

NetMotion Mobility for DirectAccess Administrators – Trusted Network Detection

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration

 

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Performance Issues

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Performance IssuesPerformance issues with DirectAccess are not uncommon. In fact, there are numerous threads on Microsoft and third-party forums where administrators frequently complain about slow download speeds, especially when using the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology. Based on my experience the problem does not appear to be widespread but occurs with enough regularity that it is worthy of further investigation.

DirectAccess Design

The inherent design of DirectAccess is a major limiting factor for performance. DirectAccess uses a complex and heavy communication channel, with multiple layers of encapsulation, encryption, and translation. Fundamentally it is IPsec encrypted IPv6 traffic, encapsulated in HTTP, and then encrypted with Transport Layer Security (TLS) and routed over IPv4. It is then decrypted, decapsulated, decrypted again, then converted back to IPv4. The high protocol overhead incurred with multiple layers of encapsulation, encryption, and translation result in increased packet fragmentation, which further reduces performance.

DirectAccess Performance

Even under the best circumstances, DirectAccess performance is limited by many other factors, most notably the quality of the network connection between the client and the server. DirectAccess performs reasonably well over high bandwidth, low latency connections. However, network performance drops precipitously as latency increases and packet loss is encountered. This is to be expected given the design of the solution.

Intermediary Devices

It is not uncommon to find intermediary devices like firewalls, intrusion detection systems, malware scanners, and other security inspection devices limit the performance of DirectAccess clients. In addition, many security appliances have bandwidth caps enforced in software for licensing restrictions. Further, incorrect configuration of inline edge devices can contribute to increased fragmentation, which leads to poor performance as well.

Slow Downloads over IP-HTTPS

Many people report that download speeds seem to be artificially capped at 355Kbps. While this seems to be a display bug in the UI, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that, in some scenarios, DirectAccess is incapable of high throughput even over high-quality connections. Some who have deployed DirectAccess and VPN on the same server have reported that download speeds are only limited when using DirectAccess over IP-HTTPS and not with VPN using Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP), which also uses TLS. This has led many to speculate that the issue is either a bug or a design flaw in the IP-HTTPS tunnel interface itself.

TCP Window Scaling Issues

In some of the network traces I’ve analyzed I’ve seen evidence that seems to support this theory. For example, a network trace taken when downloading a file over DirectAccess with IP-HTTPS showed the TCP window never scaled beyond 64K, which would seriously impede performance. Interestingly this doesn’t seem to happy when the client uploads files over IP-HTTPS. Clearly something unusual is happening.

Microsoft KB Article

Microsoft recently released a vaguely-worded KB article that appears to lend credence to some of these findings. The article seems to acknowledge the fact there are known issues with DirectAccess performance, but it lacks any specific details as to what the root cause is. Instead, it simply advises migrating to Windows 10 Always On VPN.

Summary

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS performance issues don’t appear to affect everyone, and the problem only seems to apply to file downloads and not to other types of traffic. However, there is mounting evidence of a systemic issue with DirectAccess performance especially over IP-HTTPS. Customers are advised to closely evaluate their uses cases for DirectAccess and if remote clients are frequently required to download large files over a DirectAccess connection, an alternative method of file transfer might be required. Optionally customers can consider evaluating alternative remote access solutions that offer better performance such as Windows 10 Always On VPN or third-party solutions such as NetMotion Mobility.

Additional Resources

Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess

What’s the Difference Between DirectAccess and Always On VPN?

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to Microsoft DirectAccess

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

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Cipher Suites Not Available

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Cipher Suites Not AvailableMicrosoft first introduced support for null cipher suites for the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology in Windows Server 2012, and it is supported for DirectAccess in Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients. Using null cipher suites for IP-HTTPS eliminates the needless double encryption that occurs when using encrypted cipher suites. DirectAccess is a unique workload where SSL/TLS encryption isn’t really required because the payload being transported in HTTPS is already encrypted.

No Encryption by Design

When supporting Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients, ensuring null cipher suites (TLS_RSA_WITH_NULL_SHA and TLS_RSA_WITH_NULL_SHA256) are enabled and operational is crucial to providing the highest levels of performance and scalability for the remote access solution. When following implementation best practices, this isn’t really an issue. However, in some cases null cipher suites may be disabled. This will result in reduced scalability and degraded performance for Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients.

Validating SSL/TLS Configuration

The easiest way to verify that null cipher suites are being offered by the DirectAccess server is to use the Qualys SSL Labs server test site. Ideally you should see a result similar to this.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Cipher Suites Not AvailableFigure 1. Qualys SSL Labs server test site results for properly configured DirectAccess server.

Don’t be alarmed by the overall rating “F”. That happens because the Qualys test site is designed to test web servers where using null cipher suites would be a serious security issue. As I stated previously, the DirectAccess workload is unique in that its HTTPS payload is already encrypted, so using null cipher suites is acceptable in this scenario.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Cipher Suites Not AvailableFigure 2. Qualys SSL Labs server test site results for properly configured DirectAccess server showing support for null SSL/TLS cipher suites.

Null Cipher Suites Missing

When performing the Qualys SSL labs server test on a DirectAccess server, an overall rating of “A” is not desirable and indicates the DirectAccess server is misconfigured. This is caused by the lack of support for null cipher suites.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Cipher Suites Not AvailableFigure 3. Qualys SSL Labs server test site results for misconfigured DirectAccess server.

Common Causes

Null cipher suites for SSL and TLS can be disabled for a variety of reasons. Below are some of the most common causes for the lack of support for null cipher suites for DirectAccess.

Self-Signed Certificates – Using the Getting Started Wizard (simplified deployment) will configure DirectAccess using a self-signed certificate for IP-HTTPS. Using a self-signed certificate is discouraged for numerous reasons, most importantly because it disables support for null cipher suites.

Security Hardening – Security administrators may proactively disable support for null cipher suites in a misguided effort to “improve security” for DirectAccess. While this is acceptable and recommended on a web server, it is not advisable to disable null cipher suites on a DirectAccess server.

SSL Certificate Signing Algorithm – Using an SSL certificate signed with an Elliptical Curve (EC) key as opposed to an RSA key will result in the loss of support for null cipher suites for IP-HTTPS. High security/assurance certificates signed with EC keys are not recommended for use on DirectAccess servers and should be avoided if possible.

DirectAccess Configuration Options – Enabling One-Time Password (OTP) authentication on the DirectAccess server will also result in a loss of support for null cipher suites. Also, adding additional roles to the DirectAccess server such as client-based VPN or the Web Application Proxy (WAP) can also result in null cipher suites being disabled.

Summary

Null cipher suites are implemented by design on DirectAccess servers to enhance performance for Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients and improve overall scalability for the implementation. They eliminate the pointless double encryption of DirectAccess communication, which itself is already encrypted. For optimal performance and scalability, be sure to follow implementation best practices and use a PKI-managed (public or private) SSL certificate signed with an RSA key (SHA-256 recommended). Resist the urge to “harden” the DirectAccess server by disabling support for null cipher suites, and avoid the use of SSL certificates signed with EC keys. In addition, carefully consider DirectAccess deployment options such as OTP authentication and consider deploying roles such as VPN and WAP on a separate server.

Additional Information

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS SSL and TLS Insecure Cipher Suites

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Encryption and SSTP VPN

DirectAccess and FIPS Compliant Algorithms for Encryption

SSL Certificate Considerations for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS 

 

 

SSL Certificate Considerations for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS

SSL Certificate Considerations for DirectAccess IP-HTTPSDirectAccess uses IPv6 exclusively for communication between the client and server. IPv6 transition technologies are used to support DirectAccess communication over the IPv4 public Internet. One of those IPv6 transition technologies, IP-HTTPS, uses HTTP for encapsulation and SSL/TLS for authentication of the DirectAccess server.

SSL Certificates

When configuring DirectAccess, an SSL certificate must be provided for IP-HTTPS. There are three different types of SSL certificates that can be used.

Public SSL Certificate – Using an SSL certificate signed by a public certification authority (CA) is the recommended best practice for configuring DirectAccess IP-HTTPS. This provides the highest level of assurance for DirectAccess clients connecting via IP-HTTPS.

Private SSL Certificate – Using an SSL certificate issued by the organization’s internal CA is an acceptable alternative to using a public SSL certificate in most cases. This can reduce the cost associated with obtaining the certificate, especially for multisite deployments.

Self-Signed Certificate – Using a self-signed certificate is not recommended and should be avoided in most deployment scenarios. A self-signed certificate provides no real assurance for DirectAccess clients. Crucially, using a self-signed certificate will disable support for null SSL and TLS cipher suites. This reduces the overall scalability and performance of the remote access solution.

SSL Certificate Considerations for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS

Figure 1. Null cipher suites not supported when using a self-signed SSL certificate for IP-HTTPS.

Certificate Requirements

The SSL certificate must include the Server Authentication (1.3.6.1.5.5.7.3.1) Enhanced Key Usage (EKU) Object Identifier (OID). It should use an RSA key of 2048 bits and be signed with SHA256. Using stronger keys provides no additional protection and should not be used. In addition, SSL certificates using ECDSA keys is not recommended, as they do not support null cipher suites.

Summary

In most cases, using a public SSL certificate is ideal. However, issuing a certificate from a private CA is also acceptable. Using self-signed certificates can be used for non-production testing and in very small production deployments, but should generally be avoided.

Additional Resources

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS SSL and TLS Insecure Cipher Suites

DirectAccess and Multi-SAN SSL Certificates for IP-HTTPS

DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 Core

DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 CoreDeploying DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 core is recommended to ensure the highest level of security and availability for the remote access solution. Server core is a stripped-down, command-line only version of Windows that removes many features unnecessary to support common server workloads. It’s reduced attack surface improves security, and this leaner version of the Windows OS requires less maintenance (patching), resulting in fewer reboots which increases overall availability. It has a smaller disk and memory footprint too which results in quicker system restarts, when required.

Removing the GUI

Historically I’ve recommended that DirectAccess administrators deploy Windows server with the full GUI first, then remove it later after validation testing is complete. Prior to placing it in production, the GUI can be removed by running the following PowerShell command.

Uninstall-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra -Restart

This works flawlessly in Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2. However, when running this command on a Windows Server 2016 server you will receive the following error message.

Uninstall-WindowsFeature : ArgumentNotValid: The role, role service, or feature name is not valid:
‘Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra’. The name was not found.

DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 Core

Changes in Windows Server 2016

This happens because Microsoft quietly removed the option to switch back and forth between the full GUI version and the core version of Windows beginning with Windows Server 2016.

DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 Core

Source: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-server/get-started/getting-started-with-server-core

It is still recommended that DirectAccess be deployed on server core to provide the most secure and reliable experience. However, since it is no longer possible to switch from GUI to core, it must be deployed in serve core configuration upon initial installation.

Additional Information

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Configure Windows Server Core to use PowerShell by Default

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course

Managing and Supporting DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccess

Learn more about NetMotion Mobility by registering for my free live webinar here!

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccessAs I outlined in a recent blog post, there has been much speculation surrounding the end of life for Microsoft DirectAccess. This is not surprising, as Microsoft has not made any investments in DirectAccess since the introduction of Windows Server 2012. Recently, Microsoft began promoting its Always On VPN solution as an alternative for DirectAccess. While DirectAccess has not been formally deprecated, Microsoft is actively encouraging organizations considering DirectAccess to deploy Always On VPN instead, as indicated here.

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to Microsoft DirectAccess

Source: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-server/remote/remote-access/vpn/vpn-top#advanced-vpn-connectivity

DirectAccess Alternatives

It’s important to state that, at the time of this writing, DirectAccess is still fully supported in Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 and will be for quite some time. However, the future for DirectAccess is definitely limited, and customers should start considering alternative remote access solutions.

Always On VPN

Microsoft is positioning Always On VPN as the replacement for DirectAccess. Always On VPN offers some important new capabilities missing from DirectAccess. For example, Always On VPN supports all Windows 10 client SKUs, not just Enterprise and Education as DirectAccess does. Always On VPN includes important security enhancements such as conditional access with system health checks, access control list (ACL) enforcement per device and per application, and more.

Always On VPN Limitations

But Always On VPN has some serious limitations too. For example, Always On VPN works only with Windows 10. Windows 7 is not supported at all. Managing and supporting Always On VPN has its own challenges. It cannot be managed using Active Directory and group policy in the traditional way. You must use System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), Intune, or PowerShell to configure and manage VPN clients.

NetMotion Mobility

I’m excited to announce I’ve recently partnered with NetMotion to provide their secure remote access solutions to organizations looking for alternatives to DirectAccess and Always On VPN. NetMotion Mobility provides the same seamless and transparent, always on remote access with some additional important features not included in DirectAccess and Always On VPN.

Broad Client Support – NetMotion Mobility can provide DirectAccess-like remote access for all versions and SKUs of Windows as well as Mac, iOS (iPhone and iPad), and Android.

Enhanced Security – NetMotion Mobility includes fine-grained policy enforcement to restrict network access based on a wide range of parameters including IP address, protocol, port, application, time of day, location, and type of network (e.g. wired, Wi-Fi, wireless, etc.). NetMotion Mobility also includes integrated Network Access Control (NAC) to validate device configuration prior to connecting, ensuring the highest level of security for remote endpoints. More details here and here.

Improved Performance – NetMotion Mobility client to server communication is optimized to improve reliability and performance. Network traffic is compressed and prioritized to ensure optimum performance for critical applications. Session persistence allows mobile workers to remain connected during times of poor connectivity or when roaming between different networks. More details here.

Greater Visibility – NetMotion Mobility provides a wealth of detailed information to perform analysis and troubleshooting for remote connections. Performance and diagnostic information is logged in real-time and provides administrators with crucial data and insight to quickly identify and resolve connectivity issues. More details here.

Better Supportability – NetMotion Mobility is supported by dedicated, highly trained support engineers with deep product experience. NetMotion support is not tiered. The support engineer who answers the phone will handle the case until resolution.

Learn More about NetMotion

NetMotion Mobility is a truly comprehensive remote access solution and an excellent alternative to DirectAccess. To learn more about NetMotion Mobility and to see it in action, fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you. You can also register for my upcoming free live webinar here.

Additional Information

Webinar: Comparing DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility

Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess

NetMotion and DirectAccess Comparison Whitepaper

NetMotion and Skype for Business demonstration video

NetMotion Website

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Organizations are rapidly deploying Windows server infrastructure with public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. With traditional on-premises infrastructure now hosted in the cloud, DirectAccess is also being deployed there more commonly.

Supportability

Interestingly, Microsoft has expressly stated that DirectAccess is not formally supported on their own public cloud platform, Azure. However, there is no formal statement of non-support for DirectAccess hosted on other non-Microsoft public cloud platforms. With supportability for DirectAccess on AWS unclear, many companies are taking the approach that if it isn’t unsupported, then it must be supported. I’d suggest proceeding with caution, as Microsoft could issue formal guidance to the contrary in the future.

DirectAccess on AWS

Deploying DirectAccess on AWS is similar to deploying on premises, with a few notable exceptions, outlined below.

IP Addressing

It is recommended that an IP address be exclusively assigned to the DirectAccess server in AWS, as shown here.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Prerequisites Check

When first configuring DirectAccess, the administrator will encounter the following warning message.

“The server does not comply with some DirectAccess prerequisites. Resolve all issues before proceed with DirectAccess deployment.”

The warning message itself states that “One or more network adapters should be configured with a static IP address. Obtain a static address and assign it to the adapter.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

IP addressing for virtual machines are managed entirely by AWS. This means the DirectAccess server will have a DHCP-assigned address, even when an IP address is specified in AWS. Assigning static IP addresses in the guest virtual machine itself is also not supported. However, this warning message can safely be ignored.

No Support for Load Balancing

It is not possible to create load-balanced clusters of DirectAccess servers for redundancy or scalability on AWS. This is because enabling load balancing for DirectAccess requires the IP address of the DirectAccess server be changed in the operating system, which is not supported on AWS. To eliminate single points of failure in the DirectAccess architecture or to add additional capacity, multisite must be enabled. Each additional DirectAccess server must be provisioned as an individual entry point.

Network Topology

DirectAccess servers on AWS can be provisioned with one or two network interfaces. Using two network interfaces is recommended, with the external network interface of the DirectAccess server residing in a dedicated perimeter/DMZ network. The external network interface must use either the Public or Private Windows firewall profile. DirectAccess will not work if the external interface uses the Domain profile. For the Public and Private profile to be enabled, domain controllers must not be reachable from the perimeter/DMZ network. Ensure the perimeter/DMZ network cannot access the internal network by restricting network access in EC2 using a Security Group, or on the VPC using a Network Access Control List (ACL) or custom route table settings.

External Connectivity

A public IPv4 address must be associated with the DirectAccess server in AWS. There are several ways to accomplish this. The simplest way is to assign a public IPv4 address to the virtual machine (VM). However, a public IP address can only be assigned to the VM when it is deployed initially and cannot be added later. Alternatively, an Elastic IP can be provisioned and assigned to the DirectAccess server at any time.

An ACL must also be configured for the public IP that restricts access from the Internet to only inbound TCP port 443. To provide additional protection, consider deploying an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) appliance like the Citrix NetScaler or F5 BIG-IP to enforce client certificate authentication for DirectAccess clients.

Network Location Server (NLS)

If an organization is hosting all of its Windows infrastructure in AWS and all clients will be remote, Network Location Server (NLS) availability becomes much less critical than with traditional on-premises deployments. For cloud-only deployments, hosting the NLS on the DirectAccess server is a viable option. It eliminates the need for dedicated NLS, reducing costs and administrative overhead. If multisite is configured, ensure that the NLS is not using a self-signed certificate, as this is unsupported.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

However, for hybrid cloud deployments where on-premises DirectAccess clients share the same internal network with cloud-hosted DirectAccess servers, it is recommended that the NLS be deployed on dedicated, highly available servers following the guidance outlined here and here.

Client Provisioning

All supported DirectAccess clients will work with DirectAccess on AWS. If the domain infrastructure is hosted exclusively in AWS, provisioning clients can be performed using Offline Domain Join (ODJ). Provisioning DirectAccess clients using ODJ is only supported in Windows 8.x/10. Windows 7 clients cannot be provisioned using ODJ and must be joined to the domain using another form of remote network connectivity such as VPN.

Additional Resources

DirectAccess No Longer Supported in Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Server Software Support for Azure Virtual Machines

DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS) Guidance

DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS) Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Provisioning DirectAccess Clients using Offline Domain Join (ODJ)

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with F5 BIG-IP

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

Introduction

Communication between the DirectAccess client and server takes place exclusively over IPv6. When DirectAccess servers and/or clients are on the IPv4 Internet, an IPv6 transition technology must be employed to allow those clients to connect to the DirectAccess server. DirectAccess deployment best practices dictate that only the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology be used. IP-HTTPS uses SSL/TLS for server authentication and optionally encryption. To improve security and performance for IP-HTTPS, an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) like the Citrix NetScaler can be configured to perform SSL offloading and client preauthentication for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS connections.

Please note that the following caveats apply when enabling SSL offload for DirectAccess clients:

  • Enabling SSL offload and IP-HTTPS preauthentication on an ADC for DirectAccess is formally unsupported by Microsoft.
  • SSL offload should not be enabled with DirectAccess is configured to use one-time password (OTP) authentication. Offloading SSL will break OTP functionality.

IP-HTTPS Challenges

The IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology is a simple and effective way to allow DirectAccess clients and servers to communicate by encapsulating IPv6 traffic in HTTP and routing it over the public IPv4 Internet. However, there are two critical issues with the default implementation of IP-HTTPS in DirectAccess. One is a security issue, the other affects performance.

Security

The DirectAccess server does not authenticate clients establishing IP-HTTPS connections. This could allow an unauthorized client to obtain an IPv6 address from the DirectAccess server using the IPv6 Neighbor Discovery (ND) process. With a valid IPv6 address, the unauthorized user could perform internal network reconnaissance or launch a variety of Denial of Service (DoS) attacks on the DirectAccess infrastructure and connected clients. More details here.

Performance

Windows 7 DirectAccess clients use encrypted cipher suites when establishing IP-HTTPS connections. However, the payload being transported is already encrypted using IPsec. This double encryption increases resource utilization on the DirectAccess server, reducing performance and limiting scalability. More details here.


Note: Beginning with Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, Microsoft introduced support for null encryption for IP-HTTPS connections. This eliminates the needless double encryption, greatly improving scalability and performance for DirectAccess clients using IP-HTTPS.


SSL Offload for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS

The Citrix NetScaler can be configured to perform SSL offload to improve performance for Windows 7 DirectAccess clients using IP-HTTPS. Since DirectAccess does not natively support SSL offload, the NetScaler must be configured in a non-traditional way. While the NetScaler will be configured to terminate incoming IP-HTTPS SSL connections, it must also use SSL for the back-end connection to the DirectAccess server. However, the NetScaler will be configured only to use null cipher suites when connecting to the DirectAccess server. Even though Windows 7 clients will still perform double encryption to the NetScaler, this configuration effectively offloads from the server the heavy burden of double encrypting every IP-HTTPS connection for all connected DirectAccess clients. This results in reduced CPU utilization on the DirectAccess server, yielding better scalability and performance.

SSL Offload and Windows 8.x/10 Clients

Offloading SSL for Windows 8.x/10 clients will not improve performance because they already use null cipher suites for IP-HTTPS when connecting to a Windows Server 2012 or later DirectAccess server. However, terminating SSL on the NetScaler is still required to perform IP-HTTPS preauthentication.

Supported NetScaler Platforms for DirectAccess SSL Offloading

The following configuration for Citrix NetScaler can be performed on any release of the VPX virtual ADC platform. However, be advised that there is a known issue with older releases on the MDX and SDX hardware platforms that will prevent this from working. For MDX and SDX deployments, upgrading to release 11.1 build 50.10 or later will be required.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for IP-HTTPS SSL Offload

To enable SSL offloading for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS on the Citrix NetScaler, open the NetScaler management console, expand Traffic Management and Load Balancing, and then perform the following procedures in order.

Add Servers

  1. Click Servers.
  2. Click Add.
  3. In the Name field enter a descriptive name for the first DirectAccess server.
  4. Select IP Address.
  5. In the IP Address field enter the IP address of the first DirectAccess server.
  6. Click Create.
  7. Repeat these steps for any additional servers in the load-balanced cluster.

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

Add Services

  1. Click Services.
  2. Click Add.
  3. In the Service Name field enter a descriptive name for the service.
  4. Select Existing Server from the Server drop-down list.
  5. Choose the first DirectAccess server in the cluster.
  6. Choose SSL from the Protocol drop-down list.
  7. Click Ok.DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler
  8. Edit SSL Parameters.
    1. In the Protocol section uncheck SSLv3.
    2. Click Ok.
  9. Edit SSL Ciphers.
    1. Click Remove All.
    2. Click Add.
    3. Type NULL in the Search Ciphers box.
    4. Check the box next to the first entry for SSL3-NULL-SHA.
    5.  Click the right arrow to add the cipher to the list.
    6. Click Ok.
    7. Click Done.
    8. Repeat these steps for any additional servers in the load-balanced cluster.DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

A warning message may be displayed indicating that no usable ciphers are configured on the SSL vserver/service. This message can be safely ignored.

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

Add Virtual Server

  1. Click Virtual Servers.
    1. Click Add.
    2. In the Name field enter a descriptive name for the virtual server.
    3. Choose SSL from the Protocol drop-down list.
    4. In the IP Address field enter the IP address for the virtual server.
    5. Click Ok.DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

      Note: When enabling load balancing in DirectAccess, the IP address assigned to the first DirectAccess server is reallocated for use as the load balancing Virtual IP Address (VIP). Ideally this IP address will be assigned to the load balancing virtual server on the NetScaler. However, this is not a hard requirement. It is possible to configure the VIP on the NetScaler to reside on any subnet that the load balancer has an interface to. More details here.


  2. In the Services and Groups section click No Load Balancing Virtual Server Service Binding.
    1. Click on the Select Service field.
    2. Check all DirectAccess server services and click Select.
    3. Click Bind.
    4. Click Continue.
  3. In the Certificate section click No Server Certificate.
    1. Click on the Select Server Certificate field.
    2. Choose the certificate to be used for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS.
    3. Click Select.
    4. Click Bind.
    5. Click Continue.
  4. Edit SSL Ciphers.
    1. Click Remove All.
    2. Click Add.
    3. Type ECDHE in to the Search Ciphers box.
    4. Check the box next to TLS1-ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA.
    5. Click the right arrow to add the cipher to the list.
    6. Type NULL in to the Search Ciphers box.
    7. Check the box next to SSL3-NULL-SHA.
    8. Click the right arrow to add the cipher to the list.
    9. Click Ok.
    10. Click Done.DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

      Note: If Windows 8.x/10 clients are supported exclusively, SSL3-NULL-SHA is the only cipher suite required to be configured on the virtual server. If Windows 7 client support is required, the TLS1-ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA cipher suite should also be configured on the virtual server.


  5. Edit SSL Parameters.
    1. Uncheck SSLv3.
    2. Click Ok.

      Note: If Windows 8.x/10 clients are supported exclusively, TLSv1 can also be unchecked on the virtual server. If Windows 7 client support is required, TLSv1 must be enabled.


  6. In the Advanced Settings section click Persistence.
    1. Choose SSLSESSION.
    2. Enter 10 minutes for the Time-out (mins) value.
    3. Click Ok.
    4. Click Done.

Optional IP-HTTPS Preauthentication

To enable IP-HTTPS preauthentication to prevent unauthorized network access, perform the following procedures on the Citrix NetScaler appliance.

  1. Expand Traffic Management, Load Balancing, and then click Virtual Servers.
  2. Select the DirectAccess virtual server and click Edit.
    1. In the Certificate section click No CA Certificate.
    2. Click the Select CA Certificate field.
    3. Choose the certificate for the CA that issues certificates to DirectAccess clients and servers.

      Note: The CA certificate used for DirectAccess can be found by opening the Remote Access Management console, clicking Edit on Step 2, and then clicking Authentication. Alternatively, the CA certificate can be found by running the following PowerShell command.

      (Get-RemoteAccess).IPsecRootCertificate | Format-Table Thumbprint


    4. Click Select.
    5. Choose CRL Optional from the CRL and OCSP Check drop-down list.
    6. Click Bind.
  3. Edit SSL Parameters.
    1. Check the box next to Client Authentication.
    2. Choose Mandatory from the Client Certificate drop-down list.
    3. Click Ok.
    4. Click Done.
      DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

Summary

Leveraging the advanced capabilities of the Citrix NetScaler ADC can improve performance when supporting Windows 7 clients and enhance security for all DirectAccess clients using IP-HTTPS. In terms of supportability, all of the changes described in this article are completely transparent and do not alter the native DirectAccess client or server configuration. If a Microsoft support engineer declines support due to this configuration, switching from SSL offload to SSL bridge is all that’s required to restore full supportability.

Additional Resources

NetScaler release 11.1 build 50.10 (requires login) – https://www.citrix.com/downloads/netscaler-adc/firmware/release-111-build-5010

Release notes for build 50.10 of NetScaler 11.1 release – https://www.citrix.com/content/dam/citrix/en_us/documents/downloads/netscaler-adc/NS_11_1_50_10.html

VIDEO: Enable Load Balancing for DirectAccess – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tdqgY9Y-uo

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS preauthentication using F5 BIG-IP – https://directaccess.richardhicks.com/2016/05/23/directaccess-ip-https-preauthentication-using-f5-big-ip/

DirectAccess SSL offload for IP-HTTPS using F5 BIG-IP – https://directaccess.richardhicks.com/2013/07/10/ssl-offload-for-ip-https-directaccess-traffic-from-windows-7-clients-using-f5-big-ip/

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 book – http://directaccessbook.com/

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