PowerShell Recommended Reading for DirectAccess and Always On VPN Administrators

PowerShell Recommended Reading for DirectAccess and Always On VPN AdministratorsPowerShell is an important skill for administrators supporting Microsoft workloads including DirectAccess and Always On VPN. Using PowerShell to install required roles and features is much simpler and quicker than using the Graphical User Interface (GUI), with only a single command required to accomplish this task. Some settings aren’t exposed in the GUI and can only be configured using PowerShell. In addition, PowerShell makes the task of troubleshooting DirectAccess and Always On VPN much easier.

Learn PowerShell

One of the best resources for learning PowerShell is the book Learn PowerShell in a Month of Lunches authored by Microsoft MVPs and recognized PowerShell experts Don Jones and Jeff Hicks. This book, now in its third edition, should be considered essential reading for all Microsoft administrators. Click here for more details.

PowerShell Recommended Reading for DirectAccess and Always On VPN Administrators

Learn PowerShell Scripting

Recently Don and Jeff released a new book entitled Learn PowerShell Scripting in a Month of Lunches. This new book builds upon the skills learned in their first title by focusing on the development of PowerShell scripts to automate many common administrative tasks. PowerShell scripts can also be used to build custom, reusable tools to more effectively manage and monitor Microsoft workloads. Click here for more details.

PowerShell Recommended Reading for DirectAccess and Always On VPN Administrators

PowerShell for the Future

In my experience, far too many administrators today lack crucial PowerShell abilities. Don’t get left behind! PowerShell is rapidly becoming a required skill, so get these books and start learning PowerShell today!

Additional Resources

Top 5 DirectAccess Troubleshooting PowerShell Commands

Configure Windows Server Core to use PowerShell by Default

 

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know About Always On VPN

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know About Always On VPNAs 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

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

Microsoft Ignite Conference 2017

Will you be attending the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, FL next week? Let’s connect! I’m not giving any talks this year, so I will be spending most of my time with the folks at Pointsharp in their booth in the expo hall. Want to talk security, remote access, multifactor authentication, load balancing/application delivery, PKI, or anything else? Stop by and say hi! Follow me on Twitter @richardhicks for live updates. In addition, I’ll be hosting a happy hour event with NetMotion on Tuesday, September 26 at 6PM at the Rocks lounge in the Hyatt Regency hotel just across the street from the conference center. Be sure to drop in and say hello! Hope to see you there!

Microsoft Ignite 2017

TechMentor Conference Orlando 2017

I'm Speaking at Live!360 and TechMentor Event 2017 in Orlando, Florida November 12-17. Join me!I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be speaking at the TechMentor Conference (which is part of Live! 360) in Orlando, FL. The event takes place November 12-17 and I will be delivering several sessions on DirectAccess, DNS policies, and network troubleshooting in Windows Server 2016. More details these sessions can be found here.

TMT02 – Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016

TMW01 – Network Troubleshooting for Windows Administrators

TMW04 – Introducing DNS Policies in Windows Server 2016

Sign up using promotion code LSPK34 and save $500.00. Register now!

 

 

DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility Webinar

Update: You can view the on-demand recording of this webinar here.

DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 CoreFor many years, DirectAccess has been the gold standard for enterprise remote access. Its seamless and transparent operation improves productivity for mobile workers, and since it is always on, administrators enjoy improved visibility and management for their field-based assets.

As incredible as DirectAccess is, it is not without its limitations. For example, DirectAccess works only with Windows Enterprise edition clients that are joined to the domain. Professional Edition and non-domain joined machines are not supported. It also lacks many of the security features enterprise organizations require, such as device health checks and granular network access. In addition, DirectAccess communication is complex, with many different layers of encapsulation, authentication, and encryption. High protocol overhead can lead to poor performance over high latency or low bandwidth connections.

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccessNetMotion Mobility is a secure remote access solution that is an excellent alternative to DirectAccess. It provides the same seamless, transparent, always on remote connectivity that DirectAccess provides, while at the same time offering much more in terms of features and capabilities. It supports a much broader range of clients, includes native Network Access Control (NAC) and application filtering, and offers enhanced performance.

To learn more about NetMotion Mobility, join me on Wednesday, September 20 at 10:00AM PDT for a free live webinar with NetMotion. I’ll provide an overview of NetMotion Mobility and how it compares with DirectAccess. I’ll also demonstrate how it can help overcome some of the inherent limitations of DirectAccess too. Register today!

DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility Webinar

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

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 Enabled -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

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

Since the introduction of Windows Server 2012 in September of 2012, no new features or functionality have been added to DirectAccess. In Windows Server 2016, the only real change aside from bug fixes for DirectAccess is the removal of Network Access Protection (NAP) integration support.

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccessFigure 1. Remote Access Setup wizard with NAP integration option in Windows Server 2012/R2.

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

Figure 2. Remote Access Setup wizard without NAP integration option in Windows Server 2016.

DirectAccess Roadmap

It’s clear to see that Microsoft is no longer investing in DirectAccess, and in fact their field sales teams have been communicating this to customers for quite some time now. Microsoft has been actively encouraging organizations who are considering a DirectAccess solution to instead implement client-based VPN with Windows 10.

Always On VPN

New features introduced in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update allow IT administrators to configure automatic VPN connection profiles. This Always On VPN connection provides a DirectAccess-like experience using traditional remote access VPN protocols such as IKEv2, SSTP, and L2TP/IPsec. It comes with some additional benefits as well.

  • Conditional access and device compliance with system health checks
  • Windows Hello for Business and Azure multifactor authentication
  • Windows Information Protection (WIP) integration
  • Traffic filters to restrict VPN network access
  • Application-trigger VPN connections

DirectAccess Deprecated?

There has been rampant speculation that Microsoft plans to deprecate and retire DirectAccess. While that may in fact be true, Microsoft has yet to make a formal end-of-life announcement. There’s no reason DirectAccess and VPN couldn’t co-exist, so it’s not a certainty Microsoft will do this. However, there’s also no need to have multiple remote access solutions, and it is abundantly clear that the future for Microsoft remote access is Always On VPN and not DirectAccess.

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

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

Always On VPN Advantages and Disadvantages

Windows 10 Always On VPN has some important advantages over DirectAccess. It has some crucial limitations as well.

Advantages

  • Always On VPN supports non-Enterprise Windows 10 client SKUs (Windows 10 Home and Professional)
  • Always On VPN includes support for granular network access control
  • Always On VPN can use both IPv4 and IPv6
  • Always On VPN is infrastructure independent. In addition to supporting Windows RRAS, any third-party network device can be used such as Cisco, Checkpoint, Juniper, Palo Alto, SonicWALL, Fortinet, Sophos, and many more

Disadvantages

  • Always On VPN works only with Windows 10. It is not supported for Windows 7
  • Always On VPN cannot be managed natively using Active Directory and group policy. It must be configured and managed using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), Microsoft Intune, or PowerShell

DirectAccess or Always On VPN?

Should you deploy DirectAccess today or implement Always On VPN with Windows 10 instead? That depends on a number of factors. It’s important to understand that DirectAccess is fully supported in Windows Server 2016 and will likely be for many years to come. If DirectAccess meets your needs today, you can deploy it with confidence that it will still have a long support life. If you have reservations about the future viability of DirectAccess, and if you meet all of the requirements to support Always On VPN with Windows 10, then perhaps that’s a better choice. If you’d like to discuss your remote access options in more detail, fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you.

Additional Resources

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know About Always On VPN

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccess

DirectAccess vs. VPN

Always On VPN Deployment Guide for Windows Server 2016 and Windows 10

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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