Always On VPN SSTP and HSTS

HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) is a feature commonly used by websites to protect against protocol downgrade attacks, where an attacker forces the use of insecure HTTP instead of HTTPS. If successful, the attacker can intercept unencrypted communication between the client and the web server. This is undesirable for obvious reasons. As such, web server administrators implement an HTTP response header named Strict-Transport-Security with some additional settings that instruct the user agent, in this case, a web browser, to only use secure HTTPS when communicating with the web server. Attempts to use HTTP will not work.

VPN and SSTP

As security is always a top concern when building an Always On VPN infrastructure, careful attention must be paid to VPN protocol configuration to ensure optimal security. Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) is a popular VPN protocol for Always On VPN user tunnel connections. SSTP uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) for encryption, so administrators are encouraged to implement recommended security configurations, such as disabling insecure protocols like TLS 1.0 and TLS 1.1 and optimizing TLS cipher suites as described here.

SSTP with HSTS

It would seem that enabling HSTS on a Windows RRAS VPN server would be ideal for improving SSTP security. However, that’s not the case. HSTS prevents protocol downgrade attacks from HTTPS to HTTP, but SSTP already uses HTTPS exclusively, making the use of HSTS irrelevant. If an attacker attempted a protocol downgrade attack on an SSTP VPN connection, it would fail because the service does not support HTTP between the client and the VPN gateway. Additionally, even if it were possible to configure RRAS to send an HSTS response header, it would be ignored by the client because the user agent is not a web browser.

Additional Information

Always On VPN SSTP Security Configuration

Always On VPN SSTP and TLS 1.3

Always On VPN SSTP Certificate Renewal

Always On VPN SSTP with Let’s Encrypt Certificates

Always On VPN SSTP Certificate Binding Error

SSL and TLS Training for Always On VPN Administrators

Always On VPN RRAS Internal Interface Non-Operational

Windows 10 Always On VPN Routing Configuration

Always On VPN administrators troubleshooting connectivity issues may find the Internal network interface in the Routing and Remote Access management console (rrasmgmt.msc) administrative status indicates ‘Unknown’. They will also notice the Operational Status shows Non-operational.

Internal Interface

For clarification, the ‘Internal’ network interface in the Routing and Remote Access management console, as shown above, is not a physical network adapter on the server. Instead, it is a virtual network interface used only for incoming VPN connections.

Non-Operational

The Internal virtual network interface will not be created until the VPN server accepts its first VPN connection. Because of this, the Internal interface will have an operational status of non-operational until the first client attempts to connect. When this occurs, RRAS creates the interface, then assigns it the first IP address from the static IPv4 address pool. Alternatively, if DHCP is configured, it will assign the first IP address returned by the DHCP server.

Interface Names

While discussing network interfaces, I typically recommend renaming them in Windows to identify their function, especially when using two NIC configurations. However, be careful not to name the server’s internal network adapter ‘Internal’, as this can be confusing in the future. In my example above, I use the name ‘LAN’ to identify the internal adapter to distinguish it from the server’s ‘Internal’ virtual interface.

Additional Information

Windows Server RRAS Service Does Not Start

Windows Server RRAS Monitoring and Reporting

Microsoft Always On VPN and RRAS in Azure

Microsoft Always On VPN and RRAS with Signle NIC

Always On VPN Error -2146762495

DirectAccess Troubleshooting and the Windows 10 Network Connectivity Assistant

Always On VPN Administrators may encounter a scenario where Always On VPN connections suddenly stop working for all clients using the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) VPN protocol. IKEv2 VPN connections continue to work, however.

Event Log

Reviewing the event log on a client machine reveals an error event ID 20227 from the RasClient source. The error message states the following.

“The user [username] dialed a connection named [connection name] which has failed. The error code returned on failure is -2146762495.”

Error -2146762495?

Always On VPN administrators will be familiar with error codes such as 809, 691 and 812, 853, 858, and even 13801, 13806, and 13868. However, this error code seems to be formatted much differently. As it turns out, this message is in decimal format. Thankfully it’s pretty easy to convert it to something more meaningful, like hexadecimal. To do this, open the Windows calculator (calc.exe) and switch to programmer mode. Highlight DEC and enter -2146762495. The hexadecimal value will be displayed in the HEX field, as shown here.

Error 0x800B0101

After converting the error message from decimal to hex, use the Microsoft Error Lookup tool (err.exe) to translate the hex value of this error. As shown here, 0x800B0101 translates to CERT_E_EXPIRED.

Expired TLS Certificate

Once again, an expired certificate is to blame! In this case, the TLS certificate installed on the VPN server has expired and is no longer valid.

Resolution

The problem is simple enough to resolve, of course. Obtain a new TLS certificate from your certification authority (CA) of choice and update your VPN server configuration. You can find detailed guidance for updating the RRAS VPN server’s TLS certificate here. You will also find a video demonstration of the RRAS SSL/TLS certificate renewal process here.

Additional Information

Installing or Renewing an SSL/TLS Certificate on Windows Server RRAS for Always On VPN and SSTP

VIDEO: Installing or Renewing an SSL/TLS certificate on Windows Server RRAS for Always On VPN and SSTP

Microsoft Windows Always On VPN SSTP Security Configuration

Microsoft Windows Always On VPN SSL/TLS Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Microsoft Windows Always On VPN SSTP with Let’s Encrypt Certificates

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