Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADCOne of the many advantages of using Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) as the VPN server to support Windows 10 Always On VPN connections is that it includes support for the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP). SSTP is a TLS-based VPN protocol that is easy to configure and deploy and is very firewall friendly. This ensures consistent and reliable connectivity even behind restrictive firewalls. The Citrix Application Delivery Controller (ADC), formerly known as NetScaler, is a popular platform for load balancing Always On VPN connections. In this article I’ll describe how to configure load balancing on the Citrix ADC for RRAS VPN connections using the SSTP VPN protocol.

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

Load Balancing SSTP

Previously I’ve written about some of the use cases and benefits of SSTP load balancing as well as the options for offloading TLS for SSTP VPN connections. Load balancing SSTP eliminates single points of failure and enables support for multiple RRAS VPN servers to increase scalability. It is generally recommended that the Citrix ADC be configured to pass through encrypted SSTP VPN connections. However, TLS offloading can be configured to improve performance and reduce resource utilization on VPN servers, if required.

Configuration

Load balancing SSTP on the Citrix ADC is straightforward and not unlike load balancing a common HTTPS web server. Below are specific settings and parameters required to load balance SSTP using the Citrix ADC.

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

Service Settings

The load balancing service for SSTP VPN should be configured to use TCP port 443 and the SSL_BRIDGE protocol. If TLS offload is required, TCP port 80 and the HTTP protocol can be configured. Additional configuration is required on the RRAS server when TLS offload is enabled, however. Detailed information for configuring RRAS and SSTP for TLS offload can be found here.

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Virtual Server Settings

The virtual server is configured to use TCP port 443. It is recommended to use SSLSESSION persistence.

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

The LEASTCONNECTION load balancing method is the recommend option for load balancing method.

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Service Monitoring

Using the default TCP monitor (tcp-default) is not recommended for monitoring SSTP, as a simple TCP port check does not accurately reflect the health of the SSTP service running on the RRAS server. To more precisely monitor the SSTP service status, a new custom monitor must be created and bound to the load balancing services. Follow the steps below to configure a custom SSTP VPN monitor on the Citrix ADC.

  1. Open the Citrix ADC management console and expand Traffic Management.
  2. Select Monitors.
  3. Click Add.
  4. Enter a descriptive name in the Name field.
  5. Select HTTP form the Type drop-down list and click Select.
  6. Adjust the Interval and Response Time-out values according to your requirements.
  7. Enter 401 in the Response Codes field and click the “+” button.
  8. In the Response Codes field click the “x” next to 200.
  9. In the HTTP Request field enter HEAD /sra_{BA195980-CD49-458b-9E23-C84EE0ADCD75}/.
  10. Check the box next to Secure (not required if TLS offload is enabled).
  11. Select ns_default_ssl_profile_backend from the SSL profile drop-down list (not required if TLS offload is enabled).
  12. Click Create.

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Once complete, bind the new service monitor to the load balancing services or service groups accordingly.

TLS Offload

It is generally recommended that TLS offload not be enabled for SSTP VPN. However, if TLS offload is desired, it is configured in much the same way as a common HTTPS web server. Specific guidance for enabling TLS offload on the Citrix ADC can be found here. Details for configuring RRAS and SSTP to support TLS offload can be found here.

Certificates

When enabling TLS offload for SSTP VPN connections it is recommended that the public SSL certificate be installed on the RRAS server, even though TLS processing will be handled on the Citrix ADC and HTTP will be used between the Citrix ADC and the RRAS server. If installing the public SSL certificate on the RRAS server is not an option, additional configuration will be required. Specifically, TLS offload for SSTP must be configured using the Enable-SSTPOffload.ps1 PowerShell script, which can be found here.

Once the script has been downloaded, open an elevated PowerShell command window and enter the following command.

.\Enable-SSTPOffload.ps1 -CertificateHash [SHA256 Certificate Hash of Public SSL Certificate] -Restart

Example:

.\Enable-SSTPOffload.ps1 -CertificateHash ‘C3AB8FF13720E8AD9047DD39466B3C8974E592C2FA383D4A3960714CAEF0C4F2’ -Restart

Re-Encryption

When offloading TLS for SSTP VPN connections, all traffic between the Citrix ADC and the RRAS server will be sent in the clear using HTTP. In some instances, TLS offload is required only for traffic inspection, not performance gain. In this scenario the Citrix ADC will be configured to terminate and then re-encrypt connections to the RRAS server. When terminating TLS on the Citrix ADC and re-encrypting connections to the RRAS server is required, the same certificate must be used on both the Citrix ADC and the RRAS server. Using different certificates on the RRAS server and the load balancer is not supported.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN Load Balancing and SSL Offload

SSL Offload Configuration for Citrix ADC (NetScaler)

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Kemp LoadMaster

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

Windows 10 Always On VPN Connects then Disconnects

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSL Certificate Requirements for SSTP

DirectAccess Expired IP-HTTPS Certificate and Error 0x800b0101

Introduction

DirectAccess is an IPv6 only solution, at least from the perspective of the client. When the DirectAccess client is remote, it communicates with the DirectAccess server using IPv6 exclusively. IPv6 transition technologies are used to enable this connectivity when the DirectAccess server and/or client are on the pubic IPv4 Internet.

IP-HTTPS

One of the IPv6 transition technologies used by DirectAccess is IP-HTTPS. With IP-HTTPS, IPv6 traffic is encapsulated in HTTP and delivered to the DirectAccess server using IPv4. IP-HTTPS is used exclusively when the DirectAccess server is located behind an edge firewall performing network address translation.

SSL Certificate

To support IP-HTTPS, an SSL certificate is installed on each DirectAccess server. The SSL certificate is commonly issued by a public certification authority, but it can also be issued by an internal PKI. The SSL certificate used for IP-HTTPS can and does expire, and when it does it will prevent any DirectAccess connection from being established using this transition technology.

Troubleshooting

When troubleshooting DirectAccess connectivity via IP-HTTPS, the first thing the administrator will notice is that the media state for the DirectAccess client’s IP-HTTPS tunnel adapter interface is shown as disconnected.

DirectAccess Expired IP-HTTPS Certificate and Error 0x800b0101

In addition, the Get-NetIPHttpsState PowerShell command returns an error code 0x800b0101 indicating Failed to connect to the IP-HTTPS server; waiting to reconnect.

DirectAccess Expired IP-HTTPS Certificate and Error 0x800b0101

Err.exe translates this error to CERT_E_EXPIRED, indicating that the SSL certificate is no longer valid.

DirectAccess Expired IP-HTTPS Certificate and Error 0x800b0101

Viewing the IP-HTTPS SSL certificate is not possible using a web browser. Instead, use Nmap and the ssl-cert script to view the certificate.

nmap.exe -n -Pn -p443 [FQDN] –script ssl-cert

DirectAccess Expired IP-HTTPS Certificate and Error 0x800b0101

In the Operations Status window of the Remote Access Management console on the DirectAccess server, the IP-HTTPS status is listed as Critical. Details show IP-HTTPS not working properly, with an error stating the IP-HTTPS certificate is not valid, and clearly indicating that the certificate is expired.

DirectAccess Expired IP-HTTPS Certificate and Error 0x800b0101

The IP-HTTPS status can also be viewed at the command line by issuing the following command in an elevated PowerShell command window.

Get-RemoteAccessHealth | Where-Object Component -eq IP-Https | Format-List

DirectAccess Expired IP-HTTPS Certificate and Error 0x800b0101

Updating the Certificate

Simply renewing the SSL certificate is not sufficient to restore IP-HTTPS connectivity for remote DirectAccess clients. The DirectAccess configuration must also be updated to use the new certificate. In the Remote Access Management console, highlight DirectAccess and VPN under Configuration and then click Edit on Step 2 (for load-balanced or multisite DirectAccess deployments, first highlight the individual server and then click Configure Server Settings). Click Network Adapters, click Browse, and then select the new SSL certificate.

DirectAccess Expired IP-HTTPS Certificate and Error 0x800b0101

Click Ok, Next, and then Finish twice and Apply. Repeat these steps for each server in the load-balanced cluster, and for all servers in all entry points in the enterprise.

Alternatively, the IP-HTTPS certificate can be updated in the DirectAccess configuration by opening an elevated PowerShell command window and entering the following commands.

$cert = Get-ChildItem -Path cert:\localmachine\my | Where-Object Thumbprint -eq [cert_thumbprint]
Set-RemoteAccess -SslCertificate $cert -Verbose

For example…

$cert = Get-ChildItem -Path cert:\localmachine\my | Where-Object Thumbprint -eq 2BFD1BC5805EBBF8ACB584DA025AD75B341A8B33
Set-RemoteAccess -SslCertificate $cert -Verbose


Important Note: Be sure to execute these commands on each DirectAccess server in the load-balanced cluster, and for all servers in all entry points in the enterprise.


Self-Signed Certificates

When DirectAccess is deployed using the Getting Started Wizard (GSW), also known as a “simplified deployment“, a self-signed certificate is used for IP-HTTPS. By default, this certificate expires 5 years after it is created. The expiration of a self-signed certificate presentsa unique challenge. Although the self-signed certificate can’t be renewed, it can be re-created or cloned using the New-SelfSignedCertificate PowerShell command. However, DirectAccess clients will not trust this new certificate until they receive the updated client settings via group policy. DirectAccess clients outside the network will not be able to establish IP-HTTPS connections until they receive these new policies. When they attempt to connect to the DirectAccess server without first updating group policy, the IP-HTTPS status will indicate an error code 0x800b0109 which translates to CERT_E_UNTRUSTEDROOT.

If the expired self-signed certificate is replaced with another self-signed certificate (not recommended), DirectAccess clients will have to come back to the internal network or connect remotely via client-based VPN to update group policy and receive the new DirectAccess client settings. A better alternative is to replace the expired self-signed certificate with a public SSL certificate that matches the existing public hostname. This will allow remote clients to reestablish DirectAccess connectivity without the need to udpate group policy first.

Summary

Certificate expiration must be monitored closely to ensure the highest level of availability for the DirectAccess remote access solution. Certificate auto enrollment can be leveraged to ensure that IPsec certificates are automatically renewed prior to expiration. However, the IP-HTTPS certificate must be renewed manually and requires additional configuration after it has been updated.

Additional Resources

DirectAccess Computer Certificate Auto Enrollment

DirectAccess and Multi-SAN SSL Certificates for IP-HTTPS

SSL Certificate Considerations for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 book

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