Always On VPN IKEv2 Features and Limitations

Always On VPN IKEv2 Features and LimitationsThe Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) VPN protocol is a popular choice for Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments. IKEv2 is a standards-based IPsec VPN protocol with customizable security parameters that allows administrators to provide the highest level of protection for remote clients. In addition, it provides important interoperability with a variety of VPN devices, including Microsoft Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) and non-Microsoft platforms such as Cisco, Checkpoint, Palo Alto, and others.

IKEv2 Limitations

IKEv2 is clearly the protocol of choice in terms of security. It supports modern cryptography and is highly resistant to interception. It’s not without some operational challenges, however. Consider the following.

Firewalls

IKEv2 uses UDP ports 500 and 4500 for communication. Unfortunately, these ports are not always open. Often, they are blocked by network administrators to prevent users from bypassing security controls or attackers from exfiltrating data.

Fragmentation

IKEv2 packets can become quite large at times, especially when using client certificate authentication with the Protected Extensible Authentication Protocol (PEAP). This can result in fragmentation occurring at the network layer. Unfortunately, many firewalls and network devices are configured to block IP fragments by default. This can result in failed connection attempts from some locations but not others.

Load Balancing

Load balancing IKEv2 connections is not entirely straightforward. Without special configuration, load balancers can cause intermittent connectivity issues for Always On VPN connections. Guidance for configuring IKEv2 load balancing on the Kemp LoadMaster and the F5 BIG-IP can be found here:

IKEv2 Fragmentation

IKEv2 fragmentation can be enabled to avoid IP fragmentation and restore reliable connectivity. IKEv2 fragmentation is supported in Windows 10 and Windows Server beginning with v1803. Guidance for enabling IKEv2 fragmentation on Windows Server RRAS can be found here. Support for IKEv2 fragmentation on non-Microsoft firewall/VPN devices is vendor-specific. Consult with your device manufacturer for more information.

IKEv2 Security and RRAS

Be advised that the default security settings for IKEv2 on Windows Server RRAS are very poor. The minimum recommended security settings and guidelines for implementing them can be found here.

IKEv2 or TLS?

IKEv2 is recommend for deployments where the highest level of security and protection is required for remote connections. In these scenarios, the sacrifice of ubiquitous availability in favor of ultimate security might be desired.

SSTP or another TLS-based VPN protocol is recommended if reliable operation and connectivity are desired. SSTP and TLS VPNs can be configured to provide very good security by following the security and implementation guidelines found here.

IKEv2 with TLS Fallback

In theory, preferring IKEv2 and falling back to the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) or another TLS-based VPN protocol when IKEv2 is unavailable would seem like a logical choice. This would ensure the highest level of protection, while still providing reliable connectivity. Unfortunately, the Windows VPN client doesn’t work this way in practice. Details here.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with F5 BIG-IP

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with Kemp LoadMaster

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Fragmentation

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 and SSTP Fallback

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Windows 10 Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for IKEv2

Windows 10 Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server RRAS

Always On VPN SSTP Connects then Disconnects

Always On VPN SSTP Connects then DisconnectsWhen Always On VPN clients are configured to use the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) with Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS), administrators may encounter a scenario in which a client can establish a VPN connection using SSTP successfully, but is then disconnected immediately. The system event log contains an entry with Event ID 6 from the RasSstp source that includes the following error message.

“The SSTP-based VPN connection to the remote access server was terminated because of a security check failure. Security settings on the remote access server do not match settings on this computer. Contact the system administrator of the remote access server and relay the following information.”

Always On VPN Connect and Disconnect with SSTP

Common Causes

The two most common causes of this issue are when SSTP is configured for SSL offload, and when a VPN client is on a network where SSL inspection is taking place.

SSTP Offload

The most common cause of this issue is when SSL offload is configured for SSTP on an external load balancer or application delivery controller (ADC). To prevent interception from a Man-in-the-Middle attack, the VPN client sends the certificate hash of the SSL certificate used when the VPN connection was established. If this information does not match what is configured on the RRAS server, the connection is assumed to be compromised and the connection is immediately dropped.

SSL Inspection

Another scenario where this issue may occur is when a VPN client is behind a network device configured to perform SSL deep-packet inspection (DPI). SSTP VPN clients will be unable to connect to the VPN server in this scenario.

Resolution

When offloading SSL to another device, the RRAS server must be configured to know which SSL certificate is being presented to remote clients. This information is stored in the following registry key.

HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\SstpSvc\Parameters\SHA256CertificateHash

However, this registry entry requires a binary value, which makes it a challenge to configure manually. To resolve this problem, it is recommended that the same SSL certificate installed on the load balancer/ADC also be installed on the VPN server (even though SSL will be offloaded). To do this, first import the SSL certificate and private key in to the Local Computer certificate store, then open the RRAS management console and perform the following steps.

  1. Right-click the VPN server and choose Properties.
  2. Select the Security tab.
  3. Uncheck Use HTTP in the SSL Certificate Binding section.
  4. Select the appropriate SSL certificate from the Certificate drop-down list (click View to verify).
  5. Click Apply.

This will add the correct SSL certificate information to the registry. Next, re-enable HTTP for SSL offload by performing the following steps.

  1. Check Use HTTP in the SSL Certificate Binding section.
  2. Click Apply.

PowerShell Configuration

If the SSL certificate cannot be installed on the VPN server, or to automate this configuration across multiple servers remotely, download and run the Enable-SstpOffload PowerShell script from my GitHub repository here and run the following command.

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

For example…

Enable-SSTPOffload -CertificateHash “C3AB8FF13720E8AD9047DD39466B3C8974E592C2FA383D4A3960714CAEF0C4F2” -Restart

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN Load Balancing and SSL Offload

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSL Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Windows 10 Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server RRAS

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing and SSL Offload

SSL Certificate Considerations for DirectAccess IP-HTTPSThe Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) is a popular choice for a VPN server to support Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments. One significant advantage RRAS provides is support for the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP). SSTP is a Microsoft proprietary VPN protocol that uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) to ensure privacy between the VPN client and server. The advantage to using a TLS-based transport is that it leverages the standard HTTPS TCP port 443, making it firewall friendly and ensuring ubiquitous remote access even behind highly restrictive firewalls.

Load Balancing SSTP

Load balancing SSTP can be accomplished in much the same way as a load balancing a common web server using HTTPS. The external load balancer is configured with a virtual IP address (VIP) and each VPN server is configured behind it. Session persistence should be configured to use SSL with source IP address persistence as a fallback.

SSL Offload for SSTP

In most cases, simply forwarding encrypted SSTP connections to the VPN server will be sufficient. However, offloading SSL/TLS processing to an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) or load balancer can be beneficial for the following reasons.

Resource Utilization

Enabling TLS offload for SSTP VPN connections can reduce CPU and memory utilization on the VPN server. However, this will likely only be necessary for very busy servers supporting many concurrent connections.

Security

In some cases, the administrator may not be able to install the public SSL certificate on the VPN server. For example, a security policy may exist that restricts SSL certificate installation to dedicated security devices using a Hardware Security Module (HSM). In some cases, it may be desirable to restrict access to high value certificates such as wildcard certificates.

Certificate Management

Often SSL certificates are implemented on load balancers to reduce certificate sprawl and to ease the management and administration burden in the enterprise. By having all enterprise certificates installed only on dedicated security devices, administrators can more effectively monitor and manage SSL certificate lifecycles.

SSTP Configuration for TLS Offload

Configuration changes must be made on the load balancer and the RRAS server to support TLS offload for SSTP.

Load Balancer

Install the public SSL certificate on the load balancer and configure it for TLS termination. Configure the load balancer to then use HTTP for backend server connections. Consult the load balancer vendor’s documentation for configuration guidance.

RRAS Server

If the public SSL certificate is installed on the VPN server, enabling TLS offload for SSTP is simple and straightforward. Follow the steps below to enable TLS offload for SSTP VPN connections.

  1. Open the RRAS management console (rrasmgmt.msc).
  2. Right-click the VPN server and choose Properties.
  3. Select the Security tab.
  4. Check Use HTTP in the SSL Certificate Binding section.
  5. Click Ok and then Yes to restart the Remote Access service.

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing and SSL Offload

If the public SSL certificate is not or cannot be installed on the RRAS server, additional configuration will be required. Specifically, SSL offload for SSTP must be configured using the Enable-SSTPOffload PowerShell script, which can be downloaded here.

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

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

For example…

Enable-SSTPOffload -CertificateHash “C3AB8FF13720E8AD9047DD39466B3C8974E592C2FA383D4A3960714CAEF0C4F2” -Restart

Re-Encryption

When offloading TLS for SSTP VPN connections, all traffic between the load balancer and the VPN server will be sent in the clear using HTTP. In some scenarios, TLS offload is required only for traffic inspection, not performance gain. When terminating TLS on the load balancer and re-encrypting connections to the VPN server is required, it is only supported if the same certificate is used on both the load balancer and the VPN server.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSL Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 and SSTP Fallback

Windows 10 Always On VPN Hands-On Training Classes for 2019

Always On VPN IKEv2 and SSTP Fallback

Always On VPN IKEv2 and SSTP FallbackA while back I wrote about the various VPN protocols supported for Windows 10 Always On VPN. The two most common are Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) and Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP). The article covers in detail each protocol’s advantages and disadvantages. To summarize, IKEv2 provides the best security (when configured correctly!) and SSTP is firewall-friendly ensuring ubiquitous access. Ideally an Always On VPN connection will attempt to use the more secure IKEv2 first, then fallback to SSTP only when IKEv2 is unavailable. Unfortunately, Always On VPN connections do not work this way today.

IKEv2 and SSTP

IKEv2 and SSTP are not mutually exclusive. When using Windows Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) as the VPN server, both protocols can be configured and enabled for VPN clients. To allow VPN clients to automatically select a protocol, the NativeProtocolType element in ProfileXML can be set to Automatic.

Always On VPN IKEv2 and SSTP Fallback

IKEv2 with SSTP Fallback?

In theory, with the NativeProtocolType set to Automatic, the Windows 10 client would first attempt to establish an IKEv2 connection, then fall back to SSTP if IKEv2 is not available. In practice, this is not the case.

SSTP Preferred over IKEv2

In operation, setting the NativeProtocolType to Automatic results in the Windows 10 client attempting to establish a VPN connection using SSTP first! If the SSTP connection fails, only then will IKEv2 be used. The only scenario in which I can imagine SSTP failing and IKEv2 being successful would be if SSTP is not supported by the VPN server. Sadly, this scenario may result in failed connections due to a bug in the way ProfileXML settings are processed. Details here.

VPN Strategy

The initial VPN protocol selection behavior is dictated by the VpnStrategy setting of the Always On VPN connection in the rasphone.pbk file. This file can be found under C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Network\Connections\Pbk. The documentation on the Microsoft website is terribly outdated and does not include the following important VpnStrategy settings pertinent to Windows 10 Always On VPN connections.

  • 5 = Only SSTP is attempted
  • 6 = SSTP is attempted first
  • 7 = Only IKEv2 is attempted
  • 8 = IKEv2 is attempted first
  • 14 = IKEv2 is attempted followed by SSTP

Always On VPN Default Behavior

For Always On VPN, when the NativeProtocolType is set to Automatic in ProfileXML, VpnStrategy is set to 6 by default, which means the connection will attempt to use SSTP first. If it fails, IKEv2 will be attempted.

Always On VPN IKEv2 and SSTP Fallback

If the NativeProtocolType in ProfileXML is set to IKEv2, VpnStrategy is set to 7 and only IKEv2 is used. A connection using SSTP is never attempted.

Workaround

Setting the VpnStrategy to 8 or 14 will force the client to attempt an IKEv2 connection first. However, this setting is dynamically updated by Windows and is subject to change. For example, if an IKEv2 connection fails and SSTP is successful, Windows will then set the VpnStrategy to 6 and all subsequent VPN connection attempts will use SSTP first. Because of this it will be necessary to update the VpnStrategy setting each time prior to establishing a VPN connection. This will require some clever scripting and perhaps automation using a scheduled task based on an event trigger. I will leave that custom configuration as an exercise for the reader. If you’ve developed something to address this challenge, please feel free to share in the comments below. 🙂

Additional Information

Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server RRAS

Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for IKEv2

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

Always On VPN ECDSA SSL Certificate Request for SSTP

As I’ve discussed previously, it is strongly recommended that the TLS certificate used for SSTP be signed using the Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA). ECDSA provides better security and performance compared to RSA certificates for Windows 10 Always On VPN connections using SSTP. See my previous post Always On VPN SSL Certificate Requirements for SSTP for more information.

Certificate Signing Request

To generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) using ECDSA to send to a public Certification Authority (CA), open the local computer certificate store (certlm.msc) on any Windows server or client and follow the steps below.

  1. Expand Certificates – Local Computer.
  2. Right-click the Personal folder and choose All Tasks > Advanced Operations > Create Custom Request.
  3. Click Next.
  4. Select Proceed without enrollment policy.
  5. Click Next.
  6. From the Template drop-down list choose (No template) CNG key.
  7. Click Next.
  8. Click Details.Always On VPN ECDSA SSL Certificate Request for SSTP
  9. Click Properties.
  10. On the General tab enter a name in the Friendly name field.
  11. Click on the Subject tab.
    1. In the Subject name section, from the Type drop-down list choose Common name.
    2. In the Value field enter the VPN server’s public hostname and click Add.
    3. In the Alternative name section, from the Type drop-down list choose DNS.
    4. In the Value field enter the VPN server’s public hostname and click Add.Always On VPN ECDSA SSL Certificate Request for SSTP
  12. Click on the Extensions tab.
    1. Expand Extended Key Usage (application policies).
    2. Highlight Server Authentication.
    3. Click Add.Always On VPN ECDSA SSL Certificate Request for SSTP
  13. Click on the Private Key tab.
    1. Expand Cryptographic Service Provider.
    2. Uncheck RSA,Microsoft Software Key Storage Provider.
    3. Check ECDSA_P256,Microsoft Software Key Storage Provider.Always On VPN ECDSA SSL Certificate Request for SSTP
  14. Expand Key options.
    1. Select the option to Make private key exportable.Always On VPN ECDSA SSL Certificate Request for SSTP
  15. Click Ok.
  16. Click Next.
  17. Enter a name for the file in the File Name field.
  18. Click Finish.

Submit the Request

Once complete, submit the CSR for signing to your favorite public CA. Based on my experience, some CAs are easier to obtain ECDSA-signed certificates than other. Today, Digicert seems to be one of the better public CAs for obtaining EC TLS certificates.

Complete the Request

Once the CA has issued the certificate, import the certificate in to the local computer certificate store on the same client or server where the original CSR was created. The certificate can then be exported and imported on additional VPN servers, if required.

Additional Information

Always On VPN SSL Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for RRAS

 

Always On VPN SSL Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for SSTPThe Windows Server 2016 Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) is commonly deployed as a VPN server for Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments. Using RRAS, Always On VPN administrators can take advantage of Microsoft’s proprietary Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) VPN protocol. SSTP is a Transport Layer Security (TLS) based VPN protocol that uses HTTPS over the standard TCP port 443 to encapsulate and encrypt communication between the Always On VPN client and the RRAS VPN server. SSTP is a firewall-friendly protocol that ensures ubiquitous remote network connectivity. Although IKEv2 is the protocol of choice when the highest level of security is required for VPN connections, SSTP can still provide very good security when implementation best practices are followed.

SSTP Certificate

Since SSTP uses HTTPS for transport, a common SSL certificate must be installed in the Local Computer/Personal/Certificates store on the RRAS VPN server. The certificate must include the Server Authentication Enhanced Key Usage (EKU) at a minimum. Often SSL certificates include both the Server Authentication and Client Authentication EKUs, but the Client Authentication EKU is not strictly required. The subject name on the certificate, or at least one of the Subject Alternative Name entries, must match the public hostname used by VPN clients to connect to the VPN server. Multi-SAN (sometimes referred to as UC certificates) and wildcard certificates are supported.

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Certification Authority

It is recommended that the SSL certificate used for SSTP be issued by a public Certification Authority (CA). Public CAs typically have their Certificate Revocation Lists (CRLs) hosted on robust, highly available infrastructure. This reduces the chance of failed VPN connection attempts caused by the CRL being offline or unreachable.

Using an SSL certificate issued by an internal, private CA is supported if the CRL for the internal PKI is publicly available.

Key Type

RSA is the most common key type used for SSL certificates. However, Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) keys offer better security and performance, so it is recommended that the SSTP SSL certificate be created using an ECC key instead.

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for SSTP

To use an ECC key, be sure to specify the use of a Cryptographic Next Generation (CNG) key and select the ECDSA_P256 Microsoft Software Key Storage Provider (CSP) (or greater) when creating the Certificate Signing Request (CSR) for the SSTP SSL certificate.

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Most public CAs will support certificate signing using ECC and Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA). If yours does not, find a better CA. 😉

Forward Secrecy

Forward secrecy (sometimes referred to as perfect forward secrecy, or PFS) ensures that session keys can’t be compromised even if the server’s private key is compromised. Using forward secrecy for SSTP is crucial to ensuring the highest levels of security for VPN connections.

To enforce the use of forward secrecy, the TLS configuration on the VPN server should be prioritized to prefer cipher suites with Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman Ephemeral (ECDHE) key exchange.

Authenticated Encryption

Authenticated encryption (AE) and authenticated encryption with associated data (AEAD) is a form of encryption that provides better data protection and integrity compared to older block or stream ciphers such as CBC or RC4.

To enforce the use of authenticated encryption, the TLS configuration on the VPN server should be prioritized to prefer cipher suites that support Galois/Counter Mode (GCM) block ciphers.

Important Note: In Windows Server 2016, GCM ciphers can be used with both RSA and ECC certificates. However, in Windows Server 2012 R2 GCM ciphers can only be used when an ECC certificate is used.

SSL Offload

Offloading SSL to a load balancer or application delivery controller (ADC) can be enabled to improve scalability and performance for SSTP VPN connections. I will cover SSL offload for SSTP in detail in a future post.

Summary

SSTP can provide good security for VPN connections when implementation and security best practices are followed. For optimum security, use an SSL certificate with an EC key and optimize the TLS configuration to use forward secrecy and authenticated cipher suites.

Additional Information

Always On VPN ECDSA SSL Certificate Request for SSTP

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

Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server RRAS

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for IKEv2

3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess

Microsoft SSTP Specification on MSDN

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS and Symantec SSL Certificates

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS and Symantec SSL CertificatesAn SSL certificate is required to support the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology when configuring DirectAccess. Implementation best practices dictate using a public SSL certificate signed by a trusted third-party vendor such as Entrust, Verisign, DigiCert, and others. SSL certificates issued by a private PKI are acceptable if the client trusts the issuing CA. Self-signed certificates are supported in some deployment scenarios, but their use is generally discouraged. For more detailed information regarding SSL certificate considerations for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS click here.

Symantec Issued Certificates

Symantec is a popular commercial SSL certificate provider that has been commonly used for many years. However, due to integrity issues associated with their PKI management practices, Google and Mozilla announced they will soon be deprecating these certificates. This means users who browse to an HTTPS web site protected with a Symantec SSL certificate will receive a warning in their browser indicating the certificate is not trusted.

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS

It is important to note that there is no impact at all for DirectAccess when the server is configured to use an SSL certificate issued by Symantec. There is nothing you need to do to address this issue in this scenario. However, if a wildcard certificate is installed on the DirectAccess server and it is also used on other public-facing web servers in the organization, it is likely that the certificate will replaced, perhaps by another certificate provider. In this case, DirectAccess IP-HTTPS must be configured to use the new or updated SSL certificate.

Updating IP-HTTPS SSL Certificate

To update the DirectAccess IP-HTTPS SSL certificate, import the SSL certificate along with the private key in to the local computer certificate store on each DirectAccess server. Next identify the thumbprint of the new SSL certificate. Finally, open an elevated PowerShell command window and enter the following command.

$thumbprint = “ssl_cert_thumbprint”
$cert = Get-ChildItem -Path cert:\localmachine\my | where {$_.thumbprint -eq $thumbprint}
Set-RemoteAccess -SslCertificate $cert -PassThru

Be sure to replace “ssl_cert_thumbprint” with the actual thumbprint of your SSL certificate. 😉 In addition, for load-balanced and/or multisite deployments, run these PowerShell commands on each server in the enterprise.

Additional Information

SSL Certificate Considerations for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Null Cipher Suites Not Available 

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Performance Issues

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

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

During the initial setup of a NetMotion Mobility gateway server, the administrator must choose to allow either Secure (HTTPS) or Non-secure (HTTP) connections when using the web-based Mobility Console.

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

Configuring HTTPS

Security best practices dictate HTTPS should be enabled to protect credentials used to log on to the gateway remotely. Immediately after selecting the Secure (https:) option, the administrator is prompted to enter server certificate information. Enter this information and click OK to continue and complete the rest of the configuration as necessary.

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

Self-Signed Certificate

When logging in to the Mobility console, the administrator is presented with a certificate error indicating there is a problem with the website’s security certificate. This is because the certificate is self-signed by the NetMotion Mobility gateway server and is not trusted.

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

PKI Issued Certificate

The recommended way to resolve this is to request a certificate from a trusted certification authority (CA). To do this, open the Mobility Management Tool on the Mobility gateway server and click on the Web Server tab.

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

Click on the Server Certificate button and then click New in the Certificate Request section.

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

In the SAN (subject alternative name) field of the Optional Extension section enter the Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) of the server using the syntax dns:fqdn. Include both the FQDN and the single-label hostname (short name) separated by a comma to ensure both names work without issue. For example:

dns:nm1.lab.richardhicks.net,dns:nm1

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

Before requesting a certificate from a CA, the root and any intermediate CA certificates must first be imported. Click the Import button next to each, as required.

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

Click Copy in the Certificate Request section to copy the Certificate Signing Request (CSR) to the clipboard and then save it to a text file. Now submit the CSR to be signed by the CA using the certreq.exe command. Open an elevated command or PowerShell window and enter the following commands.

certreq.exe -attrib “CertificateTemplate:[TemplateName]” -submit [Path_to_CSR_file]

For example:

certreq.exe -attrib “CertificateTemplate:LabWebServer” -submit certreq.txt

Select a CA from the list and click OK, then save the certificate response when prompted.

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

Click Response and specify the location of the certificate response file saved in the previous step.

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

Once complete, the newly issued certificate will be in place. Click Close to complete the process.

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

Click Yes when prompted to restart the Mobility console.

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

Trusted Certificate

Opening the Mobility Console no longer produces a certificate error message with a certificate installed from a trusted CA.

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

In addition, if you followed the guidance above and included the single-label hostname in the SAN field, accessing the server using the short name will also work without issue.

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

Summary

Always select the option to use HTTPS to ensure the highest level of security and protection of credentials when remotely administering a NetMotion Mobility gateway server. For optimal security and to provide the best user experience, use a certificate issued and managed by a trusted CA to prevent certificate errors when opening the Mobility console.

Additional Information

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccess

NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration

Comparing NetMotion Mobility and DirectAccess Part 1 – Security

Comparing NetMotion Mobility and DirectAccess Part 2 – Performance

DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility Webinar

 

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