Monday, February 20, 2017


SNI, or Server Name Indicator, is an extension to TLS (Transport Layer Security, the evolutionary child of SSL/Secure Socket Layer) that permits multiple certificates (and therefore encrypted sessions) to be bound to the same TCP port.

Starting with ADFS v3.0 (aka ADFS for Windows Server 2012R2), Microsoft uses SNI by default. On the whole, this has little impact on most users of ADFS, but for one small, important subset: users that sit behind reverse proxy or hardware SSL-offload devices.

Readers of this blog know that I use the Citrix NetScaler VPX Express as a reverse proxy for my home lab; until I tried to stand up an ADFS server (running Server 2016) behind it—I'm going to start digging into Office 365 in a serious way and want the most seamless user experience—I'd never had a problem with it.

I just could NOT figure out why the ADFS system was immediately rejecting connections via NetScaler, while it was perfectly happy with local connections.

I knew things were problematic as soon as I did packet captures on the NetScaler: the [SYN]-[SYN, ACK]-[Client Hello] were immediately followed by [RST, ACK] and a dropped connection.

Once I "fired up" a copy of Wireshark and pulled some captures at the ADFS host, however, I was able to compare the difference between the NetScaler-proxied connections that were failing, and on-prem connections that were successful.

At that point, I could explicitly compare the two different [Client Hello] packets and see if I could tell the difference between the two...

Unfortunately, I started with comparing the protocols, ciphers and hash algorithms. It took a while to get the TLS1.2 setup just right to mimic the local connection, but no joy. But then I went after the extensions: only one extension was in the "misbehaving" [Client Hello]
There are a bunch of extensions in the "working" [Client Hello]:
holy crap

To make my task easier, I switched back to google-fu to see if I could narrow down the search; voila!

I found an article that talked about handling ADFS clients that don't support the SNI extension, and the lightbulb went on: my browsers do SNI, but with the NetScaler acting as a proxy SNI support is disabled by default.

Luckily there are two fixes:
  1. Update the ADFS server with a "blanket" or "fallback" binding for the ADFS service (see
  2. Update the NetScaler service entry (in the SSL Parameters section) to support SNI for the expected client hostname.
I went with the latter; that way I don't modify any more of the ADFS host than necessary, and because the NetScaler is essentially acting as a client while it's doing its proxy duties, that seemed to make the most sense.

Within a minute of adding the SNI extension, the ADFS system worked as expected.

1 comment:

  1. hey. Love your site content.
    I'm a bit of a newby on Netscaler and like you want to test at home.
    I want to be able to have 3 (SSL traffic) rediected. 1 storefront, 2 ADFS, 3 autodiscover. I want to test a hybrid exchange (2010) and O365 migration.

    ANY help would be greatly appreciated