Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client

Behavioral Differences Regarding DNS Queries and Domain Name Resolution in Different OSs

Document ID: 116016

Updated: Jan 28, 2014

Contributed by Cisco TAC Engineers.



This document describes how different Operating Systems (OSs) handle Domain Name System (DNS) queries and the affects on domain name resolution with Cisco AnyConnect and split or full tunneling.

Split Versus Standard DNS

When you use split-include tunneling, you have three options for DNS:

  1. Split DNS -  The DNS queries that match the domain names that are configured on the Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) move through the tunnel (to the DNS servers that are defined on the ASA, for example) and others do not.

  2. Tunnel-all-DNS - Only DNS traffic to the DNS servers that are defined on the ASA is allowed. This setting is configured in the group policy.

  3. Standard DNS - All of the DNS queries move through the DNS servers that are defined by the ASA. In the case of a negative response, the DNS queries might also go to the DNS servers that are configured on the physical adapter.

Note: The split-tunnel-all-dns command was first implemented in ASA Version 8.2(5). Before this version, you could only do split DNS or standard DNS.

In all cases, the DNS queries that are defined to move through the tunnel go to any DNS servers that are defined on the ASA. If there are no DNS servers defined on the ASA, then the DNS settings are blank for the tunnel. If you do not have split DNS defined, then all of the DNS queries are sent to the DNS servers that are defined by the ASA. However, the behaviors that are described in this document can be different, dependent upon the Operating System (OS).

Note: Avoid the use of the NSLookup when you test the name resolution on the client. Instead, rely on a browser or use the ping command. This is because NSLookup does not rely on the OS DNS resolver. AnyConnect does not force the DNS request via a certain interface but allows it or rejects it dependent upon the split DNS configuration. In order to force the DNS resolver to try an acceptable DNS server for a request, it is important that split DNS testing is only performed with applications that rely on the native DNS resolver for domain name resolution (all applications except NSLookup, Dig, and similar applications that handle DNS resolution by themselves, for example).

True Versus Best Effort Split DNS

AnyConnect Release 2.4 supports split DNS Fallback (best effort split DNS), which is not the true split DNS found in the legacy IPsec client. If the request matches a split DNS domain, AnyConnect allows the request to be tunneled in to the ASA. If the server cannot resolve the host name, the DNS resolver continues and sends the same query to the DNS server that is mapped to the physical interface.

On the other hand, if the request does not match any of the split DNS domains, AnyConnect does not tunnel it in to the ASA. Instead, it builds a DNS response so that the DNS resolver falls back and sends the query to the DNS server that is mapped to the physical interface. That is why this feature is not called split DNS, but DNS fallback for split tunneling. Not only does AnyConnect assure that only requests that target split DNS domains are tunneled in, it also relies on the client OS DNS resolver behavior for host name resolution.

This raises security concerns due to a potential private domain name leak. For example, the native DNS client can send a query for a private domain name to a public DNS server specifically when the VPN DNS name server could not resolve the DNS query.

Refer to Cisco bug ID CSCtn14578, currently resolved on Microsoft Windows only, as of Version 3.0(4235). The solution implements true split DNS: it strictly queries the configured domain names that match and are allowed to the VPN DNS servers. All other queries are only allowed to other DNS servers, such as those configured on the physical adapter(s).

Tunnel All and Tunnel All DNS

When split tunneling is disabled (the tunnel all configuration), DNS traffic is allowed strictly via the tunnel. The tunnel all DNS configuration (configured in the group policy) sends all of the DNS lookups through the tunnel, along with some type of split tunneling, and DNS traffic is allowed strictly via the tunnel.

This is consistent across platforms with one caveat on Microsoft Windows: when any tunnel all or tunnel all DNS is configured, AnyConnect allows DNS traffic strictly to the DNS servers that are configured on the secure gateway (applied to the VPN adapter). This is a security enhancement implemented along with the previously mentioned true split DNS solution.

If this proves problematic in certain scenarios (for example, DNS update/registration requests must be sent to non-VPN DNS servers), then complete these steps:

  1. If the current configuration is tunnel all, then enable split-exclude tunneling. Any single-host, split-exclude network is acceptable for use, such as a link-local address.

  2. Ensure that tunnel all DNS is not configured in the group policy.

DNS Performance Issue Resolved in AnyConnect Version 3.0(4235)

This Microsoft Windows issue is mostly prevalent under these conditions:

  • With the home router setup, the DNS and DHCP servers are assigned the same IP address (AnyConnect creates a necessary route to the DHCP server).

  • A large number of DNS domains are in the group policy.

  • A Tunnel-all configuration is used.

  • The name resolution is performed by a non-qualified host name, which implies that the resolver must try a number of DNS suffixes on all of the available DNS servers until the one relevant to the queried host name is attempted.

This issue is due to the native DNS client that attempts to send DNS queries via the physical adapter, which AnyConnect blocks (given the tunnel-all configuration). This leads to a name resolution delay that can be significant, especially if a large number of DNS suffixes are pushed by the headend. The DNS client must walk through all of the queries and available DNS servers until it receives a positive response.

This problem is resolved in AnyConnect Version 3.0(4235). Reference Cisco bug IDs CSCtq02141 and CSCtn14578, along with the introduction to the previously-mentioned true split DNS solution, for more information.

If an upgrade cannot be implemented, then here are the possible workarounds:

  • Enable split-exclude tunneling for an IP address, which allows the local DNS requests to flow through the physical adapter. You can use an address from the linklocal subnet because it is unlikely that any device sends traffic to one of those IP addresses over the VPN. After you enable the split-exclude tunneling, enable local LAN access on the client profile or on the client itself, and disable tunnel all DNS.

    On the ASA, make these configuration changes:

    access-list acl_linklocal_169.254.1.1 standard permit host
    group-policy gp_access-14 attributes
    split-tunnel-policy excludespecified
    split-tunnel-network-list value acl_linklocal_169.254.1.1
    split-tunnel-all-dns disable

    On the client profile, you must add this line:

    <LocalLanAccess UserControllable="true">true</LocalLanAccess>

    You can also enable this on a per-client basis in the AnyConnect client GUI. Navigate to the AnyConnect Preference menu, and check the Enable local LAN access check-box.

  • Use the fully qualified domain names (FQDNs) instead of the unqualified host names for the name resolutions.

  • Use a different IP address for the DNS server on the physical interface.

DNS with Split Tunneling on Different OSs

Different OSs handle DNS searches in different ways when used with split tunneling (without split DNS) for AnyConnect. This section describes those differences.

Microsoft Windows

On Microsoft Windows systems, DNS settings are per-interface. If split tunneling is used, DNS queries can fall back to the physical adaptor DNS servers after they fail on the VPN tunnel adaptor. If split tunneling without split DNS is defined, then both internal and external DNS resolution works because it falls back to the external DNS servers.


On Macintosh systems, the DNS settings are global. If split tunneling is used, but split DNS is not used, it is not possible for the DNS queries to reach DNS servers outside of the tunnel. You can only resolve internally, not externally.

This is documented in Cisco bug IDs CSCtf20226 and CSCtz86314. In both cases, this workaround should resolve the issue:

  • Specify an external DNS server IP address under the group policy and use a FQDN for the internal DNS queries.

  • If the external names are resolvable through the tunnel, then navigate to Advanced > Split Tunneling and disable split DNS via removal of the DNS names that are configured in the group policy. This requires the use of a FQDN for the internal DNS queries.

The split DNS case has been resolved in AnyConnect Version 3.1. However, you must ensure that one of these conditions is met:

  • Split DNS must be enabled for both IP protocols, which requires Cisco ASA Version 9.0 or later.

  • Split DNS must be enabled for one IP protocol. If you run Cisco ASA Version 9.0 or later, then use client bypass protocol for the other IP protocol. For example, ensure that there is no address pool and that Client Bypass Protocol is enabled in the group policy. Alternatively, if you run an ASA version that is earlier than Version 9.0, then ensure that there is no address pool configured for the other IP protocol. This implies that the other IP protocol is IPv6.

Note: AnyConnect does not change the resolv.conf file on Macintosh OS X, but rather changes OS X-specific DNS settings. Macintosh OS X keeps the resolv.conf file current for compatibility reasons. Use the scutil --dns command in order to view the DNS settings on Macintosh OS X.


The iPhone is the complete opposite of the Macintosh system and is not similar to Microsoft Windows. If split tunneling is defined but split DNS is not defined, then DNS queries exit through the global DNS server that is defined. For example, split DNS domain entries are mandatory for internal resolution. This behavior is documented in Cisco bug ID CSCtq09624 and is fixed in Version 2.5.4038 for the Apple iOS AnyConnect client.

Note: Be aware that the iPhone DNS queries ignore .local domains. This is documented in Cisco bug ID CSCts89292. Apple engineers confirm that the issue is caused by the functionality of the OS. This is the designed behavior, and Apple confirms there is no change for it.

Related Information

Updated: Jan 28, 2014
Document ID: 116016