IPsec phase 1 and phase 2
The establishment of an IPsec connection takes place in two phases, called IKE phases:
- In IKE Phase 1, the two endpoints authenticate one another and negotiate keying material. This results in an encrypted tunnel used by Phase 2 for negotiating the ESP security associations.
- In IKE Phase 2, the two endpoints use the secure tunnel created in Phase 1 to negotiate ESP SAs. The ESP SAs are what are used to encrypt the actual user data that is passed between the two endpoints.
IKE Phase 1 establishes an ISAKMP SA (typically called an IKE SA). The IKE protocol is used to dynamically negotiate and authenticate keying material and other security parameters required to provide secure communications. IKE itself uses a combination of four protocols (including ISAKMP and Oakley) to dynamically manage keys in the context of IPsec.
If the IKE Phase 1 negotiation is successful, then the ISAKMP SA is established. The ISAKMP SA essentially contains the information from the “winning proposal” of the negotiation, recording the security encryption and keying material that was successfully negotiated. This creates a secure “control channel” where keys and other information for protecting Phase 2 negotiation are maintained. The ISAKMP SA encrypts only Phase 2 ESP security association negotiations, plus any IKE messages between the two endpoints.
An ISAKMP SA is maintained for a pre-determined lifetime. This lifetime is configured, not negotiated or passed between peers. The configured lifetime may be different between peers. When the configured lifetime expires, a new ISAKMP SA is negotiated.
IKE Phase 2 negotiations are also managed by the IKE protocol. Using the encryption provided by the security association, the security policy is used to try and negotiate a Phase 2 SA. The security policy includes information about the communicating hosts and subnets, as well as the ESP information for providing security services for the connection, such as encryption cipher and hash algorithm. If the IKE Phase 2 negotiation process is successful, a pair of ESP SAs (typically called IPsec SAs) is established—one inbound and one outbound—between the two endpoints. This is the encrypted VPN “tunnel” between the two endpoints. At this point, the user data can be exchanged through the encrypted tunnel.
Between any two IPsec VPN peers, there can be just one control channel for exchanging Phase 2 keying material. This means that between any two peers there will be just one ISAKMP SA on each peer.
However, between two VPN peers, any number of security policies can be defined. For example, you can define a security policy that creates a tunnel between two hosts, and a different security policy that creates a tunnel between a host and a subnet, or between two subnets. Since multiple tunnels can exist between two peers, this means that multiple IPsec SAs can be active at any time between two peers.