IKEv2 VPN Protocol: What is IKEv2? IKEv2 vs. IPSec
Mar 24, 2022
IKEv2 stands for Internet Key Exchange version two which is a VPN protocol. Comparing with the other VPN protocols, IKEv2 offers high speed connection. Learn more about the pros and cons of IKEv2 protocol.
IKEv2 VPN Protocol: What Is It? Learn The Pros and Cons of Using IKEv2 Protocol - FastVPN
Finding the most secure option in the world of VPN protocols is essential. IKE, or the Internet Key Exchange, is one of those terms thrown around alongside IPSec (IP Security). Therein lies the question: What is IKEv2? Also, how does it work with IPSec? Below, we will answer all those questions and tell you how they compare to other VPN protocols.
What is IKEv2?How Has IKEv2 Changed From IKEv1?What is IPSec?Why is it “IPSec/IKEv2?”Pros & Cons of IKEv2/IPSec?ProsConsIKEv2 vs. Other ProtocolsOpenVPNWireGuardSoftEtherL2TPIKEv2 FAQsDoes IKEv2 Have Any Security Vulnerabilities?Is IKEv2 Ever Separate from IPSec?Will Firewalls block IKEv2?Conclusion – is IKEv2/IPSec Secure?
What is IKEv2?
IKEv2, or the Internet Key Exchange (version two), is the latest IKE developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It was part of the IPSec protocol suite, which means it is the key generation that assists in encryption and authentication. It is also known for the following features:
- 256-bit data encryption
- Stable and consistent connections
- Solid speed
IKEv2 builds onto the Oakley Protocol and ISAKMP, both known for authentication protocols. Both IKEv1 and v2 use the well-known Diffie-Hellman key exchange, where many modern cryptographic keys are generated.
The Internet Society (ISOC) owns the IETF, and they provide technical advice to policyholders as a non-profit organization. The ISOC believes in n open and accessible internet, a big part of why VPNs do what they do.
IETF defined IKEv2’s original version in 2005. Updates to the system occurred throughout the years:
- The 2006 update clarified guidelines behind the protocol
- September 2010 saw additional clarifications
- The 2014 update brought it up to internet standard
However, before the numerous updates to IKEv2, IKEv1 was released in 1996.
How Has IKEv2 Changed From IKEv1?
IKEv2 had the following benefits over the older protocol:
- More lightweight (it has use of fewer messages and Security Associations (SAs))
- Has NAT functionality that offers more compatibility with modern routers
- Use of EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol)
- More excellent connection stability (uses MOBIKE and the Keep-Alive function)
- Less chance of data leaks
What is IPSec?
IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) is a protocol group that authenticates and encrypts data packets for secure transfer. IPSec works between computers, networks, and from network to computer. Updates to IPSec that include modern internet technology (IPv6) include support for TLS and SSH, encrypting applications on the internet level.
Without getting too far into IPSec, it creates entire security payloads. These payloads contain a lot of informal that confirms whether connections are made through these means:
- Authentication Headers (AH) provide data integrity and authenticate the transfer of data packets
- Encapsulating Security Payloads (ESP) includes confidential information while verifying data origins.
- Internet Security Association and Key Management (ISAKMP) is the framework for authentication and exchanging keys. One form of its generation is better known as IKEv2. You can also see PSKs (Pre-Shared Keys and manual generation), Kerbalized Internet Negotiation of Keys (KINK), or IPSECKEY DNS records.
As you might imagine, our focus is on the ISAKMP aspect of IPSec, which comes in numerous forms. However, the form you might be most familiar with is IPSec/IKEv2.
Why is it “IPSec/IKEv2?”
You see these together to understand what key management protocol IPSec is making use of. So while you will never see IKEv2 associated with another protocol, you might see IPSec connected with something else (IPSec/L2TP).
Pros & Cons of IKEv2/IPSec?
There are reasons for and against IKEv2 and IPSec with the technical stuff in mind. You’ll find that most of these are in the details, so let’s make a comparison:
- IKEv2 offers excellent connection speed due to support for NAT-T (Network Address Translation-Traversal). This feature allows you to overcome some older protocols that still have issues with NAT firewalls. IKEv2 is arguably one of the fastest VPN protocols out there.
- IKEv2 provides automatic reconnection if your VPN is interrupted. This gives it the same power as any WiFI connection or modern protocol.
- A good amount of support is behind IKEv2, as it is a protocol of choice across Apple, Windows, and Android products. You will also see support across a vast range of routers (because of that NAT-T feature).
- IKEv2 supports modern demands regarding protocols (256-bit connections). While it isn’t the most vigorous protocol, it still requires time and effort to fall victim to brute force attacks.
- IKEv2 has had some questionable trustworthiness, with the NSA (National Security Association) showing a distinct interest in the IKE. The Edward Snowden attacks have demonstrated in the past how these larger providers are prime targets for leveraging VPN exploits.
- To make matters worse, IKEv2 is the creation of two of the world’s largest tech companies: Microsoft and Cisco. If you’ve taken a look at our best browser comparison, you already know our opinion of the Edge browsers.
- Unlike other VPN protocols, IKEv2 is a closed-source product. As a result, you won’t be able to find out the details behind its code. This makes it a bit less trustworthy overall, not contributing to its history with large companies and the NSA.
IKEv2 vs. Other Protocols
When comparing OpenVPN to IKEv2/IPSec, it all seems pretty close on paper:
- OpenVPN is a bit slower given that it receives fewer updates. However, that is on track to be more comparable as OpenVPN responds to the other protocols on the market.
- OpenVPN has comparable security (also using AES 256-bit encryption systems).
- You get vast support across all major platforms (Windows, Apple, Linux) and can expect that support to stick around.
However, there is one glaring difference:
- OpenVPN was explicitly developed to get around a country’s oppressive data restrictions. So OpenVPN does not have the same history with the NSA or large companies.
Wireguard is a newer VPN protocol that provides excellent performance and speed. It was officially out of beta in 2020 and supported open-source software.
While IKEv2 is the fastest among the older protocols, WireGuard is faster. However, its newer status makes connection stability less of a priority. This comes from WireGuard’s reliance on a UDP port (instead of the more reliable TCP port).
WireGuard also uses modern encryption methods through Curve25519, ChCha20, Poly1305, and BLAKE2s. So there is no doubt that WireGuard has the chops to pass any security audit.
However, if your goal is more stability, you might want to stick with IKEv2. In most cases, however, WireGurad beats out IKEv2 heavily.
As you might imagine, SoftEther beats out IKEv2 on speed. However, IKEv2/IPSec’s reliance on more established platforms means it wins on stability.
SoftEther also wins on its willingness to provide open-source software. So it’s very comparable to the WireGuard VPN protocol.
When establishing a secure tunnel, you’ll find that SoftEther is harder to block. This is because of the protocol’s flexibility and reliance on multiple ports. IKEv2 relies on UDP 500, making it easier to stop.
Both L2TP and IKEv2 make use of the comprehensive suite of IPSec. However, the support does give a slight edge to the IKEv2/IPSec security suite.
When establishing a VPN connection, both protocols are still considered reasonably secure. Both use a wide range of encryption protocols (like the well-known AES-256). However, both also rely on the same port because of their association with IPSec.
Does IKEv2 Have Any Security Vulnerabilities?
Short answer: No. Long answer: it depends on whether government agents are tracking someone within.
Government groups consistently seek out ways to overcome VPNs without spending the lifetimes it takes to outpace cryptographic algorithms. So while IKEv2 doesn’t have any known security breaches, it also isn’t entirely invulnerable.
Is IKEv2 Ever Separate from IPSec?
IKEv2 is an aspect of the IPSec security suite. As a result, the two will never be separate. However, you might see that IPSec does not always use IKEv2.
Will Firewalls block IKEv2?
Because IKEv2 relies 100% on UDP port 500, it is highly likely to be blocked by firewalls. If you use the VPN protocol with some well-known streaming services or some websites, they might stop you just to prevent security issues.
Recall that not everyone using a VPN limits itself to hiding from data oppression. Some VPN users use the extra security for nefarious acts.
Conclusion – is IKEv2/IPSec Secure?
The overall picture shows that IKEv2/IPSec is a secure VPN protocol with few security vulnerabilities. As a result, using a VPN that uses the protocol does provide you with a secure connection.
Regardless, it is one of the most likely VPN protocols that the NSA and other security organizations target. So if one of your goals is to hide from government entities, you might choose WireGuard or OpenVPN due to their focus on open-source security. If hiding from hackers and Internet Service Providers, IKEv2 might be ideal for your VPN tunnel.
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