IPsec provides a standards-based VPN implementation that is compatible with a wide range of clients for mobile connectivity, and other firewalls and routers for site-to-site connectivity. It supports numerous third party devices and is being used in production with devices ranging from consumer grade Linksys routers all the way up to IBM z/OS mainframes, and everything imaginable in between. This chapter describes the configuration options available, and how to configure various common scenarios.

See also

For general discussion of the various types of VPNs available in pfSense® software and their pros and cons, see Virtual Private Networks.

pfSense software supports IPsec with IKEv1 and IKEv2, multiple phase 2 definitions for each tunnel, as well as NAT traversal, NAT on Phase 2 definitions, a large number of encryption and hash options, and many more options for mobile clients, including xauth and EAP.

IPsec Terminology

Before delving too deeply into configuration, there are a few terms that are used throughout the chapter that require explanation. Other terms are explained in more detail upon their use in configuration options.


IKE stands for Internet Key Exchange, and comes in two different varieties: IKEv1 and IKEv2. Nearly all devices that support IPsec use IKEv1. A growing number of devices also support the newer IKEv2 protocol which is an updated version of IKE that solves some of the difficulties present in the earlier version. For example, IKEv2 has MOBIKE, which is a standard for mobile clients that allows them to switch addresses dynamically. It also has built-in NAT traversal, and standard mechanisms for reliability similar to DPD. In general IKEv2 provides a more stable and reliable experience, provided both ends support it sufficiently.

ISAKMP Security Association

ISAKMP stands for Internet Security Association and Key Management Protocol. It gives both parties a mechanism by which they can set up a secure communications channel, including exchanging keys and providing authentication.

An ISAKMP Security Association (ISAKMP SA) is a one-way policy which defines how traffic will be encrypted and handled. Each active IPsec tunnel will have two security associations, one for each direction. The ISAKMP Security Associations are setup between the public IP addresses for each endpoint. Knowledge of these active security associations is kept in the Security Association Database (SAD).

Security Policy

A Security Policy manages the complete specifications of the IPsec tunnel. As with Security Associations, these are one-way, so for each tunnel there will be one in each direction. These entries are kept in the Security Policy Database (SPD). The SPD is populated with two entries for each tunnel connection as soon as a tunnel is added. By contrast, SAD entries only exist upon successful negotiation of the connection.

In pfSense software, Security Policies control which traffic will be intercepted by the kernel for delivery via IPsec.

Phase 1

There are two phases of negotiation for an IPsec tunnel. During phase 1, the two endpoints of a tunnel setup a secure channel between using ISAKMP to negotiate the SA entries and exchange keys. This also includes authentication, checking identifiers, and checking the pre-shared keys (PSK) or certificates. When phase 1 is complete the two ends can exchange information securely, but have not yet decided what traffic will traverse the tunnel or its encryption.

Phase 2

In phase 2, the two endpoints negotiate how to encrypt and send the data for the private hosts based on Security Policies. This part builds the tunnel used for transferring data between the endpoints and clients whose traffic is handled by those endpoints. If the policies on both side agree and phase 2 is successfully established, the tunnel will be up and ready for use for traffic matching the phase 2 definitions.