2023, August 05
·
Security
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9 min read
·
Matt S.

IKEv2 VPN Explained: Online Security Guide

IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange version 2) is a protocol for setting up a secure VPN connection. It can reestablish connection if it is lost, making it effective.

IKEv2 VPN Explained: What is it?

If you read our previous blog on the topic of VPS vs. VPN, you’re already somewhat familiar with the concept of a virtual private network. But even if you have or haven’t read it, there’s actually much more to it. The technology behind virtual private networks (VPNs) can be quite complex and fascinating at the same time. It’s important to understand it. At least we believe so. Such knowledge can help you make more informed decisions as a user of the internet, as well as keep your data better protected.
In this particular blog, we will focus on IKEv2 VPN. We will explore what it is, how it works, and why it's gaining popularity as one of the most secure and reliable VPN protocols. If you're looking for a way to protect your online privacy, bypass geo-restrictions, or ensure secure communication, you've come to the right place. Let's get going!

Small reminder #1 – What is a VPN? [Explained]

A VPN works by establishing a secure and encrypted connection with a VPN server that stands between you and the internet. A VPN reroutes your traffic through an encrypted tunnel. For the website/platform/app which you’re using, it looks like you are accessing it from a different location. This helps bypass geo-blocking and also protects personal data.
The image below perfectly illustrates the difference between browsing with a VPN and without one.

What is a VPN protocol? Why is it important?

When it comes to connectivity and access to the internet, lots of security measures follow strict technological protocols to remain efficient and provide the benefit of added security. VPN protocols are no different. They are a foundation that defines secure connectivity between user devices and the VPN server.
There are more than a few different VPN protocols out there. The image below illustrates the few most common ones, including IKEv2 (often mentioned with IPSec because these technologies are used in combination), highlighting its pros and cons.
You can imagine a VPN protocol like IKEv2 as a secure tunnel that shields your online activities from prying eyes, just like how a tunnel protects pedestrians from traffic while crossing a busy street. It ensures that your data remains encrypted and inaccessible to hackers or anyone trying to monitor your internet traffic.
VPN protocols matter because they impact the level of security and performance you get. Some popular VPN protocols include OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, and IKEv2/IPsec, each offering varying levels of security and speed. Think of them as different types of armor – while some provide heavy-duty protection, but slow you down, while others are faster and more nimble.
By employing a robust VPN protocol like IKEv2, you can protect sensitive information, such as passwords, financial details, or business communications, especially when using public Wi-Fi networks. It also allows you to access geo-restricted content and bypass internet censorship, granting you the freedom to browse the web without limitations.

About IKEv2 VPN: Overview, How it Works, Advantages, etc.

Overview of IKEv2

IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange version 2) VPN is a robust tunneling protocol (you can call it a VPN mechanism) that establishes a secure connection between your device and a VPN server. In that sense, its purpose is identical to that of any other VPN protocol. However, the devil is in the details and we’ll talk about what makes IKEv2 so special, a bit later.
As of now, this protocol is often chosen as the go-to protocol by both service providers and users. IKEv2 provides VPN services with an added layer of security and privacy while users continue surfing the web.
Here’s a cheat sheet about the most important facts about the IKEv2 VPN protocol:
  • This protocol is an evolution of its predecessor, IKEv1
    • It’s faster
    • It occupies less bandwidth (your internet speeds won’t be as impacted)
    • It’s safer and has built-in NAT traversal capabilities
  • It was privately developed by Cisco (a giant in networking hardware, software & telecoms) and Microsoft
  • It is widely recognized for offering great speed and stability
  • This choice is perfect for high-bandwidth activities
  • One of the biggest improvements of IKEv2 is the ability to quickly re-establish VPN connectivity after interruptions
  • Works behind firewalls and NAT (consistent access)
  • Compatible with most modern OS options

The technical side of IKEv2

As we’ve mentioned, the
IKEv2 VPN
is often labeled as IKEv2/IPsec. These two acronyms often go together. Why? Because these technologies are rarely separate. The whole concept of a private and secure VPN tunnel is best achieved when they’re put together. IPsec takes care of the data and IKEv2 is responsible for handling security.
This is where the easy stuff ends. Now we’ll be going through a lot of technical mumbo jumbo here. So, if you’re much more eager to know about the more general aspects of IKEv2, our advice is to skip to the next paragraph.
So, IKEv2 is a further development of two cryptographic/data exchange solutions – the Oakley Protocol) and ISAKMP.
These protocols are meant to help encrypt information but at the same time it can be rendered useless as no one, even the intended recipient couldn’t be able to read it. Unless they can exchange security keys. But how do you do that in a secure connection if you don’t know the recipient? This is where IKEv2 shows its magic. Have you heard of X.509?
Microsoft‘s very own illustration explaining how X.509 cryptography works.
As Microsoft is the developer of IKEv2, they illustrate the nature of asymmetric data encryption which is used to cipher and decipher messages or any other content. This protocol is very versatile, allowing not only to exchange data but to also sign documents, verify their authenticity, etc.
The X.509 protocol has a certain feature that allows it to identify the origin of a public key. That’s achieved through a shared secret. In addition, there is AES-256-GCM for encryption, SHA2-384 for integrity, and PFS for additional convenience & security. This sounds James Bond-esque but it’s actually a very casual process that your systems process in a fraction of a millisecond. It follows a specific set of rules set by the protocol and encryption algorithms. This video from the Simpsons can show how a shared secret allows people to identify one another as a member of a secret club (e.g. similar to what a server needs to do with your device) Read more.
The basis for the shared secret exchange is a 3072-bit Diffie-Hellman algorithm. It is high-end cryptography that requires sufficient knowledge in many disciplines to properly understand. But we found this image online which does a nice job explaining the essence of Diffie-Hellman. It requires some understanding of higher mathematics, but trust us – this might be the clearest explanation online.
P.S. We didn’t go into detail on what is IPsec and how it works, as you’d need a separate blog for that but you can check out Amazon AWS’ guide on everything you might want to know about it.

How to use IKEv2 VPN on my device?

Probably the easiest way to take advantage of IKEv2 VPN technology is to choose a VPN service that has it built in. Look for VPN providers that mention this technological option in their pros, benefits section. Then you only need to download their app or plugin and set it up. Once you launch it, for the initial use, your device might ask you to allow permissions for the VPN to modify network & connection settings. Allow it.
There might also be a need to go to the VPN app and navigate to the settings or protocol options if IKEv2 isn’t on by default. Look for IKEv2 and select it as your preferred VPN protocol.

Are there any better VPN protocols than IKEv2?

Even though IKEv2 is probably the most popular solution due to its speed & stability, that doesn’t mean you can call it the overall best VPN protocol. The term best is very vague in this context and no one protocol could claim such a title.
However, if you analyze your needs and wants, you can definitely find the protocol which is best for you and whether IKEv2 is best for you.
OpenVPN is a solid alternative that’s open-source as opposed to IKEv2 which was created by Microsoft and Cisco – two large, global corporations. Open VPN can run on all sorts of platforms, it has great security and compatibility whilst remaining free to use. At the same time, there are some drawbacks like the need for manual configuration and other limitations.
WireGuard is another alternative that is called a more efficient and more secure alternative to other FOSS VPN protocols. It has streamlined code and efficient encryption algorithms, making it an excellent choice for modern devices looking to benefit from low resource consumption and the simplicity of this solution.
But you can’t call any one of these a totally better choice than IKEv2 VPN. All three have their own pros and cons.

Summary

So, to summarize, IKEv2 VPN is a VPN protocol that is very secure and versatile. The technology behind it is quite fascinating and complex but it allows this protocol to provide high levels of security for your internet traffic. The protocol can be quite easy to use since most top-tier VPN apps can implement it. At the same time, there are some alternatives that could be worth exploring. If you truly care about your digital privacy, not only start using VPNs but also focus on protecting your communications. Download Skyda to enjoy total privacy when chatting, talking, or video calling with your friends, colleagues, gaming buddies, or sources!

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