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Table Of Contents  The TCP/IP Guide
 9  TCP/IP Lower-Layer (Interface, Internet and Transport) Protocols (OSI Layers 2, 3 and 4)
      9  TCP/IP Internet Layer (OSI Network Layer) Protocols
           9  Internet Protocol (IP/IPv4, IPng/IPv6) and IP-Related Protocols (IP NAT, IPSec, Mobile IP)
                9  IP Security (IPSec) Protocols

Previous Topic/Section
IPSec Authentication Header (AH)
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Pages in Current Topic/Section
1
234
Next Page
IPSec Key Exchange (IKE)
Next Topic/Section

IPSec Encapsulating Security Payload (ESP)
(Page 1 of 4)

The IPSec Authentication Header (AH) provides integrity authentication services to IPSec-capable devices, so they can verify that messages are received intact from other devices. For many applications, however, this is only one piece of the puzzle. We want to not only protect against intermediate devices changing our datagrams, we want to protect against them examining their contents as well. For this level of private communication, AH is not enough; we need to use the Encapsulating Security Payload (ESP) protocol.

The main job of ESP is to provide the privacy we seek for IP datagrams by encrypting them. An encryption algorithm combines the data in the datagram with a key to transform it into an encrypted form. This is then repackaged using a special format that we will see shortly, and transmitted to the destination, which decrypts it using the same algorithm. ESP also supports its own authentication scheme like that used in AH, or can be used in conjunction with AH.

Encapsulating Security Payload Fields

ESP has several fields that are the same as those used in AH, but packages its fields in a very different way. Instead of having just a header, it divides its fields into three components:

  • ESP Header: This contains two fields, the SPI and Sequence Number, and comes before the encrypted data. Its placement depends on whether ESP is used in transport mode or tunnel mode, as explained in the topic on IPSec modes.

  • ESP Trailer: This section is placed after the encrypted data. It contains padding that is used to align the encrypted data, through a Padding and Pad Length field. Interestingly, it also contains the Next Header field for ESP.

  • ESP Authentication Data: This field contains an Integrity Check Value (ICV), computed in a manner similar to how the AH protocol works, for when ESP's optional authentication feature is used.

There are two reasons why these fields are broken into pieces like this. The first is that some encryption algorithms require the data to be encrypted to have a certain block size, and so padding must appear after the data and not before it. That's why padding appears in the ESP Trailer. The second is that the ESP Authentication Data appears separately because it is used to authenticate the rest of the encrypted datagram after encryption. This means it cannot appear in the ESP Header or ESP Trailer.


Previous Topic/Section
IPSec Authentication Header (AH)
Previous Page
Pages in Current Topic/Section
1
234
Next Page
IPSec Key Exchange (IKE)
Next Topic/Section

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