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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 Architectures and Implementation Methods
Previous Page
Pages in Current Topic/Section
123
4
Next Page
IPSec Security Associations and the Security Association Database (SAD); Security Policies and the Security Policy Database (SPD); Selectors; the Security Parameter Index (SPI)
Next Topic/Section

IPSec Modes: Transport and Tunnel
(Page 4 of 4)

Comparing Transport and Tunnel Modes

The bottom line in understanding the difference between these two is this: tunnel mode protects the original IP datagram as a whole, header and all, while transport mode does not. Thus, in general terms, the order of the headers is as follows:

  • Transport Mode: IP header, IPSec headers (AH and/or ESP), IP payload (including transport header).

  • Tunnel Mode: New IP header, IPSec headers (AH and/or ESP), old IP header, IP payload.

Again, this is a simplified view of how IPSec datagrams are constructed; the reality is significantly more complex. The exact way that the headers are arranged in an IPSec datagram in both transport and tunnel modes depends on which version of IP is being used; IPv6 uses extension headers which must be arranged in a particular way when IPSec is used. The header placement also depends on which IPSec protocol is being used: AH or ESP. Note that it is also possible to apply both AH and ESP to the same datagram; if so, the AH header always appears before the ESP header.

There are thus three variables and eight basic combinations of mode (tunnel or transport), IP version (IPv4 or IPv6) and protocol (AH or ESP). The two topics on AH and ESP describe the four format combinations of transport/tunnel mode and IPv4/IPv6 applicable to each protocol. Note that ESP also includes an ESP trailer that goes after the data protected.

You could probably tell by reading these descriptions how the two modes relate to the choice of IPSec architecture from the preceding topic. Transport mode requires that IPSec be integrated into IP, because AH/ESP must be applied as the original IP packaging is performed on the transport layer message. This is often the choice for implementations requiring end-to-end security with hosts that run IPSec directly.

Tunnel mode represents an encapsulation of IP within the combination of IP+IPSec. Thus, it corresponds with the BITS and BITW implementations, where IPSec is applied after IP has processed higher-layer messages and already added its header. Tunnel mode is a common choice for VPN implementations, which are based on tunneling of IP datagrams through an unsecured network such as the Internet.

Key Concept: IPSec has two basic modes of operation. In transport mode, IPSec AH and/or ESP headers are added as the original IP datagram is created; this mode is associated with integrated IPSec architectures. In tunnel mode, the original IP datagram is created normally, then the entire datagram is encapsulated into a new IP datagram containing the AH/ESP IPSec headers. This mode is most commonly used with “Bump In The Stack” and “Bump In The Wire” implementations.



Previous Topic/Section
IPSec Architectures and Implementation Methods
Previous Page
Pages in Current Topic/Section
123
4
Next Page
IPSec Security Associations and the Security Association Database (SAD); Security Policies and the Security Policy Database (SPD); Selectors; the Security Parameter Index (SPI)
Next Topic/Section

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Version 3.0 - Version Date: September 20, 2005

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