What is IKEv2 VPN? Should you choose this protocol?

Anton P. | August 08, 2023

IKEv2 VPN is an application that uses IKEv2/IPSec tunneling protocol for transferring data. It establishes a secure connection between VPN users and VPN servers. 

It deals with the Security Association (SA) meant to negotiate between devices initiating IPSec communication. Microsoft and Cisco created the IKEv2 VPN protocol, a replacement for IKEv1. 

Whenever you use a VPN, you might notice IKEv2/IPSec is available as one of the protocols for setting up VPN connections. However, how does it compare to other protocols like WireGuard® or OpenVPN? 

Let’s see the benefits and disadvantages of IKEv2 VPN.

Learn about IKEv2 VPN protocol for tunneling.

What is IKEv2 VPN? 

IKEv2 (Internet Key Exchange Version 2) is a protocol for bringing secure connections between VPN clients and VPN servers. Usually, you see a combination of IKEv2 and IPSec since IKEv2 nearly always uses IPSec: 

  • IKEv2 benefits include bringing faster and more stable connections. So, users are less likely to experience sudden connectivity problems. 
  • IPSec brings more security to the connection.

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The purpose of IKEv2 is to perform the following functions: 

  • It sets up the Security Association, negotiating encryption keys operated by the VPN server and client. 
  • Essentially, IKEv2 VPN uses authentication methods to negotiate the security between the client and server. 
  • A secure connection between the devices can occur after dealing with the Security Association.

IKEv2 works on most operating systems, including mobile devices like Android and iOS. Devices natively support IKEv2, meaning there is no need for additional setup. 

How IKEv2 VPN works

We can establish a more detailed guide on how IKEv2 VPN works. 

  • IKEv2 authenticates and establishes a secure connection between VPN clients and VPN servers. 
  • It also settles on the security measures used between these two peers. 
  • IKEv2 generates encryption keys for data (traffic) encryption and decryption. 
  • IKEv2 uses UDP port 500, which could make it easier to block VPN connections. 
  • IKEv2/IPSec also uses Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) to guarantee the security of derived session keys.

IKEv2 vs. IKEv1 

IKEv2 is a revised edition of IKEv1. Its developers have incorporated enhanced security measures and performance improvements. 

  • IKEv2 is much faster thanks to Network Address Translation-Traversal (NAT-T). 
  • It also uses less bandwidth since it needs fewer procedures of Security Association with the server. 
  • IKEv2 supports Mobility and Multi-Homing protocol (MOBIKE), making connections from one Wi-Fi to another smoother. 

Currently, IKEv1 is obsolete, and a VPN should not use it as its tunneling protocol. You should also avoid L2TP and PPTP protocols. If a VPN provider offers it, choose a different option. 

Advantages and disadvantages of IKEv2

Generally, IKEv2 is a secure and fast protocol many users love using. Let’s review the biggest advantages and disadvantages of this protocol.

It offers higher speed thanks to NAT-T.It has privacy doubts due to its creators (Microsoft mostly). 
It uses less bandwidth.Its code is closed-source, meaning it is not publicly available. 
It is based on OAKLEY, SKEME, ISAKMP. It might not support all devices (particularly older operating systems).
It is even more secure when paired with IPSec.It is less immune to firewall restrictions as admins can close the UDP port 500. 
It is more immune to DoS (Denial of Service). Other VPN protocols might be a better fit for security and performance.
It supports 256-bit encryption algorithms.

Comparing IKEv2 with other VPN protocols 

IKEv2 is an excellent choice for a tunneling protocol. However, as technology evolves, we do see clear improvements. Thus, while IKEv2 VPN might be a preference for many, other protocols are equal and, sometimes, even superior. 

  • WireGuard has the potential to become a robust VPN protocol. It is open-sourced and lightweight but needs additional attention from developers. 
  • OpenVPN is one of the most popular protocols, balancing security and privacy. 
  • Users generally receive robust protection whether they choose IKEv2/IPSec, OpenVPN, or WireGuard. 

You can see some of the pros and cons of using different VPN protocols:

VPN protocolAdvantagesDisadvantages 
WireGuardNew protocol; Needs more testing;
Open-source code;VPN providers need to add features to make it more secure.
A faster protocol; 
Even more immune to network changes. 
OpenVPNTrusted protocol; Might be slower; 
Highly configurable;Devices do not natively support it; 
Stable and secure;Bloated code. 
Open-source code.
PPTPIt is best to avoid this protocol. It is best to avoid this protocol. 
LT2TP/IPSecIt is best to avoid this protocol. It is best to avoid this protocol. 
SSTPStable and secure;Works on Windows devices.
More immune to blocks (due to TCP 443).

The biggest advantage of IKEv2 is its ability to allow interruptions of the network connection. If they occur, IKEv2 restores the VPN connection once users reconnect to the networks. 

Atlas VPN offers IKEv2/IPSec protocol 

IKEv2 is a protocol responsible for direct IPSec tunneling between clients and servers. Overall, it is one of the best choices for VPN tunneling protocols. 

Atlas VPN currently offers two VPN protocols: WireGuard and IKEv2/IPSec. Users can select the one to use via our app settings. For example, WireGuard could suit you best if you plan to perform speed-sensitive activities. 

If you need help deciding which protocol to use, pick the automatic option. It means that Atlas VPN chooses which protocol works best for you! 

WireGuard® is a registered trademark of Jason A. Donenfeld.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.



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