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Designing an IPSec Policy

Updated: March 28, 2003

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

You need to create a set of IPSec policies that matches the needs of your environment. Organizations that have consistent security needs and a more simple network structure can create fewer and less complex policies to meet their goals. Other organizations with more stringent security needs and more complex environments require a greater number of policies and potentially more rules in their policies.

Use the steps shown in Figure 6.9 to help you decide how restrictively secure you want to make your IPSec policies.

Figure 6.9   Designing IPSec Policies

Designing IPsec Policies

When designing an IPSec policy, you need to decide whether to apply an IPSec policy to protect traffic just for specific paths (between specific IP addresses) or to provide general protection for all traffic sent to and from a specific computer. If you want to use IPSec to provide general protection for all traffic sent to and from a specific computer, configure a policy that is based on blocking all traffic and then permitting exceptions, or permitting all traffic and then blocking particular ports. Blocking all traffic provides greater security, but this approach also requires a detailed analysis of the computer’s communications, to ensure that required traffic is not blocked.

Consider a simple scenario that requires a simple IPSec policy strategy. All computers belong to a single Active Directory domain. The environment is composed entirely of servers running Windows Server 2003 and clients running Windows XP. All servers (except domain controllers) request confidentiality by using ESP, and all clients support IPSec. In such a case, only two policies are required: one for clients, and one for member servers. These policies can be applied by using Group Policy at the OU level in Active Directory. Because a different IPSec policy is applied to servers, the server computer accounts are grouped into their own OU. A GPO is created for the OU, and then the IPSec server policy is assigned to that GPO.

Because of the operating systems that the computers run and because all of the computers are domain members, both the IPSec server and client policies require that Kerberos be used for mutual authentication. To ensure that domain controllers do not receive any IPSec policy, the predefined domain security group for domain controllers is denied Read access to the GPO that assigns IPSec client policy at the domain level.

Conversely, many more policies can be required in a more complicated scenario. A single IPSec policy can contain many rules, each rule tailored for a specific type of traffic. Many different IPSec policies might need to be designed, to meet the security requirements different computers. Factors that can increase the number of policies required in your environment include:

  • Computer roles. Different servers performing in different roles require different types of security, including some combination of packet filtering, confidentiality, integrity, and tunneling. Meeting the security needs of an environment that includes many servers with different roles and requirements can require hundreds of different configurations per server. Furthermore, servers might serve multiple roles, which complicates role-based configurations.

  • Sensitivity of data sent over the network. Different levels of encryption are required to accommodate different security needs. For example, 3DES, which provides greater security than DES, can be used to protect transmission of personnel files stored on a file server.

  • Computer operating systems. Some operating systems automatically support IPSec transport mode, but some require special client software to be installed. Depending on their operating system, computers might receive IPSec policy through different means: some by Group Policy, others only through locally installed policies. Additionally, Windows Server 2003 IPSec includes several new features that are not supported by Windows 2000 or Windows XP.

  • Domain memberships. Some clients and servers belong to domains in different forests, some to UNIX realms, and some are members of workgroups. The trusts and authentication methods in place between such forests, realms, and workgroups affect which IPSec configurations are available.

  • Domain relationships. As above, what IPSec configurations are available and what authentication is possible depends on whether domains are in the same forest or different forests, and on whether those forests trust each other.

If you have a complex environment, use IPSec only where it is truly needed. Although you want to provide an appropriate level of security, use as few policies as possible to minimize the complexity of your system. A simpler system is less likely to produce problems and is also easier to troubleshoot if it does.

After identifying what network segments, communications, and computers you want to secure by using IPSec, you need to specify the settings and rules that make up an IPSec policy. The settings and rules you specify also determine how strictly security is enforced by your IPSec policies. Not only must you put policies in place to meet your security requirements, but you must also ensure that computers on your network have compatible policies that can allow them to negotiate SAs.

General IPSec Policy Settings

General IPSec policy settings must be specified whether you want the policy to provide packet filtering or end-to-end security. Make sure to manage all IPSec policies in a controlled way from design, through testing, and into production. To ensure proper management, include version numbers in policy names. General IPSec policy settings are shown in Table 6.4.

Table 6.4   General IPSec Policy Settings


Setting Description Example For More Information


The name and version number of the policy.

If the policy will be imported into a Windows 2000 Active Directory store or a local policy store, limit the name to 62 characters.

ContosoDefDomain v1.23

"Add, edit, or remove IPSec policies" in Help and Support Center for Windows Server 2003


Optional text that describes the policy, includes the name of its administrative owner, and that can aid in management of this system.

Administrative owner_name. This policy blocks certain ports and requests integrity to specific server IP addresses.

"Add, edit, or remove IPSec policies" in Help and Support Center for Windows Server 2003

Policy change poll interval

Specifies the period of time in minutes between polling by the IPSec Policy Agent for changes to existing applied policies.

IPSec polling does not detect changes made to domain or OU membership or the assigning or unassigning of policies in a GPO. These changes are detected by the Winlogon service every 90 minutes, by default.

Default of 180 minutes accepted

"Add, edit, or remove IPSec policies" in Help and Support Center for Windows Server 2003

Key exchange settings

Determines how keys are created, and how frequently (in seconds) IKE negotiates an ISAKMP SA.

In the IP Security Monitor snap-in, relevant statistics are displayed under Main Mode\IKE Policies.

Default settings accepted

"Configure key exchange settings" in Help and Support Center for Windows Server 2003

Key exchange methods

Determines how identities are protected when keys are exchanged.

You can specify which algorithms are used, including Message Digest 5 (MD5) and Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA1) for integrity, DES and 3DES for confidentiality, and the length of the master key. An ordered list of security settings is also specified, so that several settings can be offered during negotiation with the IPSec peer.

Default methods accepted

"Create key exchange security methods" in Help and Support Center for Windows Server 2003


  • Computers running Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP support the 3DES and DES algorithms and do not require installation of any additional components. However, computers running Windows 2000 must have the High Encryption Pack or Service Pack 2 (or later) installed in order to use 3DES. If a computer running Windows 2000 is assigned a policy that uses 3DES encryption, but does not have the High Encryption Pack or Service Pack 2 (or later) installed, the security method defaults to the weaker DES algorithm. To ensure at least some level of privacy for communication, make sure to allow DES as a fallback option whenever a 3DES setting is applied to a group of computers in case some of them cannot support 3DES.

IPSec Rules

IPSec rules determine which traffic is affected by an IPSec policy and which actions take place when that type of traffic is encountered. Table 6.5 describes the contents of IPSec rules that two computers use to establish a secure, authenticated channel.

Table 6.5   Settings of IPSec Rules


Setting Description Setting Example For More Information

Filter list

Specifies a named list of filters. Each filter in the filter list specifies the types of traffic to which the filter action is applied. Filters can be defined to match specific IP protocols, source and destination TCP and UDP ports, and source and destination IP addresses.

The filter list name might include the version number, the last update time, and the administrative owner. Each computer discards the filter list name during policy processing.

The description or name for each filter is maintained on each computer during policy processing. Make sure to name each filter.

Source Address: My IP Address

Destination Address:

Protocol: TCP

Source Port: Any

Dest Port: 1434

Mirrored: Yes

Name: Me to sqlsvr3 TCP * 1434

"Filter list" in Help and Support Center for Windows Server 2003

Filter action

Specifies whether a packet is permitted, blocked, or secured. If packets are to be secured, specifies how they are secured. A list of security methods specifies the security protocol, cryptographic algorithm, and session key regeneration frequency.

Request Security

"Filter action" in Help and Support Center for Windows Server 2003

Authentication methods

One or more authentication methods, which are specified in order of preference. Available options are Kerberos V5, certificate, or preshared key.

Kerberos V5

"Authentication methods" in Help and Support Center for Windows Server 2003

Tunnel endpoint

Specifies whether to use tunnel mode and, if so, the tunnel’s endpoint.

"Tunnel endpoint" in Help and Support Center for Windows Server 2003

Connection type

Specifies whether the rule applies to LAN connections, remote access connections, or both.


"Connection type" in Help and Support Center for Windows Server 2003

For more information about IPSec policy rules, see "IPSec Policy Rules" in Help and Support Center for Windows Server 2003.

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