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Fighting IPSec on AWS

IPSec is a well known and well understood protocol that is pretty easy to get setup and going… Most of the time. While setting up an IPSec tunnel to an AWS host I came across a new and unique experience that didn’t seem to have an easily searchable solution.

I had two CentOS 7 EC2 instances, each set up with their own Elastic IP in a default VPC. I installed and configured libreswan with the following config:

conn setup
  protostack=netkey

conn site-tunnel
  auto=start
  pfs=yes

  leftid=@left_tunnel_server_name
  rightid=@right_tunnel_server_name
  left=%defaultroute
  right=<remote-ip>

  authby=rsasig
  leftrsasigkey=<left-key>
  rightrsasigkey=<right-key>

The IPSec link came up without issue but pings were timing out without a response. When sniffing the incoming packets, I was appropriately seeing the ICMP echo requests coming in encapsulated in the tunnel and being re-injected. There was never a response being generated.

The traffic capture was also pretty clear as to why. The encapsulated packet had the elastic IP as the destination which the EC2 instance doesn’t ACTUALLY have and wasn’t aware… So it didn’t attempt to respond.

I went down a bit of a rabbit hole attempting to get the instance to recognize that address with limited success. Adding the IP to an additional loopback interface… IPTables DNAT rules… Some of them worked but they were dirty hacks that would have been left until something blew up…

The solution was simple and even improved the overall performance of the link. By default libreswan operates in tunnel mode which sends along the destination information as well (and can be used for routing network across). For the use I almost always use these links for, transport is more appropriate and has less protocol overhead.

By adding the following line to the connection configuration on both sides the problem vanished:

  type=transport

With any luck the next person that comes across this issue will find this post and their life will be a tad bit easier.