GRE over IPSec VPN Tunneling

Introduction to GRE Tunnels

Generic Routing Encapsulation, or GRE, is a tunneling protocol that allows the encapsulation of many different network layer protocols between two endpoints. Packets are sent through a virtual tunnel on a point-to-point link.

It is important to understand that GRE tunnels do not encrypt traffic in any way; they are simply encapsulated within an additional GRE and IP header. If a secure tunnel is required, IPSec can be used with GRE to provide data confidentiality.

Also keep in mind that GRE over IPSec tunnels are different from stand-alone IPSec VPN tunnels. GRE over IPSec tunnels support multicast IP traffic, which strict IPSec VPNs do not. This is important when routing protocols need to send routing information across the tunnel since they use multicast for their control information. If your network requires a routing protocol like EIGRP or OSPF, then GRE over IPSec can provide secure transport for those services.

We’ll cover both GRE (unsecured) and GRE over IPsec (secured) tunnels in the configuration example below. While this is a very small part of the CCNP ROUTE blueprint, it is important that you understand the steps and how they are applied.

GRE Tunneling Example Diagram

GRE Tunnel Configuration

1. Create the tunnel interface on the VPN router.

A GRE tunnel uses a virtual tunnel interface, configured with an IP address where packets are encapsulated/decapsulated as they enter and exit the GRE tunnel.

The IP address must be in the same subnet on both router’s tunnel interfaces.

interface Tunnel0
ip address

It is common practice to also reduce the maximum transmission unit (MTU) to 1400 bytes to avoid any fragmentation problems over the transport networks. Remember that GRE adds an additional 20-byte IP header as well as a 4-byte GRE header to each packet in the tunnel.

Because most devices have an MTU of 1500 bytes, reducing the GRE tunnel MTU will account for the added overhead and help prevent unnecessary packet fragmentation.

interface Tunnel0
ip address
ip mtu 1400

2. Define the tunnel source and destination under each tunnel interface.

The router uses its local interface that connects to the internet as its tunnel source. The tunnel destination corresponds to the remote router’s publicly routable IP address.

interface Tunnel0
ip address
ip mtu 1400
tunnel source FastEthernet0/0
tunnel destination

Note that the tunnel source and destination can both be IP addresses. For example, “tunnel source” could have been used instead of “tunnel source FastEthernet0/0”.

3. Testing Connectivity
The configuration above is from the perspective of RouterA. The same configuration template would need to be applied to RouterB for the tunnel to begin passing traffic (with source/destination IPs swapped of course).

Now that both endpoint routers have been configured, they should be reachable via pings.

Type escape sequence to abort.
Sending 5, 100-byte ICMP Echos to, timeout is 2 seconds:
Success rate is 100 percent (5/5), round-trip min/avg/max = 1/2/4 ms

4. Add Routes to Remote Networks

This confirms that we can pass traffic inside the GRE tunnel, but hosts on the Branch LAN networks will not be able to send packets to each other without some routes added. We can use a simple static route for this purpose.

RouterA(config)# ip route

RouterB(config)# ip route

Now when RouterA receives a packet destined for the East Branch LAN (, it knows it’s next-hop interface is the tunnel endpoint, so it will forward the packet through the GRE tunnel.

That’s it for the GRE tunnel configuration. Now onto adding IPSec.

IPSec Encryption for the GRE Tunnel

As we mentioned, GRE provides no form of payload confidentiality or encryption. If the packet are sniffed over the public transit networks, their contents are in plain-text.

IPSec solves the security concerns by encrypting part or all of the GRE packets. There are two IPSec tunnel modes – tunnel and transport. This configuration example will show the default, tunnel-mode IPSec encryption which protects they entire GRE header and payload.

1. Create an Access list to define the traffic to encrypt.

The ACL should match traffic from the outside interface of the local router to the outside interface of the remote router.

access-list 101 permit gre host host

2. Configure an isakmp policy.

Note: The ISAKMP policy, key, and IPSec transform set must match on both sides of a single tunnel.

crypto isakmp policy 1
authentication pre-share

3. Configure pre-shared keys.

The key P@ssword will be configured to be used for authentication with RouterA’s peer The address at the end of the statement refers to the public IP address of the peer router (RouterB).

crypto isakmp key P@ssword address

4. Configure the transform set.

crypto ipsec transform-set strong esp-3des esp-md5-hmac

The full ISAKMP configuration:

crypto isakmp policy 1
authentication pre-share
crypto isakmp key P@ssword address
crypto ipsec transform-set strong esp-3des esp-md5-hmac

5. Configure a crypto map and bind the transform set and the traffic ACL to the crypto map. Define peer IP address below crypto map.

crypto map S2SVPN 10 ipsec-isakmp
set peer
set transform-set strong
match address 101

6. Apply the crypto map to the physical, outside interface.

If you are running a version of IOS Software Release earlier than 12.2.15 then the crypto map must be applied to the tunnel interface as well as the physical interface.

interface FastEthernet0/0
crypto map S2SVPN
interface Tunnel0
crypto map S2SVPN

Now configure the remote router using the same IPSec configuration template. Make sure to change the local and remote IPs as necessary.

Verify GRE over IPSec Tunnel Connectivity

Now that the GRE over IPSec tunnel configuration is complete, we can verify end-to-end IPSec tunnel connectivity. By simply sending pings to the remote networks, the IPSec VPN will come up and begin encrypting/decrypting traffic.

RouterA# ping
Type escape sequence to abort.
Sending 5, 100-byte ICMP Echos to, timeout is 2 seconds:
Success rate is 100 percent (5/5), round-trip min/avg/max = 1/3/4 ms

The show crypto session command can be used to verify that the IPSec VPN encryption is operational.

RouterA# show crypto session
Crypto session current status
Interface: Tunnel0
Session status: UP-ACTIVE
Peer: port 500
IKE SA: local remote Active
IPSEC FLOW: permit 47 host host
Active SAs: 2, origin: crypto map

Author Aaron

Aaron knows networks. He's been involved in building and supporting world-class data networks for the past 10 years - from international cloud service providers to Fortune 50 data centers. Aaron consults independently and is focused on building the best training platform available.

More posts by Aaron

Join the discussion 17 Comments

Leave a Reply