Palo Alto

Palo Alto Site-to-Site VPN Configuration Example

Palo Alto Site-to-Site VPN Configuration Example
In: Palo Alto, Firewall

What if I tell you that configuring site-to-site VPN on Palo Alto firewalls is easier than you may think? Just like any other VPN, you will have to define phase-1 and phase-2 profiles that match the other side, define pre-shared keys and finally set up the tunnel interfaces.

Our ultimate goal is to set up a site-to-site VPN between the Branch Office (Palo Alto) and the Headquarters (which can be any firewall) and enable connectivity so, the devices in either location can access each other via a secure channel.

Let's assume the client-pc ( in the branch office needs to access a web server ( in the headquarter and we need to set up a VPN tunnel to provide connectivity.

This blog post assumes prior knowledge of Palo Alto firewalls and site-to-site VPN fundamentals.



Security Zone, Route and Tunnel Interface

To set up a VPN tunnel, the Layer 3 interface at each end must have a logical tunnel interface for the VPN peers to connect to and establish a VPN tunnel.

The tunnel interface must belong to a Security Zone to apply policies and it must be assigned to a virtual router.

Please note that the tunnel interface and the physical interface (WAN) are assigned to the same virtual router so, that the firewall can use the appropriate tunnel. 

For this example, I'm creating a Tunnel interface tunnel.1 and assigned an IP of The VPN peer will also have a Tunnel with the IP of (not shown in this example)

The Tunnel interface is then assigned to a Security Zone called VPN, the name can be anything and you can add multiple interfaces to the same zone depending on how you want to manage the Security Policies among multiple VPNs. You can also use an existing zone if you want to.

You will also need a static route (or dynamic routing protocols) that points to the Tunnel interface as the next-hop to reach the destination subnet.

Phase 1 / IKE Crypto Profile

In Phase 1, the VPN peers use the parameters defined in the IKE Gateway (more on this later) and the IKE Crypto profile to authenticate each other and set up a secure control channel.

The IKE Crypto Profile is used to set up the encryption and authentication algorithms used for the initial key exchange process, and the lifetime of the keys. At a later stage, we will need to attach the profile to the IKE Gateway for the configuration to take effect.

To begin defining the Phase 1 configuration, navigate to Networks> IKE Crypto and Add a new Profile.

Ideally, you want to use the strongest authentication and encryption algorithms the peer can support. For authentication, you can use SHA-256 or higher. SHA-1 or MD5 are considered weak and not recommended to use in a production environment.

For the encryption algorithm, you can use AES. DES and 3DES are considered weak and vulnerable. AES-GCM provides the strongest security and has built-in authentication, so you must set Authentication to none if you select aes-256-gcm or aes-128-gcm encryption.

If you are not sure what algorithms the peer device support, add multiple groups or algorithms in the order of most-to-least secure. The peer device will negotiate the strongest supported algorithm to establish the tunnel.

Phase 2 / IPSec Crypto Profile

In Phase 2 the channel is further secured for the transfer of data between the networks. You can use either ESP (Encapsulating Security Payload) or AH (Authentication Header) to enable secure communication. ESP allows you to encrypt the entire IP packet whereas AH does not encrypt the data payload and is unsuitable if your deployment requires privacy.

For this example, I've chosen to use AES-256-GCM for encryption and SHA-256 for Authentication.

IKE Gateway

Firewalls that initiate and terminate VPN connections across the two networks are called the IKE Gateways.

To set up the VPN tunnel and send traffic between the IKE Gateways, each peer must have an IP address, of course (static/dynamic). The VPN peers can also use pre-shared keys or certificates to mutually authenticate each other. The following example uses pre-shared keys (PSK). You can also choose between IKEv1 and IKEv2 depending on your requirement.

The interface selected should be the interface that connects to your ISP.

Under the advanced settings, please select the IKE Crypto Profile we created earlier.

IPSec Tunnel

The final step is to create an IPSec tunnel and attach the IPsec Crypto Profile we created earlier.

Any traffic that gets sent out to the Tunnel interface is encrypted and sent out to the peer via the tunnel.


Once the configuration has been completed, I'm going to send ICMP echo (ping) traffic from the Client to the server to verify that the tunnel is working.

client-pc> ping            

84 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=63 time=7.117 ms
84 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=63 time=2.062 ms
84 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=63 time=2.397 ms
84 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=63 time=2.204 ms
84 bytes from icmp_seq=5 ttl=63 time=2.196 ms

IPSec Tunnel - As you can see below, the IPSec tunnel status is turned green which means the tunnel is up and running.

I've also attached a screenshot of the traffic logs that shows the traffic from the client to the server.


You can also use CLI commands to verify the VPN status and two of the commands I regularly use are show vpn ike-sa gateway and show vpn ipsec-sa

admin@PA-VM> show vpn ike-sa gateway 
  <value>  Show for given IKE gateway

admin@PA-VM> show vpn ike-sa gateway VPN-HQ 

There is no IKEv1 phase-1 SA found.

There is no IKEv1 phase-2 SA found.

Gateway ID      Peer-Address           Gateway Name                                                    Role SN       Algorithm             Established     Expiration      Xt Child  ST                  
----------      ------------           ------------                                                    ---- --       ---------             -----------     ----------      -- -----  --                  
1                 VPN-HQ                                                          Resp 40       PSK/ DH5/AES256-GCM16 Sep.28 19:47:31 Sep.29 03:47:31 0  1      Established          

IKEv2 IPSec Child SAs
Gateway Name                                                    TnID     Tunnel                                                          ID       Parent   Role SPI(in)  SPI(out) MsgID    ST              
-------  -------- -----    --              
VPN-HQ                                                          1        VPN-HQ                                                          4074     40       Resp 8F19DF40 31F33EFE 00000001 Mature           

Show IKEv2 SA: Total 1 gateways found. 1 ike sa found.
admin@PA-VM> show vpn ipsec-sa 

GwID/client IP  TnID   Peer-Address           Tunnel(Gateway)                                                                                                                Algorithm          SPI(in)  SPI(out) life(Sec/KB)             remain-time(Sec)        
--------------  ----   ------------           ---------------                                                                                                                ---------          -------  -------- ------------             ----------------        
1               1            VPN-HQ(VPN-HQ)                                                                                                                 ESP/G256/          D6899B03 1BF46826 28800/Unlimited          28517                    

Show IPSec SA: Total 1 tunnels found. 1 ipsec sa found.

You can also use show vpn flow name CLI command to verify if the firewall is passing the traffic in both directions. As you can see below, both encap and decap packets have a counter with 25 as the value.

admin@PA-VM> show vpn flow name VPN-HQ | match packets
          monitor packets seen: 0
          monitor packets reply:0
        replay packets:         0
        packets received 
        encap packets:          25
        decap packets:          25

If I go ahead and send some more ping packets, the counter should increase. Let's send 5 ICMP packets and the counter should increase to 30.

client-pc> ping

84 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=63 time=4.411 ms
84 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=63 time=2.061 ms
84 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=63 time=2.192 ms
84 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=63 time=1.895 ms
84 bytes from icmp_seq=5 ttl=63 time=2.209 ms
admin@PA-VM> show vpn flow name VPN-HQ | match packets
          monitor packets seen: 0
          monitor packets reply:0
        replay packets:         0
        packets received 
        encap packets:          30
        decap packets:          30

If the encapsulation counter is increasing and decapsulation is constant, then the firewall is sending but not receiving packets.

If the decapsulation counter is increasing and encapsulation is constant, then the firewall is receiving but not transmitting packets.


Set Up Site-to-Site VPN
Written by
Suresh Vina
Tech enthusiast sharing Networking, Cloud & Automation insights. Join me in a welcoming space to learn & grow with simplicity and practicality.
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