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> Chapter 14 - IPsec VPN > IPsec VPN concepts > VPN gateways

VPN gateways

A gateway is a router that connects the local network to other networks. The default gateway setting in your computer’s TCP/IP properties specifies the gateway for your local network.

A VPN gateway functions as one end of a VPN tunnel. It receives incoming IPsec packets, decrypts the encapsulated data packets and passes the data packets to the local network. Also, it encrypts data packets destined for the other end of the VPN tunnel, encapsulates them, and sends the IPsec packets to the other VPN gateway. The VPN gateway is a FortiGate unit because the private network behind it is protected, ensuring the security of the unencrypted VPN data. The gateway can also be FortiClient software running on a PC since the unencrypted data is secure on the PC.

The IP address of a VPN gateway is usually the IP address of the network interface that connects to the Internet. Optionally, you can define a secondary IP address for the interface and use that address as the local VPN gateway address. The benefit of doing this is that your existing setup is not affected by the VPN settings.

The following diagram shows a VPN connection between two private networks with FortiGate units acting as the VPN gateways. This configuration is commonly referred to as Gateway-to-Gateway IPsec VPN.

VPN tunnel between two private networks

Although the IPsec traffic may actually pass through many Internet routers, you can visualize the VPN tunnel as a simple secure connection between the two FortiGate units.

Users on the two private networks do not need to be aware of the VPN tunnel. The applications on their computers generate packets with the appropriate source and destination addresses, as they normally do. The FortiGate units manage all the details of encrypting, encapsulating, and sending the packets to the remote VPN gateway.

The data is encapsulated in IPsec packets only in the VPN tunnel between the two VPN gateways. Between the user’s computer and the gateway, the data is on the secure private network and it is in regular IP packets.

For example User1 on the Site A network, at IP address, sends packets with destination IP address, the address of User2 on the Site B network. The Site A FortiGate unit is configured to send packets with destinations on the network through the VPN, encrypted and encapsulated. Similarly, the Site B FortiGate unit is configured to send packets with destinations on the network through the VPN tunnel to the Site A VPN gateway.

In the site-to-site, or gateway-to-gateway VPN shown below, the FortiGate units have static (fixed) IP addresses and either unit can initiate communication.

You can also create a VPN tunnel between an individual PC running FortiClient and a FortiGate unit, as shown below. This is commonly referred to as Client‑to-Gateway IPsec VPN.

VPN tunnel between a FortiClient PC and a FortiGate unit

On the PC, the FortiClient application acts as the local VPN gateway. Packets destined for the office network are encrypted, encapsulated into IPsec packets, and sent through the VPN tunnel to the FortiGate unit. Packets for other destinations are routed to the Internet as usual. IPsec packets arriving through the tunnel are decrypted to recover the original IP packets.