Troubleshooting IPsec tunnels (IKEv1)

Last modified on 7 Dec, 2022. Revision 9


Note: This guide is primary written for IKEv1. It can in many situations also be applicable for IKEv2 but the error messages will most likely not be the same depending on the problem.

There are a lot of different error messages we can get when trying to set up or troubleshoot an IPsec tunnel. These messages can be pretty cryptic, this guide is meant to help understanding the most common error messages and how to troubleshoot them.

When troubleshooting IPsec tunnels there is primarily a console command called “ike -snoop” (for older cOS Core versions verbose mode must be manually activated with a subcommand) that we can use in order to see the negotiations between the initiator and terminator. It is also when using this command we will in most cases see the various error messages that can appear depending on the problem with the tunnel.

Some of the most common error messages.

Error message-1: could not find acceptable proposal / no proposal chosen
Error message-2: Incorrect pre-shared key
Error message-3: Ike_invalid_payload, Ike_invalid_cookie
Error message-4: Payload_Malformed
Error message-5: No public key found
Error message-6: Invalid key information
Problem symptom-1: The tunnel can only be initiated from one side / working tunnel all of a sudden stopped working.
Problem symptom-2: Tunnel is unable to establish, Ike -snoop reports CFG mode XAuth problem.
Problem symptom-3: Tunnel can be established with ping but no data can get through the tunnel

Error message-1: Could not find acceptable proposal / no proposal chosen


This is the most common error message. It means that depending on which side that initiates the tunnel, replies that the negotiation of either IKE or IPsec phase of the tunnel failed since they were unable to find a matching proposal that both sides can agree on.


Troubleshooting this error message can be quite extensive since the reasons for this message can be multiple depending on where in the negotiation it fails.

If the negotiation fails in phase-1 – IKE.

The IKE proposal list does not match. Double check that the IKE proposal list matches that of the remote side. A good idea is to use the “ike -snoop” command in the console and get the tunnel to initiate from the remote side. Then you will be able to see what proposals the remote side is sending, then you can compare the results with your own IKE proposal list.
At least ONE proposal has to match in order for it to pass phase-1. Don’t forget that the lifetimes are also important as will be mentioned in Problem symptom-1. Note: In newer versions it is not possible to set the lifetime in KB for the IKE Phase, only seconds.

If the negotiation fails in phase-2 – IPsec.

The IPsec proposal list does not match. Double check that the IKE proposal list matches that of the remote side. You can use the same method described above of using an ike -snoop from when the remote side initiates and compare it against your own proposal list. Whats “extra” in the Ipsec phase is that the networks are negotiated here, so even if the IPsec proposal list seem to match the problem may be with mismatching networks. The Local network(s) on your side needs to be Remote Network on the other side and vice versa. Remember that multiple networks will generate multiple IPsec SA’s, one SA per network (or host if you use that option). The defined network size is also important to have exactly the same size on both sides, as will be mentioned in Problem symptom-1.

There are also some settings on the IPsec tunnel’s IKE tab that can be involved in a no-proposal chosen issue. Such as Main or Aggressive mode, DH Group (for the IKE phase) and PFS (for IPsec phase).

Error message-2: Incorrect pre-shared key (PSK)


A problem with the pre-shared key on either side causes the tunnel negotiation to fail.


This is the easiest one of all the error messages since it can be only one thing, and that is incorrect pre-shared key. Double-check that the pre-shared key is of the same type (Passphrase or Hex key ) and correctly added on both sides of the tunnel.

Another reason why it detects that the pre-shared key is incorrect could be because the wrong tunnel is triggering during tunnel negotiations. IPsec tunnels are processed from the top to the bottom and are initially matched against the remote gateway. An example is if you have a roaming tunnel that is ABOVE your currently defined tunnel. A roaming tunnel uses all-nets as its remote gateway and this tunnel will trigger before your defined tunnel due to that.


Name, Local Network, Remote network, remote gateway.
VPN-1 Lannet Office1Net Office1GW
VPN-2 Lannet Office2Net Office2GW
L2TP IP_Wan All-nets All-nets (or <none>)
VPN-3 Lannet Office3Net Office3GW

Since L2TP is placed above the VPN-3 tunnel it will match before VPN-3 because of the remote gateway. And since they use different pre-shared keys you will see the “incorrect pre-shared key” as error message. Moving VPN-3 above the L2TP tunnel will solve the problem in this case since it will then correctly match the Office3GW gateway and then trigger the VPN-3 tunnel.


The IPsec engine in the firewall receives an IKE packet but is unable to match it against an existing IKE SA.


If the tunnel is only up on one “side”, this can be the resulting error message when traffic arrives from a tunnel that does not exist. An example would be if for some reason the tunnel has only gone down from the initiator side but the terminator still sees it as up. It then tries to send packets thru the tunnel but when they arrive on the initiator it will drop them since no matching tunnel can be found.

Simply remove the tunnel from the side that believes it’s still up to solve the immediate problem. An investigation as to why the tunnel only went down from one side is recommended. It could be that DPD and/or Tunnel Monitor (called Keep-Alive in older versions) is only used on one side. Another possible cause could be that even though it has received a DELETE packet, it has not deleted/removed the tunnel. This should not happen.

Error message-4: Payload_Malformed


This problem is very similar to Incorrect pre-shared key as a possible reason is that the PSK is of the wrong TYPE on either side (Passphrase or Hex key).


Verify that you are using the same type on both sides of the IPsec tunnel. If one side is using Hex and the other Passphrase, this is most likely the error message that you will receive.

Error message-5: No public key found


This is a very common error message when dealing with tunnels that use Certificates as authentication.


Troubleshooting this error message can be very difficult as the possible cause(s) of the problem can be quite extensive. Also it is very important to keep in mind that when dealing with Certificates you may need to combine the Ike -snoop logs with normal logs as ike -snoop does not give that much information about Certificates, while normal logs can provide you with important clues as to what the problem could be. A good suggestion before you start to troubleshoot Certificate tunnels is to first configure it as a PSK tunnel and then verify that it can successfully establish, then move on to using Certificates. (Unless the configuration type prohibits that).

Possible cause-1: The Certificate on either side is not signed by the same CA server.
Possible cause-2: The Certificate’s validity time has expired or it has not yet started to be valid. The latter can happen if the clock is set incorrectly on either the CA server or the Clavister.
Possible cause-3: The Clavister is unable to reach the Certificate Revocation List in order to verify if the Certificate is valid or not. Double-check that the CRL path is valid in the Certificate properties. (Assuming you want to use CRL as this can be turned off)
Make sure that there is a DNS client configured in the Clavister in order for it to correctly be able to resolve the path to the CRL.
L2TP Note: Vista tries by default to contact and download the CRL list, while XP do not. This option can be turned off in Vista.
Possible cause-4: If multiple similar or roaming tunnels exist and you want to separate them using ID lists, a possible cause can be that none of the ID lists are matching the Certificate properties of the connecting user. Either the user is non-authorized or the Certificate properties are wrong on the Client or the ID list needs to be updated with this user/information.
Possible cause-5: (L2TP) The client Certificate is imported into the wrong Certificate store on the Client(Windows). When the client connects it’s using the wrong Certificate. More information on how to correctly import the client Certificate can be found in the How-To : “Setting up a L2TP Server using Clavister Firewall with Microsoft CA server issued certificates”.

Error message-6: Invalid key information


This is a problem that can happen at the end of the phase-2 (IPsec) negotiation. It is caused by a proposal mismatch in phase-2.


The cause of this message is the settings related to Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) and it’s selected DH group(s). If one side of the tunnel is using PFS and the other side do not, this is the most likely message that we will receive.
Check the settings related to PFS and it’s chosen DH group(s) on both sides of the tunnel for any mismatches.

Problem symptom -1: The tunnel can only be initiated from one side / working tunnel all of a sudden stopped working.


This is a fairly common problem; the reason is due to a mismatch of the size in network on Local or Remote and/or the lifetime settings on the proposal list(s). The problem can be quite sneaky as well as the tunnel may work fine for days/weeks/months without any problems then all of a sudden it stops working because the “wrong” side is the one that started to be the one that initiates the tunnel negotiation.


To troubleshoot this you need to examine the Local Network, Remote Network, Ike proposal list and IPsec proposal list on both sides to try locate the miss-matching problem.

To best describe the problem and how to solve it, please see this example:


Local Network =
Remote Network =


Local Network =
Remote Network =

In this scenario you will see that the defined Remote Network on Site-B is larger than what is defined on Site-A’s Local Network. This means that Site-A can only initiate the tunnel successfully towards Site-B as its network is smaller. When Site-B tries to initiate the tunnel Site-A will reject it as the network is bigger than what is defined. The reason it works the other way around is because a smaller network is considered more secure and will be accepted. This applies for the lifetimes in the proposal lists as well.

Problem symptom-2: Tunnel is unable to establish, “Ike -snoop” reports CFG mode XAuth problem.


The reason for this message is basically “No proposal chosen”. The case where this will appear is when there is something that fails in terms of network size on either Local Network or Remote Network. Since the Core has determined that it is a kind of network size problem, it will try a last ditch attempt to get the correct network by sending a CFG mode request.

Update 2014-12-18: With the implementation of an updated IPsec engine in version 10.20 and up, this behavior no longer exist. cOS Core will simply reply with “No proposal chosen” instead of trying XAuth if the networks doesn’t match.


By using Ike -snoop when both sides initiates the tunnel you should easily be able to compare the network both sides are sending in phase-2, and with that information be able to spot the network problem. It can be that it’s of the wrong size or that it doesn’t match at all.

Problem symptom-3: Tunnel can be established with ping but no data can get through the tunnel


The reason for this could be MTU problems. The small ping packet (around 32 bytes) with IPsec overhead will get delivered, but the full sized data packets that are generated by more “normal” communication will be too big for the delivery network between the two VPN tunnel endpoints.


Try lowering the following values:

System > Advanced Settings > TCP Settings > TCP MSS Max (global setting): Default = 1460, try lowering it to e.g. 1400
System > Advanced Settings > TCP Settings > TCP MSS VPN Max (global setting): Default = 1400 (or 1392), try lowering it to 1300, the difference towards TCP MSS Max should be at least 60 (68) bytes
Network > Interfaces > IPsec > <your IPsec interface> Routing > Plaintext MTU (setting per IPsec interface): Default = 1420, lower it with the same amount as the above settings, so e.g. 1360.

The MTU on your Ethernet interfaces are 1500 by default and it might also need adjustments, but it is extremely rare. There should be at least a 40 bytes difference to the TCP MSS Max value.

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