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What is split tunneling?

Split tunneling featured image

Many internet users know about VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and their numerous benefits. The software works by redirecting your entire internet traffic through remote encrypted servers. That way, your true location is hidden while your online habits are invisible to your ISP (Internet Service Provider).

However, there are some potential downsides to this. For example, local websites and content can become unavailable. Plus, many online services will sound the alarm because someone connected to your account from an unauthorized location. Luckily, these issues can be resolved using split tunneling.

How to use split tunneling with a VPN

  1. Subscribe to a VPN with split tunneling support for your operating system. I’d go with NordVPN, currently 72% off!
  2. Download and install the VPN app on your device
  3. Open the settings menu and enable split tunneling
  4. Pick apps or websites which should go through the VPN tunnel
  5. Connect to a VPN server and browse the web without hassle!

Get the best split tunneling VPN

What is split tunneling?

The split tunneling feature splits your internet traffic into two tunnels – one with all the benefits and downsides of VPN encryption, and one without. Users can fully customize which apps or websites must pass through which tunnel best suits their needs.

Web traffic that isn’t routed through the VPN will be visible on the LAN (Local Area Network) and to your ISP. Furthermore, apps that aren’t masked with the VPN connection will maintain access to LAN-connected devices and other resources.

How does split tunneling work?

Normally, your device is configured to have a sole, unobstructed connection to the internet, which transmits and receives data. However, once you use a VPN, this generates a protected link between your device and a VPN server. Unfortunately, that causes all data to be sent and received through the secure VPN server, which may result in slower speed.

That’s where split tunneling comes into play. Instead of encrypting everything, the feature allows you to choose what websites or apps ought to be encrypted, and which not. End result of splitting the connection in two is improved internet speed with a VPN on.

Reaping the benefits of split tunneling is quite straightforward. You’ll have to download the VPN application, install it, and customize the settings to fit your needs. Naturally, the options you can change will vary depending on your VPN provider. Some of the best VPN services, such as NordVPN and Surfshark VPN, give extensive control over various operating systems.

What are the different types of split tunneling?

Now that we have covered the ‘what is split tunneling’ question and how this feature works, time to talk about the different kinds of split tunneling in VPNs. In total, there are three types: URL-based, app-based, and inverse.

  • URL-based split tunneling. This type deals with URLs that you choose to be encrypted through a VPN, filtering the traffic tied to the marked websites. Such VPN split tunneling usually works as a browser extension. NordVPN supports URL-based split tunneling via a browser extension.
  • App-based split tunneling. In the same manner as the previous one, app-based kind filters the traffic of specific apps. Some of the examples would include your bank’s mobile app or your company’s Slack. If you apply app-based split tunneling on them, all data of the apps will be encrypted.
  • Inverse split tunneling. As the name suggests, inverse split tunneling works in the opposite fashion. While the other two types route everything through the open network based on chosen apps or URLs, the rest is unencrypted. Inverse split tunneling encrypts nearly everything on your system. Anything you don’t want encrypted will then need to be specified.

Why would you use split tunneling?

Perhaps you don’t see the potential in this hard-to-find feature. Allow me to provide you with a few examples of how split tunneling benefits VPN customers.

Staying informed about local news

Regional news channels and online publications are typically location-restricted because of distribution rights. Which means traveling abroad or enabling a VPN can result in losing access to news about your country.

Thankfully, this isn’t a problem when you have split tunneling. Simply choose your news app to bypass the VPN tunnel and stay informed while the rest of your online activities remain hidden.

Unblocking geo-restricted content

Getting around geographical restrictions is the most popular reason for purchasing a VPN. After all, it’s a low-cost way of getting more out of a streaming service’s subscription. However, issues may arise if the VPN isn’t fast enough to stream UHD video while encrypting all of your online activities.

HBO Max with NordVPN

This is where split tunneling can lend a hand. You can choose your streaming app or browser to be the only applications requiring a VPN connection. This will lead to improved performance because less traffic will require encryption and redirection through remote servers. But if you want a full-fledged experience with the circumvention of geo-blocking, NordVPN is the unparalleled winner in the field.

Securing a particular multiplayer game

Sadly, online multiplayer video games aren’t immune to geographical restrictions. Additionally, they have a fair share of other potential dangers, including DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks, IP address exposure, speed throttling, and more. Plus, maybe you don’t want everyone to know about your late-night gaming sessions.

Whatever the case may be, enabling split tunneling with a particular game, such as Warzone, provides privacy and protection against numerous threats. Furthermore, you’ll be able to unlock region-exclusive items or participate in country-specific events. Best of all, limiting the VPN connection to one app guarantees minimal speed loss while the virtual private network is enabled.

Researching location-specific topics

Online services and retailers have regional versions of their websites and alter many things to suit everyone’s specific needs. Obvious changes are language and currency, but altering your virtual location can also unlock cheaper prices. For example, travelers frequently use VPNs to purchase cheaper flight tickets.

Get cheaper Flights with a VPN

And if your VPN service offers a browser extension and split tunneling, you can simultaneously check a website from at least three different regions. To do this, you’ll need three different browsers.

  1. The first with your actual location and IP address
  2. The second secured using a split tunneling VPN
  3. The third utilizing a browser extension

You can take it up a notch by running even more browsers with extensions. After all, the best VPN services allow multiple simultaneous connections with one account. Whether that’s really necessary is up to you.

Accessing LAN devices

Enabling a VPN technically makes you a part of another network. That means you likely won’t be able to connect to LAN-connected devices, such as your printer or NAS (network-attached storage). However, you can solve that easily using split tunneling. The solution lies in either limiting the VPN connection to apps that don’t need LAN access or excluding apps that will need to utilize LAN resources.

How to use split tunneling with any VPN

  1. Choose the split tunneling type. Firstly, you’ll have to choose between three types of split tunneling. One requires selecting which apps and websites need to go through the VPN tunnel, aka receive data encryption and a different IP. The second method involves excluding a selection from the VPN tunnel, meaning keeping the majority of your activities secured with a VPN.
  2. Select apps and websites. Once you’ve picked the split tunneling method, you’ll need to select the applications (or websites) that must be affected. Naturally, whether you can pick both software and IP addresses will depend on your VPN provider.
  3. Enable the VPN. All that’s left is to choose a VPN server and connect. It would be wise to use online services like dnsleaktest.com and ipleak.net to check for DNS leaks and if your IP address changed correctly. After that, you’re free to enjoy the web however you see fit!

Split tunneling with a VPN router

If you want to exclude devices (e.g., iPhone, Windows, game console, and smart TV/fridge/air conditioner) from the VPN tunnel, you need a VPN router.

In the configuration menu, you can turn the protection, i.e., the VPN tunneling, ON or OFF for each individual device. For example, you can exclude a video game console or a streaming box as these devices usually require a lot of bandwidth and low latency.

What is the difference between a split tunnel and a full tunnel?

With these two terms circling about, it’s easy to get lost as to what means what. What is split tunneling? But then, what is a full tunnel? To put it simply, a full tunnel connection is really just another word for a standard VPN. Meanwhile, split tunneling VPN is a feature that routes part of your traffic through a VPN and part of it through the open network.

Security-wise, a full tunnel has the advantage over split tunneling because it is more secure due to complete encryption instead of partial. Of course, it doesn’t mean that a full tunnel knocks out split tunneling. The latter offers increased connection speed. So, in a nutshell, a full tunnel is more secure, and split tunneling is faster.

Which VPNs support split tunneling?

VPN services come in many shapes and forms. Typically, split tunneling has provider-specific benefits, settings, and naming conventions. That means there’s no one-size-fits-all guide to enabling the feature. Furthermore, the implementation will further differ based on your device and operating system.

We’ll show you how some of the top VPNs take care of split tunneling on their apps. Hopefully, you’ll notice some commonalities and will have no trouble enabling split tunneling on your device.

NordVPN split tunneling

NordVPN follows a standard naming convention for split tunneling and offers the feature for Windows, Android, and Android TV devices.

NordVPN split tunneling

Here’s how to enable it on Windows.

  1. Open the NordVPN app
  2. Click on the settings cogwheel menu in the bottom-left corner
  3. Ensure the split tunneling switch is toggled on
  4. Pick one of the two split tunneling types (Disable or Enable VPN for specific apps)
  5. Choose which apps need to be affected by the feature

Get NordVPN

Surfshark VPN split tunneling (Bypasser)

With Surfshark VPN, the split tunneling feature is called Bypasser. It’s available on Windows and Android platforms, including Android TV.

Surfshark VPN Bypasser

Follow these steps to reap the benefits of Bypasser on Windows PC.

  1. Boot up Surfshark VPN
  2. Click the settings cogwheel icon on the left side of the app
  3. Go to VPN Settings and scroll down until you find Bypasser
  4. Select either Route via VPN or Bypass VPN
  5. Choose which apps should follow the Bypasser rules
  6. Optional: include websites (IP addresses) that should bypass the VPN

Get Surfshark VPN

Is split tunneling secure?

There are obvious concerns even in the IT administrator circles about whether split tunneling is secure or not. However, we need to differentiate between corporate and private users. The former has well-founded fears since allowing split tunneling on workers’ computers might lead to accidental sensitive corporate data leaks. Connecting to the public internet or visiting a shady website is all it takes for a leak to happen.

On the other hand, as a private user, there may be a line of cybercriminals waiting for you to slip up and create an opening. A printer or smart TV excluded from the VPN tunnel could be a potential entry point for hackers. However, that’s only possible if the device has an exploitable vulnerability.

For these reasons, it might be unwise to rely on split tunneling for all your security needs, especially if sensitive private or corporate data is involved. In spite of an ongoing concern about whether split tunneling is categorically risky and weakens VPN encryption, the feature is a solid asset to have.

What are the risks of VPN split tunneling?

As with every technology, split tunneling has a few inherent risks. It’s important to remember that split tunneling VPN is a speed optimization feature, rather than a strictly security-oriented one. Clearly, we cannot judge it harshly for running certain potential security issues.

  • Both corporate and private users may unknowingly bypass security measures meant to keep your traffic secure
  • Corporate IT specialists will likely lose sight of the online traces of their employees on company time. Basically, the organization can’t track whether their workers accessed suspicious sites, downloaded infected files, etc.
  • The majority of IP and DNS leaks occur due to an inadequate VPN split tunneling configuration, with users often being unaware that their sensitive data is being exposed

It is up to you, however, to weigh the risks against the benefits of split tunneling VPN. This feature is one of the top players in the scene of speed optimization. Anyway, if you feel these risks are too great for you, we advise opting for full encryption via a secure VPN service.

Conclusion

Split tunneling is essential for optimizing your VPN connection to fit your needs. It’s helpful in minimizing speed loss by limiting the number of apps that need to go through the VPN tunnel. You can also use it to research various topics from multiple regions, including prices and restrictions.

Don’t forget to opt for a reliable VPN service that provides the feature for your preferred device. For example, NordVPN has split tunneling for Windows, Android, and Android TV devices. To fit all your needs, the service includes all three types of split tunneling: URL-based (via browser extension), app-based, and inverse.

How often do you use split tunneling with your VPN? Are you satisfied with the experience? Share your thoughts with the rest of us!


You may also like to read:
How to hide your IP address
What is a VPN kill switch?
What is port forwarding
What is malware & how to protect yourself
What are internet cookies
How to set up VPN on a router


FAQ

What’s the best VPN with split tunneling?

NordVPN is the best VPN with split tunneling (includes URL-based, app-based, and inverse). The feature is available on Windows, Android, and Android TV. Besides that, the service provides industry-leading connection speeds, excellent security features, and access to loads of geo-restricted streaming content.

How do I use split tunneling on my VPN?

Most VPNs have split tunneling in the settings menu. Finding it is different with each provider. For example, the NordVPN options are available under the cogwheel icon in the app. There you can choose the split tunneling type and which apps need to be affected by the feature.

Should I enable split tunneling?

There are many reasons why you’d want to use split tunneling. For starters, it’s useful for optimizing your VPN connection by limiting it to a handful of apps. This can improve connection speeds because less online traffic needs to be encrypted and rerouted.

Which protocols don't support split tunneling?

All VPN protocols support split tunneling. Basically, there are no restrictions, as split tunneling can be set up with any protocol.

How can you make split tunneling safer?

You can make split tunneling VPN safer by encrypting URLs or apps dealing with sensitive data. In general, the main disadvantage of split tunneling is leaving unencrypted traffic. One can choose wisely what to encrypt to fill this security gap.

8 comments
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  1. carl May 12, 2021 at 5:18 pm

    Hello,
    I just downloaded the new ios big sir last night and today when I logged on the my vpn (expressvpn) a message window popped up that “split tunneling is not available with this system. I clicked ok and went on as usual thru expressvpn window to open up favorite news web site with no other issues. Is this still using expressvpn secure process to search the web
    Thanks
    Carl


    1. avatar
      Ethan Payne Author May 14, 2021 at 6:33 am

      Greetings, Carl. If you’re unsure whether your internet traffic is going through a VPN tunnel you can always use a DNS leak test to see if your IP changes. For example DNSleaktest.com


  2. saynotobullying May 21, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    A great write-up that surely kept the newbies on mind as anyone who doesn’t know what a split tunneling is will easily understand what it is at the end of the day.


  3. Cordella M April 5, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    It does sound really interesting ! I didn’t know about that ! It’s good to know about that but I feel it might look weird to leave absolutely no trace at all, especially when you used to. Anyways thanks for the article.


  4. dragonborn2020 March 6, 2019 at 7:15 am

    Oh man, I found this article looking for a way to speed up my PS4 with my VPN on, because I thought that was what was slowing it down, and I think you found the answer! Thank you so much, I’m going to look through my VPN’s stuff and see if I can find how to do this. All I really want is to be able to play games lol.


  5. Datruck Joe February 7, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    My ISP has blocked a lot of websites due to an error that happened, majority of sites became slow with the use of some free VPNs but thanks to s ExpressVPN with its split turnelling abilities managed to bypass the block! and regained speed


  6. David99 January 23, 2019 at 12:49 am

    Split tunneling is great, specially since I don’t feel the need to hide my online activity when I’m looking for a recipe online for example! Hahaha. I think it would also look suspicious if they can’t find ANY traces of me online.


    1. avatar
      Julie Cole January 23, 2019 at 8:42 am

      That’s true about the suspicion, but it’s also just good so that your speeds are not being affected. Thanks for commenting 🙂

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