What is split tunneling?

Julie Cole
Julie Cole | Contributing Writer
Last updated: June 11, 2021
VPN basics - what is split tunneling
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A VPN helps to hide your IP, personal information, or bypass restricted websites by routing all your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel. Yet, sometimes you may need certain things not to go through your Virtual Private Network. This is where split tunneling comes into place. So, what is split tunneling after all?

It is a feature that lets you send some of your device traffic through the VPN while some of it maintains direct access to the internet through your ISP (Internet Service Provider). But is split tunneling secure?

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What is split tunneling

Normally, when you use a VPN connection, all the internet traffic from your PC goes through the VPN tunnel. None of it makes it out of the tunnel on the public internet. When you are not using the VPN, all of your network traffic will get routed to the Local Area Network (LAN) or Wide Area Network (WAN).

With split tunneling, you can do both at the same time. You can be connected to a private VPN network and you can access public network resources at the same time. It provides a multi-branch networking path. For example, you can access your network printer while accessing the internet securely.

How does it work?

There are several ways in which split tunneling works. When it comes to paid VPN services that offer the split tunneling feature, such as ExpressVPN or Ivacy VPN, it is always incorporated within the application. But sometimes, it can be configured at your request.

A VPN client can let you choose particular applications and websites to exclude from the VPN tunnel. I f you want to exclude devices (e.g., iPhone, Windows Desktop, 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.

Why would you use it?

Now that have the answer for “what is split tunneling?,” the next question may be why you would use it. The main function of a VPN is to give you a secure and private channel, where your encrypted internet traffic can travel without the prying eyes and snoopers like your ISP, cybercriminals, and governments knowing what you’re up to.

It is, of course, possible that checking your local news or a recipe website to see what to cook for lunch may not require this level of online privacy and protection. In those instances, split tunneling may come in handy since you can choose to access these websites without the VPN unless your VPN doesn’t have this cool feature. But we only advise you to use this option if otherwise, it’s not possible for you to enjoy the experience.

A VPN connection may also result in high overheads due to slow internet speeds, and this may affect your experience of video streaming or online gaming. Using the split tunneling feature can make this headache go away if you exclude those websites or the related devices (Smart TV or game console).

If you want to use a network attached storage (NAS) or a network printer on your LAN, and it is protected with a VPN, these devices might not work. But you can easily solve this issue with split tunneling and use such devices seamlessly while maintaining your anonymity and security on other VPN-protected devices and applications.

As you can see, it all boils down to your individual needs whether you apply split tunneling or not. Let’s just say, you can make your internet usage more economical with it so that you have better speeds and bandwidth for the more important and more privacy-hungry online activities.

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 make a difference between corporate and private users. The former ones have totally well-founded fears since allowing split tunneling on worker’s computers might lead to unfortunate leaks. Workers can connect directly to the public internet, visit shady websites, and run amok on the virtual highway if not monitored, thus sensitive corporate data could be leaked.

On the other hand, as a private user, there may not be a line of cybercriminals waiting for you to slip up and exclude your printer or Smart TV from being tunneled via VPN servers so that they can finally break into your system and do all kinds of nasty stuff.

It’s true that your VPN service may somewhat slow down your internet connection and therefore, you may want to use split tunneling to make sure your device or application runs fast enough. However, if your anonymity is a must and a question of life and death because you are, for example, an investigative journalist or a political activist, we advise you to use a top-notch premium VPN service all the time to be on the safe side.

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  1. carl

    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

    1. avatar
      Ethan Payne

      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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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 Author

      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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