What is split tunneling?

Ethan Payne
Ethan Payne | Writer
Last updated: October 18, 2022
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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.

What is split tunneling, you may ask? Read on and find out!

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 68% 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?

First off, it’s crucial to briefly introduce ourselves to the fundamentals of VPN technology.

In short, these tools reroute your internet connection through servers in another location. This process hides your IP (Internet Protocol) address, true location, and masks everything with AES-256 encryption. The main purpose of VPNs is privacy, geo-block circumvention, and security. Unsurprisingly, adding an extra destination between you and the internet slightly reduces your connection speeds.

Now onto split tunneling. As the name implies, this feature splits your internet traffic into two tunnels – one with all the benefits and downsides of a VPN encryption, and one without. Users can fully customize which apps or websites need to pass through which tunnel to best suit 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?

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 on various operating systems.

Below is a quick overview of how to use split tunneling with any VPN.

1. Choose the split tunneling type

Firstly, you’ll have to choose between two 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 need to 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 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 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 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.

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 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. You can either limit the VPN connection to apps which don’t need LAN access, or exclude apps that will need to utilize LAN resources.

How to use split tunneling with certain providers

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.

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) which should bypass the VPN

Get Surfshark VPN

Atlas VPN split tunneling

Atlas VPN is one the cheapest VPN services with split tunneling. However, the feature is only available on Android devices.

Atlas VPN split tunneling

Customize your traffic with this VPN using this 5-step guide.

  1. Open Atlas VPN on your Android device
  2. Go to the options menu (the six-sided diamond on the right)
  3. Click Split tunneling under the VPN settings menu
  4. Toggle on the Split tunneling feature
  5. Select which apps don’t need a VPN connection

Get Atlas 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 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 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.

Indeed, your VPN service may somewhat slow down your internet connection; therefore, you may want to use split tunneling to optimize connectivity. However, the main risk of split tunneling is getting a fraction of your online activities exposed to governments, hackers, or any other nefarious actors. Whether that’s something worth considering is entirely up to you. In any case, we advise you always to use a secure VPN service to be on the safe side.

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.

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:
Best VPNs for routers
How to hide your IP address
How to change your Netflix region
What is a VPN kill switch?
What is port forwarding
How to set up a VPN on a router


FAQ

What’s the best VPN with split tunneling?

NordVPN is the best VPN with split tunneling. 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.

Does Atlas VPN have split tunneling?

Yes, Atlas VPN has split tunneling, which is available on Android devices. You can enable it by going to the VPN settings menu, toggling on the split tunneling feature, and picking which apps should bypass the VPN connection.

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.

8 comments
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  1. carl

    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

      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

      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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