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. 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 at all? Let’s what you need to know about this feature.
Split tunneling explained
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. 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 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.