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What Is VPN Split Tunneling? (A Beginner’s Guide)

May 25, 2024


If you’re trying to stay safe online, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is the best place to start.


That said, they aren’t totally foolproof and you can often run into issues when trying to do certain tasks with a VPN enabled.



For instance, while your VPN allows you to encrypt data, you might find that your internet connection slows down during the process. There are also times when you might even have a hard time accessing local network devices such as your local printer.


Luckily, many of these issues can be solved through VPN split tunneling. So, here’s everything you need to know about it.


What is VPN Split Tunneling?


Split tunneling, as the name suggests, is a software concept that “splits” your internet connection into two. With this, your VPN service provider can create two connections that you can use online.


The first connection lets you encrypt all of your data using a protected VPN tunnel, and the second would let you access the internet.


how split tunneling works

VPN split tunneling allows you to secure and encrypt your internet traffic.


By default, VPNs would secure and encrypt all of your online data and activity, shielding you from those interested in your sensitive information. Because of this, split tunneling is offered by most of the best VPNs out there.


It’s helpful because you get to choose what sites, applications, and networks you’d want to run through your VPN, and the ones you can access directly.


To use Wikipedia as an example, some encyclopedias don’t allow editors to make changes to some pages while a VPN is in use. So if you needed to edit a page, you’d need to add the site to your VPN split tunneling list.



The Different Types of VPN Split Tunneling


VPN split tunneling can be used in several ways, and come in a range of different forms.


You’re usually either whitelisting apps and websites to bypass the VPN or you’re selecting which apps and websites can run through the VPN.


Here are some of the different types of VPN split tunneling:


  1. Inverse split tunneling
    This is highly recommended for those using their VPN for everything. This type of split tunneling is like whitelisting and you get to specify specific apps and websites that you’d like to connect directly to the internet. So if a website such as Wikipedia isn’t allowing you to edit, then you can use split tunneling. You can also use it for times when apps aren’t functioning properly.
  2. Split tunneling for apps
    This type of split tunneling on the other hand is for those that don’t use their VPN all the time. You get to choose specific apps that you want to go through the VPN. This is useful if you’re only using your VPN for torrent downloads, shopping, banking apps, traveling, or any other application that might contain sensitive information.
  3. Split tunneling for websites
    Similar to the one we mentioned previously, instead of apps, you get to specify why URLs will be encrypted through your VPN. This is easy to use for those using a VPN browser extension and all you have to do is specify which websites you want to run through your VPN.



What Are The Benefits of VPN Split Tunneling?


split tunneling

There are lots of reasons to use split tunneling.


There are plenty of reasons why split tunneling can come in handy.


  • It can improve your internet speed
    VPN tunneling can make your internet run faster by conserving bandwidth and alleviating bottlenecks. The reason why this happens is that all the internet traffic is going through a different tunnel, instead of being forced to pass through a VPN server. This means faster browsing or streaming, even if you’re downloading files.
  • You can access more than one network at the same time
    With this, you can get onto your foreign or corporate network while being connected to your local network. What this means is that you don’t have to keep reconnecting to your VPN. This is especially useful for instances when you want to access your network printer while wanting to maintain your online privacy. You can also stream foreign films while still getting local search results on your browser.



Are There Any Security Risks To VPN Split Tunneling?


Whilst split tunneling has plenty of benefits in many situations, there are a couple of possible downsides to be aware of:


  • You might leave yourself vulnerable to hackers
    Because you’re deliberately excluding some traffic from the protection of your VPN, be aware that some of your online activity might be vulnerable to a third party. Be sure to use a VPN-protected connection for any activities involving sensitive data.
  • Takes time to set up the right split tunneling permissions
    Depending on the type of split tunneling feature you’re using, you have to manually set up the right permissions for websites and apps that you want to go through the VPN and through the open network.
  • Can create a lot of downsides in a corporate environment
    The security of a corporate system could be at risk if an employee uses split tunneling in a less secure network. Company information would be leaked and would cause a disaster. Employees could also bypass permissions set up on your corporate network. What this means is you aren’t able to keep track of them if they access blocked sites during work hours.



When Should You Use Split Tunneling?


The main reason why you’d want to use split tunneling is that you want to protect your sensitive data without sacrificing your internet speed. This feature is a great option for you if you’re happy about dividing your online activity into things you want to keep private and things you’re not worried about.


The following are some examples of when you should use split tunneling:


  1. If you want to have additional security without slowing down your internet
    For times when you want to access banking apps or handle files that contain sensitive information, you’d want to make sure that you have extra security. All the while, you’d also want your internet to run smoothly on more mundane tasks, or for streaming or downloading files.
  2. If you’re living overseas
    Split tunneling allows you to exclude some apps from the VPN connection, which means you’ll be able to access both local and foreign sites and services at the same time.



How Do I Use Split Tunneling?


If you’re new to VPN split tunneling, it can be intimidating especially if you only know about the basic VPN features. However, it’s really easy to enable.


The following is a step-by-step guide on how to do it:


Step 1: Open your VPN on your device.


Step 2: Go to the Settings, Options, or Preferences menu of your VPN.


expressvpn mac 10 preferences general split tunneling click settings

You can find split tunneling in the options menu of your VPN. (Source: ExpressVPN)


Step 3: Inside the settings, you should find the option to manage your VPN on a per-app or per-URL basis.


Step 4: Now all you have to do is choose the apps you want that’ll use the VPN and which will be used by the open network.



Which VPNs Support Split Tunneling?


You can find that a lot of the top VPNs support split tunneling. Here are a few of them:


1. ExpressVPN


With this VPN service, you’d find that they offer both split tunneling and inverse split tunneling. This makes ExpressVPN a great pick for those that always need to use a VPN. Additionally, this VPN service is available on a variety of devices that support Mac, Android, and Windows.



split tunneling is not available on Mac OS 11 and above (Big Sur).


2. NordVPN


NordVPN allows you to enable split tunneling through a browser extension. This makes setting up split tunneling easier as you can easily choose which sites you want to go through the VPN and through the open network.


3. Surfshark


Their split tunneling is also known as the whitelister. It’s really easy to use and works on a per-URL and per-app basis. What this means is that you can easily add different apps and websites to your split tunneling. While this sounds great and all, Surfshark is unfortunately only available for Windows and Android.


What’s great about these VPNs is that they have implemented VPN no-log policies. What this means is that you don’t have to worry about them storing any of your browsing history or activity while using their service.



Split Tunneling: Now You Can Utilize This Useful Feature


VPN split tunneling is a great way to keep your sensitive information secure without needing to sacrifice your internet speed. But then again, because not all of your activity is protected, this feature makes you vulnerable to a third party.


So if your main concern is security, then you should just probably use your VPN for all your internet traffic.


However, if you’re not planning to encrypt ALL your data and you just want additional security without slowing your internet speed, then split tunneling is definitely worth a try.


With that being said, you can also learn more about the best VPN protocols to use with your VPN.



VPN Guides and Best VPN Services

What is VPN and how does it protect you from online threats? Check out all curated resources below.