What is VPN Split Tunneling?
Have you ever needed to use a VPN for a specific app, but also needed direct access to the internet for another? Enter VPN split tunneling, a solution that offers the best of both worlds. With VPN split tunneling, you can enjoy the benefits of a secure VPN connection for certain activities while still having direct access to the internet for others. Ready to find out more? Let’s dive into the world of VPN split tunneling and explore how it can benefit you.
In this blog post, we’ll help you understand the concept of “what is VPN split tunneling” and its purpose. We’ll explore different types of VPN split tunneling, the advantages and disadvantages, and setting up split tunneling with popular VPN providers. Finally, we’ll discuss security considerations, use cases, and compare VPN split tunneling to full tunnel VPNs.
VPN Split Tunneling is a powerful VPN feature that allows you to route some of your network traffic through an encrypted VPN tunnel, while the rest of your data flows directly and unencrypted to the internet.
It can be advantageous if you only want to use a VPN for some of your internet traffic, like torrenting, online banking, or visiting geo-restricted websites and streaming services.
It can also be helpful with gaming, where a low ping is essential, and you want your gaming traffic to flow directly to the internet. In this case, you can encrypt all your internet traffic, with the exception of your gaming data.
Understanding VPN Split Tunneling
VPN split tunneling is a feature that enables users to route specific traffic through an encrypted VPN tunnel while maintaining direct internet access for other activities. Imagine having two connections at once: a secure VPN connection for your sensitive data and an open connection to the web for your other online activities. This flexible approach helps users save bandwidth and increase performance.
But what’s the catch? As with any technology, there are pros and cons. While VPN split tunneling offers some benefits, it also comes with potential security risks. In the following sections, we’ll discuss these risks and dive deeper into different types of VPN split tunneling, its purpose, and its applications.
The Purpose of Split Tunneling
One of the main reasons users might want to utilize split tunneling is to conserve bandwidth and improve performance. With split tunneling, certain apps can take advantage of the secure VPN tunnel for added security, while other apps get faster speeds and access to local services. This dual-access approach allows users to access both local and foreign resources simultaneously, making it highly useful for various activities.
However, it’s important to note that VPN split tunneling is not supported on all platforms. For example, iOS does not support split tunneling for consumer VPN services, as it’s only available for apps managed using a mobile device management (MDM) solution. Windows and Android are the most commonly used platforms for split tunneling.
Types of VPN Split Tunneling
There are three main types of VPN split tunneling: app-based, URL-based, and inverse split tunneling. Each type offers unique features and use cases, allowing users to tailor their VPN experience to their specific needs. In the following subsections, we’ll discuss each type in more detail, highlighting their unique features and applications.
It’s essential to choose the right type of split tunneling for your needs and to configure your VPN and firewalls correctly to prevent any security risks that could arise from not having encryption in the other tunnel. Let’s take a closer look at each type of split tunneling.
App-Based Split Tunneling
App-based split tunneling allows users to route certain apps through a VPN, while other data remains unencrypted. This type of split tunneling is particularly useful for users who want to protect sensitive data while still enjoying the benefits of direct internet access for other tasks. For example, you could route your torrenting app through the VPN for added security, while your web browser remains unencrypted for faster browsing.
To enable app-based split tunneling, you can typically go into the settings or options in your VPN and select split tunneling, then manage your VPN connection on a per-app basis. Some popular VPN providers like PIA offer a ‘per-app settings’ option on Android.
URL-Based Split Tunneling
URL-based split tunneling offers another level of customization by allowing users to exclude specific websites from the VPN connection. This provides faster browsing speeds and access to local content, as the excluded websites are not routed through the encrypted VPN tunnel.
If your VPN only supports app-based split tunneling, you may need to use two web browsers if you want to exclude specific URLs. This solution gives more control for managing traffic over the VPN connection. Route one browser through the VPN for secure browsing. Use the other one for applications that need your true IP address or location. This ensures maximum security when online.
Inverse Split Tunneling
Inverse split tunneling is a type of split tunneling where all your traffic goes through the VPN tunnel, except for certain apps or URLs that are left out of the tunnel. This approach encrypts all traffic by default and only allows certain programs to access the internet directly, adding an extra layer of security.
However, inverse split tunneling can be trickier to set up than other types of split tunneling and may be more resource-intensive. Despite its challenges, inverse split tunneling can be a great way to protect sensitive data and ensure that only authorized programs have access to the internet.
Advantages and Disadvantages of VPN Split Tunneling
VPN split tunneling offers several advantages, such as enhanced internet speeds and reduced bandwidth costs. By allowing users to access both local and foreign resources simultaneously, split tunneling can also improve the overall user experience.
However, these benefits come with potential security risks, as using VPN split tunneling can be less secure than using a VPN all the time.
Before using VPN split tunneling, it’s crucial to weigh the pros and cons and consider the specific use case. For users dealing with confidential information or trying to get around governmental censorship, for example, it might be best to avoid using VPN split tunneling and opt for a full tunnel VPN instead.
Setting Up Split Tunneling with Popular VPN Providers
Enabling split tunneling with your VPN provider is typically a straightforward process. For example, with NordVPN, you can turn on split tunneling by adding its browser extension to Chrome or Firefox. Combining it with the application-level VPN kill switch provides a secure and customizable browsing experience.
ExpressVPN users can also take advantage of split tunneling by selecting which apps use the VPN and which don’t. However, it’s worth noting that ExpressVPN does not support split tunneling on macOS 11. If you’re using Private Internet Access (PIA), you can enable split tunneling on macOS 11 (Big Sur) and customize your experience by selecting which apps bypass the VPN.
When setting up split tunneling with your VPN provider, be sure to configure it correctly to prevent any security risks and enjoy the best possible experience. For added security, consider using a VPN provider with a good history of protecting user data.
Security Considerations for VPN Split Tunneling
While VPN split tunneling can provide numerous benefits, it’s important to be aware of the potential security risks associated with it. When you route traffic outside the encrypted VPN tunnel, your IP address and the type of traffic are visible, posing a security risk. Additionally, using VPN split tunneling at home can result in user error, such as forgetting to enable the VPN for certain apps or disable it for others.
To reduce the risks of VPN split tunneling, always ensure the VPN is enabled for all traffic and configured with strong encryption protocols. Using a reliable VPN provider with a good history of protecting user data is also essential for minimizing security risks.
Use Cases for VPN Split Tunneling
VPN split tunneling can be beneficial in various scenarios. For remote work, split tunneling can help reduce network congestion, boost performance for certain applications, and allow access to local network resources while connected to a VPN. Gamers can enjoy reduced network congestion and better performance with split tunneling.
Moreover, VPN split tunneling can be useful for torrenting and accessing geo-restricted content. By allowing users to access both foreign and local networks simultaneously, VPN split tunneling offers a flexible and customizable solution for various online activities.
VPN Split Tunneling vs. Full Tunnel VPN
The main difference between VPN split tunneling and full tunnel VPN lies in the level of security and user control. Full tunnel VPN encrypts all your traffic, providing a more secure browsing experience, while split tunneling only encrypts some traffic, giving users more control but posing potential security risks.
Performance is another factor to consider when comparing split tunneling to full tunnel VPN. Full tunnel VPN can result in slower speeds since it encrypts all traffic, whereas split tunneling can offer better performance by allowing users to choose which traffic to include or exclude from the VPN tunnel.
Ultimately, the choice between split tunneling and full tunnel VPN depends on your specific needs and priorities.
VPN split tunneling offers a flexible and customizable solution for users seeking a balance between security and performance. By understanding the different types of split tunneling, their benefits, and potential security risks, you can make an informed decision about whether split tunneling is the right choice for your needs.
In conclusion, VPN split tunneling can be a powerful tool for enhancing your online experience when used correctly. By carefully considering the pros and cons, configuring your VPN settings appropriately, and taking the necessary security precautions, you can enjoy the benefits of VPN split tunneling while minimizing its risks.
How to stay safe online:
- Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
- Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
- Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
- Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions.
What does VPN split tunneling do?
Split Tunneling is a powerful VPN feature that allows you to create two separate virtual private networks at the same time. With split tunneling, you can route some of your network traffic through an encrypted tunnel and keep the rest open and accessible to the public network. This helps protect sensitive data while allowing you to access the internet freely.
Is VPN split tunneling good or bad?
Overall, VPN split tunneling can be a good choice in some situations as it can provide secure and efficient access to both your company’s resources and the Internet. This allows for increased speed and efficiency with strong security to protect sensitive data.
Split tunneling is a great way to ensure that only the necessary traffic is sent through the VPN, while the rest of the traffic is sent directly to the Internet. This can help to reduce latency and improve performance, while still providing a secure connection.
What is the difference between full tunnel and split tunnel VPN?
Full tunnel VPN is a secure connection that encrypts all of your data traffic, whereas split tunnel VPN only encrypts some of your data traffic. So with a full tunnel VPN, you can be sure that all your data is safe and secure, while split tunneling might not provide the same level of security for all your data.
However, split tunnel VPN can be beneficial in certain situations. For example, if you want to access a local network while connected to a VPN, split tunneling can be used to ensure that only the traffic to the local network is encrypted. This can be done.
What is an example of split tunneling?
An example of split tunneling is when you connect to a virtual private network (VPN). With split tunneling, you can access internal resources on the VPN such as a shared folder or database while also accessing the internet outside of the VPN for other tasks.
This allows you to access sensitive corporate resources securely, while still being able to browse websites on the public internet.
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab