What Is a Split Tunnel VPN and How Does it Work?

Deyan Georgiev
Deyan Georgiev

Updated · Oct 16, 2022

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A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, provides users with secure and untraceable access to the internet.

A key feature of these services is the option to separate the traffic between different networks.

Below, we’ll discuss: 

  • what split tunnel VPN is 
  • how it works 
  • its benefits and disadvantages

Let’s take a look! 

What Is a VPN Tunnel and How It Works

Simply put, a VPN tunnel is a connection between your device and a remote server.

You can use these intermediary servers to get secure and private internet access even when using public Wi-Fi networks.

All data that passes through the tunnel is encrypted. This makes it very difficult for anyone, including the internet provider, to intercept it.

Furthermore, when you use a VPN your device can appear to be in a country of your choice. This is useful for a number of reasons we’ll elaborate on further below.

Most importantly, VPNs prevent the tracking of your online activity by third parties by encrypting your data and hiding your IP address.

You can take your pick of VPN providers depending on your device — Android, Mac, or Windows — or on your needs — business, gaming, streaming, etc.

So, What Is a Split Tunnel VPN?

A split tunnel allows the user to route some of their traffic through the VPN while the rest of it uses the local internet connection.

That comes in handy if, for example, the user wants to be able to connect to a local network resource, like a printer or file server, while also having secure access to the internet.

By routing only the traffic that needs to be encrypted, you can enjoy the benefits of an untraceable connection without significantly reducing your bandwidth.

Typically, you can choose among three possible methods of split tunneling:

  • URL-based — With the help of a browser extension, you can determine which URLs will be encrypted and which will remain on the open network.
  • App-based — This type of network tunneling works similarly, only this time you pick the applications that will use the VPN.
  • Inverse — In most cases, the default would be for the traffic to go through your open network unless otherwise specified. The inverse option lets you use the VPN connection for everything. And then determine which apps or URLs will remain on your regular network.

While split tunneling can be complicated as it requires the configuration of multiple connections, let’s not forget all its advantages.

What Are the Benefits of a Split Tunnel VPN?

Split tunneling has a few important advantages. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Prevents Tracking of Your Online Activity

Just like with a regular VPN connection, all your traffic routed through the encrypted tunnel is difficult for anyone to monitor and intercept. This makes it great if you want to avoid being tracked by third parties. 

Using Local Resources without Reducing Bandwidth 

With a split tunnel, you still have fast internet and access to local resources, such as printers or file servers. You don’t need to turn your VPN on and off whenever you need to download something quickly or get localized search results.

Circumvents Geo-Restrictions 

Split tunneling also allows access to different geographical regions. For example, if you want to access a website only available in Europe, a VPN can route your traffic. This way you get access to geo-blocked content and circumvent censorship.

Does Split Tunneling Pose a Security Risk?

This feature can compromise security if not configured correctly, as it may allow unencrypted traffic to bypass the VPN.

When you use split tunneling, you create two different networks your devices can connect to. One is private and secure, and the other is public.

It's possible for data to leak from the private network to the public one. This can happen if a split tunneling setup misconfiguration or a malicious actor exploits a vulnerability.

That’s why it's important to be very careful when setting up split tunneling. Also, regularly monitor your devices and networks for signs of data leakage.

Split Tunneling vs Full Tunneling

When connecting to a VPN, there are two different tunneling options you can choose from — split and full. Both have their own advantages and shortcomings, but speed vs. security is the main factor.

Split tunneling’s advantages are: 

  • allows you to have a quick connection
  • get access to local network resources without switching the VPN on and off every time

Its disadvantages are:

  • it leaves some of your traffic unprotected; not as secure as a full tunnel VPN

Full tunneling’s pros are: 

  • it’s a good option if security is your top priority; in business settings, where data protection is vital, users rarely rely on split tunneling

Cons include:

  • loss of speed

The option that is right for you depends on your needs and security requirements. Also, make sure that your preferred VPN provider offers split tunneling, as not all of them do.

Wrap Up

Split routing the traffic through your VPN is a good way to balance security and speed, but you should be aware of the risks involved.

It gives you the benefits of an encrypted connection — like limited traceability and access to geo-blocked content — while being able to use your fast local network as well.

So, if you're looking for a fast and secure option, make sure to choose a provider that offers this feature. Then take the time to set up the configuration correctly.

Always keep an eye out for signs of data leakage to make sure your connection is uncompromised.

FAQ.


What is VPN tunneling?

VPN tunneling is a secure connection between your device and a remote server through a public network.

It uses a variety of protocols to encrypt data packets and ensure that only authorized users can access the information. This makes it more difficult for hackers to intercept the data. It also prevents third parties from tracking user activity.

As a result, VPN tunneling is often used to protect confidential data, such as corporate emails or financial information.

It also comes in handy for bypassing internet censorship in countries with restricted internet freedom.

How does split tunnel VPN work?

A split tunnel allows users to route some of their traffic through a VPN server while using an open internet connection as well.

This way you can have access to local resources and faster internet when using the public network, as well as the security and privacy offered by a VPN.

Users can configure which apps or URLs will use the encrypted connection and which will remain on the local one.

How do you split tunnel on a Windows VPN?

The first thing you need to do is sign up for a VPN service that offers split tunneling. Once you've done that, download and install the VPN software on your Windows computer. Then:

  • Open the VPN software and sign in with your account details
  • Click on the "Settings" or "Options" tab and look for "Split Tunneling"
  • Once you've found it, enable it
  • Add the URLs or apps you want to access through the VPN
  • Connect to the VPN server
  • Start browsing

Is VPN split tunneling safe?

Split tunnel VPN can be useful in many situations, but it's important to understand the risks before using this feature. One of the main threats is that it can allow malicious actors to bypass the security measures. 

That would allow hackers, for example, to see all of the user's traffic, including any passwords or financial information being sent.

Overall, split tunneling can be a helpful tool, but it's essential to weigh the risks and benefits carefully before using it.

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Deyan Georgiev

Deyan Georgiev

Deyan has been fascinated by technology his whole life. From the first Tetris game all the way to Falcon Heavy. Working for TechJury is like a dream come true, combining both his passions – writing and technology. In his free time (which is pretty scarce, thanks to his three kids), Deyan enjoys traveling and exploring new places. Always with a few chargers and a couple of gadgets in the backpack. He makes mean dizzying Island Paradise cocktails too.

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