Web Development

VPN and split tunneling: Power up your performance and security

By Steven, on August 6, 2023, updated on August 1, 2023 - 5 min read

VPNs have become a must-have for staying anonymous and safely browsing the web. But did you know that some VPNs incorporate a feature that offers rigorous protection without sacrificing performance?

This feature, known as “split tunneling,” routes a portion of your internet traffic directly onto the public network while directing the rest through the VPN.

This dual-pronged approach provides significant benefits in terms of flexibility and performance.

Is that confusing? No need to worry, Debugbar will explain all of this in detail in this article.

  • Split tunneling is a feature in certain VPNs that allows for segmentation of internet traffic into two distinct streams.
  • It can be configured in various ways, whether by app, URL, or in reverse.
  • Some of the top VPNs offering split tunneling include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, SurfShark, and PureVPN.
  • While split tunneling offers greater flexibility in managing internet traffic, it should be used cautiously to minimize potential risks.

What is split tunneling?

Split tunneling is a specific feature of certain Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). It allows a user to divide their internet traffic into two separate streams.

In simple terms, it’s like being in two places at once:

  • One stream is routed directly onto the web bypassing the VPN, allowing access to both local and online resources at maximum connection speed, without any encryption or redirection. This could be handy for accessing services like your local printer or other devices connected to your local network.
  • The other stream is routed through the VPN, providing additional protection by encrypting your data and masking your IP address. This is particularly useful for accessing sensitive services or websites that require extra security or for bypassing geographical restrictions.

Thus, split tunneling offers an optimal balance between performance and security.


The different types of split tunneling?

As you’ve likely gleaned, split tunneling creates two parallel connections; one secured by a VPN and the other not.

However, split tunneling is more complex than this as there are several different variants. You might encounter:

  • Inverse split tunneling, where only trusted programs can access the web outside of the VPN.
  • App-based split tunneling, which allows a selection of apps to be protected by the VPN while leaving the rest of your web traffic unprotected.
  • URL-based split tunneling, allows you to specify web addresses you want to exclude from the VPN’s protection.

These different variants of split tunneling can be configured depending on your needs. Thus, you can select exactly which aspects of your web browsing need protection.

Why choose a VPN with split tunneling?

Now that we understand what split tunneling is and how it works, why should you choose a VPN that offers this feature? Why not simply route everything through the VPN? Here are some undeniable benefits of using split tunneling.

Better control over your traffic

Tunnel sharing gives you total control over your web traffic. You decide which websites or apps should go through the VPN and which can directly access the Internet.

This control can help you avoid unnecessary slowdowns caused by routing all of your traffic through the VPN. .

Better performance

By only sending necessary data via the VPN, you can maintain faster internet speeds on the rest of your network . .

This way, you get to enjoy the protection offered by a VPN without compromising your online experience.


Easier access to both local and remote resources

If you work remotely and need access to both resources on your local network (like printers or other storage devices) and resources from your company via a Virtual Private Network (VPN), split tunneling might be an effective solution.

Circumvention of censorship or geographical restrictions

You can use a VPN to access websites or services blocked in your country, while directly accessing local websites via your standard internet connection.

For example, you could watch your favorite streaming series on a geographically restricted service while safely checking your work emails via your VPN.

However, using split tunneling isn’t risk-free. It’s important to be aware of potential downsides before using it.

What are the downsides of using split tunneling?

Like any technology, there are also downsides to using split tunneling.

Potential exposure of unprotected data

Any traffic not sent via the VPN could potentially be exposed to third parties or government surveillance. It’s therefore crucial to carefully consider which data you choose not to protect with your VPN.

Potential compromise of security rules

In a corporate setting, certain security standards can be circumvented through use of split tunneling. This can cause compliance issues and pose risks to company security.


DNS hijacking by ISP

With shared tunneling, your ISP could intercept your DNS requests and direct you towards non-private address resolution.

This could expose private information.

As you see, using split tunneling isn’t without risk. That’s why it’s vital to use it carefully – fortunately we’re here with some tips on staying safe while using split tunneling!

5 Tips on limiting risks with Split Tunneling

If used correctly, split tunneling has plenty of advantages. Here are some tips for safe and effective use:

  1. Determine which services require a VPN: Identify services where you need enhanced protection or geographically unrestricted access and route these via the VPN.

Example: If you’re using a streaming service that’s blocked in your region, this service should use the VPN.

  1. Exercise caution with sensitive information: Don’t use split tunneling when you’re handling particularly sensitive information. If you’re conducting online banking operations or sending confidential information, ensure these activities are protected by your VPN.
  2. Secure your local network: Make sure that your local network is secure if you plan on using split tunneling. As part of your traffic won’t be protected by the VPN, it’s essential to secure your network to prevent potential attacks.
  3. Manage bandwidth: Use split tunneling to manage your bandwidth. If you notice that your VPN connection significantly slows down your internet speed, consider using split tunneling for activities that don’t require a high level of protection.
  4. Choose a reliable VPN: Finally, not all VPNs are created equal. Ensure that you select a VPN provider that offers high-quality split tunneling functionality and robust privacy policies.

And speaking of reliable VPNs, let’s take a look at some of the best ones out there that offer split tunneling functionality.

Which are the best VPNs with split tunneling?

Choosing the right VPN is essential to fully enjoy the benefits of split tunneling. Among the VPN providers offering this feature are:

  • ExpressVPN
  • NordVPN
  • PureVPN
  • Surfshark

Split tunneling and VPN: Key takeaways

In summary, split tunneling is a feature of certain VPNs that brings more flexibility in managing your internet traffic. However, this feature needs to be used cautiously to avoid exposing any sensitive data.

Here’s a brief look at the main points to remember:

  • Split tunneling allows for part of traffic to run through the VPN while the other part interacts directly with the internet.
  • Different types of split tunneling exist including inverse split tunneling, app-based, and URL-based.
  • Any activity unprotected by the VPN can be seen, intercepted, or surveilled by third parties or government monitoring systems.
  • Using split tunneling requires correct setting management for optimal service usage.
  • The best VPNs with split tunneling include NordVPN, SurfShark and ExpressVPN among others.

In short, as with any technology, it’s crucial to fully understand split tunneling before starting to use it. This will help you maximize its benefits while minimizing potential risks.