When you consider the sheer amount of online threats that internet users are exposed to, it’s clear why some feel a VPN is an absolute necessity, especially if you hold valuable information on your devices.
A staggering 26% of internet users now regularly rely on VPN services to enhance their online security. This number looks set to rise as privacy becomes an increasing concern for people who browse the web.
With that said, some applications and online services cannot be used with a VPN, usually due to the service provider blocking VPN servers or because of issues with bandwidth and latency. This begs the question, should you disable your entire VPN connection to access these sites and leave yourself exposed, or is there a workaround? Enter, split tunneling!
What is split tunneling?
Split tunneling allows you to route some of your device or app traffic through your standard internet service provider (ISP), bypassing your active VPN connection.
Usually, when you use a VPN on your system, all of your internet-based connections are sent through an encrypted tunnel to the VPN server. This protects all of your data, as it masks your location and hides all of your online activity from your ISP. While this is great for your privacy, sometimes it can limit your online functionality.
Split tunneling enables you to set rules over which apps/software to run through your VPN and which ones should bypass it. Here are the two main methods of split tunneling your connection:
Standard split tunneling: The protection of all of your online devices and applications other than the ones you choose to exclude.
Inverse split tunneling: All of your devices and applications are routed through your ISP, other than the specific programs you wish to direct through the VPN.
The benefits of split tunneling your VPN connection
1. To connect programs that don’t work with VPNs
If you’ve ever used a VPN before, you’ll know just how annoying it is to have to constantly disconnect from the server to access one site or app and then reconnect once you’ve finished using it.
This inconvenience arises as some sites are incompatible with a VPN, usually as a result of the geo-restrictions that some companies place on their apps, either for legal or business reasons. Some examples so this would be gaming platforms such as Steam and media management applications such as Plex. Interestingly, using a VPN is against many streaming services’ terms and conditions, such as Hulu and Netflix, so you may encounter difficulties connecting to them too.
To get around this, use a trusted VPN provider that offers a dedicated split tunneling service so you can exclude these apps from your encrypted connection.
2. If you need to reveal your actual location
From time to time you need to reveal your physical location for certain activities on the internet, and while you’re using a VPN, your location will be masked. Again, this is handy for some online browsing, yet it’s more of an annoyance when you need to access online maps or find local services nearby.
Split tunneling your connection will allow you to reveal your location to the sites that need it while keeping the rest of your online connection secured.
3. Allows you to access sensitive company data safely
If you’re a remote worker, you may be required to use a VPN while accessing your company data in order to remain protected. Split tunneling eliminates the need to continually connect and disconnect from a VPN while doing work-related tasks from your personal device, saving you valuable time and energy.
This makes the remote working much more comfortable as you can continue to browse the internet through your standard ISP connection while simultaneously using a secure VPN to access your private work server. This reduces the chance of hacks and data leaks for company data without inhibiting your online functionality.
4. Reduces bottlenecking and bandwidth throttling on the server
If many users are trying to access the same VPN server as you, it can drastically slow down your connection. This is referred to as a bottleneck. When large numbers of people attempt to use a limited resource, it congests the server for everyone who is trying to use it.
Using a split tunnel connection allows you to bypass bottlenecks by routing your regular internet traffic through your ISP and only encrypting the data and applications that need to be encrypted.
Are there any drawbacks to split tunneling your VPN connection?
The obvious drawback is security. Whenever you split-tunnel your connection, there is a heightened risk of a data leak as some of your connections are bypassing the encrypted security of your VPN tunnel.
All it takes is one small mistake, and you could expose sensitive information to prying eyes, which is why it’s crucial to remain extra vigilant while using this feature.
Secondly, if your connection is not set up correctly, or if you are using an untrusted VPN provider, there are even more risks involved. This leaves you open to hackers who will have an easier time accessing your information and intercepting your data.
If you believe you will benefit from split tunneling your connection, it’s highly advised to opt for a trusted VPN provider that places a clear emphasis on security with a dedicated split tunneling feature via their application.
Lastly, ensure you continuously manage what programs you route through your VPN and those you have allowed bypassing the secure server. It’s vital to monitor these programs and only bypass those that are absolutely necessary in order to best protect your online privacy.