You count on your VPN to keep your online life secure and private. However, with some VPNs, you are stuck with an all or nothing solution. Standard VPN connections route all of your traffic through the encrypted tunnel. But what if you want to use your VPN for only specific apps or specific websites? What if you want some of your traffic to be routed through the VPN and the rest through your standard open network connection? For that, you will need split tunneling.
Here are some examples of why you might need split tunneling. You might want to go around your VPN when speed is more important than security. VPNs can cause a slight reduction in speed and an increase in latency. You may also want to bypass your VPN when you need to access local network resources like files or a network printer. There are many circumstances when you might want to bypass your VPN for specific applications or particular sites.
It is certainly no problem to temporarily switch off your VPN. However, things get more complicated when you want to be able to take advantage of the security of a VPN while also having access to an open network. That is where split tunneling comes in.
Split Tunneling Only For Some Traffic
Split tunneling is a feature of some of the more advanced VPN services that make it easy to use your VPN only for some traffic, for specific applications, one program, or even certain sites. It gives you the control to choose which data you encrypt and send through your VPN and which traffic bypasses it to travel via your open network.
There are a few ways that split tunneling can be implemented. Not all of these features can be found on every VPN, so choose your provider carefully.
How to Use VPN Only for Specific Applications
Some VPNs offer the functionality that allows using it for specific applications. The user can select or “whitelist” which apps should not use the VPN tunnel. All of the rest of the traffic will travel through the VPN tunnel. This type of split tunneling is especially useful for apps that primarily use the local area network or need access to local network resources.
Using VPN Only for Browser
To use a VPN only for browsers you will need a VPN browser extension. When using a VPN through a browser extension, it is critical to realize that it will not impact network usage outside of the particular browser. Browser extensions are available for both Chrome and Firefox. Most of the time they affect all the traffic from your browser, and only very few allow you to select specific websites.
Using VPN for Specific Websites
Most VPNs control access by application, so split tunneling can not be used to whitelist specific websites. The only exception to this is Surfshark which can whitelist sites and specific IP addresses via the VPN software.
The user can select which websites should bypass the VPN through the settings. This can be particularly useful for sites that use location or IP address as part of security protocols. You may need to access these sites via your open network.
There’s also a Private Internet Access’ browser extension, which works a little differently. It allows to exclude certain websites from using a VPN, while all the rest of the browser traffic will be encrypted. This is called a reverse split tunneling.
Split Tunnelling Vs. Reverse Split Tunnelling
The most common type of split tunneling works by excluding some traffic from passing through the VPN tunnel. The user can specify a specific application, specific IP address, or other criteria to bypass the VPN.
Reverse split tunneling handles things the opposite way. Instead of defining which particular applications, or individual sites or IP addresses, should bypass the VPN, the user specifies which specific data should pass through it. The choice between split tunneling and reverse split tunneling really comes down to user preference and the amount of traffic the user wishes to redirect.
Split Tunneling for uTorrent
One popular use of split tunneling is for downloading torrent files. Some users prefer to have their torrent downloads encrypted and hidden for prying eyes. At the same time, they want their open network’s speed and convenience for their regular web surfing.
There is some debate about the safety of this practice. While internet service providers will not be able to see the torrent traffic, the other browsing traffic and the amount of data unaccounted for may make it clear what the user is doing. For example, visiting torrenting sites, but hiding torrent downloads with VPN might lead to assumptions. However, these assumptions can not be proved without hard evidence.
Not all VPNs Allow Split Tunneling on All Devices
If split tunneling is a feature you need, whether to use your VPN only for specific applications or only for some traffic, be sure that the provider you choose offers it. Just as importantly, be sure it is available for your device.
For instance, using a VPN for only specific applications is not available for iOS. The software behind Apple’s iPhones and iPads does not allow for this capability. In other cases, features may be available for some devices from one provider but not another. For instance, Surfshark offers split tunneling by application, domain name and IP address for Windows and Android but not for Mac OS. ExpressVPN offers split tunneling for Macs too.
Conclusion: Using VPN for Specific Apps or Websites
With so many excellent VPN services on the market, there is sure to be one to fit your budget and your specific needs. Many basic users will never even need to think about split tunneling. They can keep their VPN on at all times and only disable it for the rare occasion when an app or website needs to be accessed by an open connection.
But more advanced users, especially gamers, streamers, uTorrent users, and those who rely heavily on local network resources, may want to be sure that their VPN has these integrated features. You will also want to be sure the features offered by your VPN work on all the devices you use regularly.