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Split tunneling: what it is and why you need it in 2024

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What is VPN split tunneling (Bypasser)?

What is VPN split tunneling (Bypasser)?

VPN split tunneling, also called Bypasser on the Surfshark app, is a VPN (Virtual Private Network) feature that allows users to choose which data to protect with VPN encryption and which will be transmitted without it. 

Let’s say you’re using your Windows 10 computer and notice that YouTube is running slow with the VPN. You can use the split tunneling feature on your VPN to exclude YouTube traffic from being routed through the VPN server. As a result, you’ll be able to watch YouTube as if you didn’t have a VPN, all while the VPN protects all your remaining traffic.

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How does VPN split tunneling work?

How does VPN split tunneling work?

When you use split tunneling, you essentially have two connections: one that’s routed through a VPN server for most of your data and another that goes straight to a website or service you chose via the split tunneling feature. 

For comparison, when you use the internet without a VPN, all your traffic is routed directly to a website or service. When you use a VPN without split tunneling, all your traffic is first encrypted by the VPN client, then sent to the VPN server, and only then transmitted to a website or service.

When should you use split tunneling?

Some websites, apps, and even home devices may need you to connect with a local IP address for them to work properly. You can add them to your split tunneling feature and connect directly to those apps or websites while all other traffic remains protected by a VPN.

In some cases, you may also want to use split tunneling with apps or websites that use a lot of data, such as video streaming or gaming platforms. This may make your connection slightly faster, and you’ll be using less data, which can be important if you’re on a limited bandwidth plan.

When should you use split tunneling?

What are the different types of VPN split tunneling?

There are three main types of VPN split tunneling:

Inverse split tunneling

Inverse split tunneling

Inverse split tunneling is a type of split tunneling that encrypts all your data but allows you to choose if you want to exclude certain apps or websites from being encrypted. Essentially, this is what we’re usually talking about when discussing a split tunneling feature in a VPN app.

URL-based split tunneling

URL-based split tunneling

URL-based split tunneling operates on a website-by-website basis. So, if you’ve designated only YouTube.com to use split tunneling, your normal browsing will be protected by the VPN, while anything you do on YouTube.com will be transmitted over the usual public internet.

App-based split tunneling

App-based split tunneling

This kind of split tunneling can be used to leave certain apps unaffected by a VPN connection. Say you are a PC user and don’t want Steam to go over the VPN — add it to the split tunneling list, and you’ll connect to Steam directly without being routed through a VPN server first.

Why use split tunneling?

Secure sensitive data

Secure sensitive data

You may want to turn the VPN off for certain apps or websites, but some information should never go unprotected. That’s where split tunneling comes in. You can encrypt some data and leave other data unencrypted.

Use different IP addresses

Use different IP addresses

A VPN changes your IP address to that of a VPN server. When you choose to bypass some apps from VPN use, they’ll use your actual IP address. This allows you to use two IPs at once and access local content on specific apps while staying hidden on the others.

Access wireless home devices

Access wireless home devices

Your wireless home devices (e.g., printers) use your actual IP to connect to your phone or computer. If a VPN changes your phone's IP, things could get tricky. Simply add the app connecting your phone and printer to Bypasser, and they will always be connected!

Exclude data-heavy apps

Exclude data-heavy apps

Using a VPN slows your connection down slightly. Usually, this drop in speed won’t impact you much, yet there may be times when it interferes with whatever you want to do. Simply use Bypasser to choose which apps do not require encryption, and they will run at your normal speed.

Split tunneling vs. full tunneling

Full tunneling means that all your internet traffic is transmitted through a VPN tunnel. In other words, it’s just how a VPN works if you don’t use split tunneling. With full tunneling, all data is protected, and your IP is replaced by the VPN server’s IP. 

With split tunneling, you can choose which data is tunneled through the VPN tunnel and which remains unaffected. The data that does not go through the tunnel is not encrypted, and your IP isn’t hidden on the apps and websites that are included in the split tunneling feature.

Split tunneling vs. full tunneling
Split tunneling for Windows, Android, and routers

Split tunneling for Windows, Android, and routers

Surfshark’s Bypasser is only available for Android and Windows devices. Both of which give you two options: 

  • Bypass VPN — allows you to block selected apps and websites from the VPN connection;
  • Route via VPN — allows you to choose certain websites or apps that should be routed through the VPN server while all others remain unaffected. In other words, it’s the exact opposite of Bypass VPN.

If you want to set up a split tunnel on an unsupported device, you can get a router with split-tunneling support and with Surfshark pre-installed!

And if you’re brave enough, you can set up a VPN on the router itself.

How to use VPN split tunneling

Create a Surfshark account

1. Create a Surfshark account

Sign up for Surfshark & create an account.

Download the Surfshark app

2. Download the Surfshark app

Download our Windows VPN or Android VPN app to your device.

Locate Bypasser in the settings

3. Locate Bypasser in the settings

Go to your Surfshark app, open the settings, and click Bypasser.

Add websites and apps you want to exclude from VPN tunneling

4. Add websites and apps you want to exclude from VPN tunneling

Add apps or websites you want to be excluded from our encryption.

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Is VPN split tunneling secure?

VPN split tunneling is as secure as the VPN app that provides it. In the case of Surfshark, very secure.

How do I set up split tunneling routes?

To set up split tunneling on the Surfshark app, do the following:

  1. Tap the Settings option on the left-hand side menu; 
  2. Scroll down and click Bypasser
  3. Click on the Bypasser functionality you need;
  4. Add apps, websites, or IP addresses;
  5. Done!

Why allow split tunneling?

VPN split-tunneling can be useful if:

  1. You want only some websites or apps to connect via the VPN;
  2. You have some apps and websites that don’t work well with a VPN; 
  3. You want to use your real IP and location with some websites and services.

Will the IP address be the same when on split tunneling and VPN?

When using VPN split tunneling, the apps and websites that connect via the VPN will see the VPN server’s IP, while those that connect to the internet directly will see your real IP.

How do I turn off split tunneling?

To stop VPN split tunneling on the Surfshark App:

  1. Open Settings by clicking the left-hand side menu;
  2. Scroll down and click Bypasser;
  3. Set the toggle on any enabled bypass setting to off.

How do you test split tunneling?

If you want to test split tunneling on Surfshark, do this:

  1. Disconnect from a VPN (if you’re connected);
  2. Open two IP-checking sites on two tabs on your browser. For example, use this and this;
  3. You should see your real IP address on both; 
  4. Now, setup Bypasser on the Surfshark app to bypass one of the websites; 
  5. Connect to a VPN server;
  6. Refresh the IP checker website tabs;
  7. If the website you set to be bypassed shows your real IP and the other shows the VPN server’s IP, split tunneling is working.

Does VPN split tunneling pose security risks?

When you use VPN split tunneling, you choose not to encrypt your data on certain websites or apps. As a result, your information becomes more vulnerable. Therefore, you should only use split tunneling with reputable apps and websites and keep the VPN protection for all other online activities.

Which VPN service has split tunneling?

Surfshark is one of several VPN service providers that have a VPN split tunneling feature included in the base subscription package.

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