Split Tunneling Security Risks to Look Out for in 2024

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Organizations and many private citizens have started adopting VPN technology with split tunneling to both enhance their network’s performance and retain the flexibility and speed of direct internet access for non-sensitive connections.

However, despite the numerous advantages this technology affords, it does come with several vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malicious actors.

We explore these split tunneling security risks below!

What Is Split Tunneling and What Are the Benefits?

Before proceeding further, we should clarify exactly what ‘split tunneling’ is.

Essentially, split tunneling is a networking technique employed by VPNs that encrypts your sensitive data streams while allowing other connections to bypass the secure VPN tunnel and get to their final destination unhindered, i.e., without the data overhead.

The benefits of split tunneling include: conserving bandwidth and increasing your connection speed when you are data-limited and need better performance, accessing foreign IPs that restrict entry to VPN users, and establishing a LAN connection.

Note: Only use the unsecured tunnel for connections that do not transmit sensitive data.

Common Split Tunneling Security Risks

For all its pros, split tunneling introduces potential security risks if and when not configured or utilized properly, as it can expose devices and their traffic to outside cyber threats. The following scenarios perfectly describe the potential issues you may encounter.

1. Compromised Data Security

One of the biggest risks of split tunneling is the increased dangers potentially affecting your sensitive data. After all, information that bypasses the VPN tunnel could be intercepted or compromised, leading to data breaches or unauthorized access. Savvy cybercriminals can gain access to your system even via innocuous applications.

2. Creeping Malware Infections

Devices that circumvent the secure VPN tunnel are at risk of malware breaches. After infecting your machine, malware can cause all kinds of havoc on your system, from destroying your device to blocking access to your data until you pay a ransom. So always keep your personal data, sensitive documents, and payment information safe and secure.

3. Lack of Monitoring and Control

Split tunneling can make it challenging to monitor and control the network traffic that bypasses the VPN. This lack of visibility can make detecting and responding to security incidents harder, increasing the risk of unauthorized access or data leakage.

4. Compliance and Regulatory Issues

Organizations operating in regulated industries or dealing with sensitive data may face compliance challenges and legal consequences when implementing split tunneling since it can expose sections of their networks to unnecessary risk.

5. Risks of Configuration Errors

Administrators unfamiliar with split tunneling may unintentionally reveal the network’s resources to outside meddling and create security gaps. Some of these errors might include incorrect routing rules, failure to restrict certain types of traffic, or inadequate access controls, which can leave the network vulnerable to attacks.

When Should You Use Split Tunneling?

When comparing split tunneling vs full tunneling, several scenarios make a case for using the hybrid split tunneling approach as it offers specific advantages.

1. Conserving Data Bandwidth and Data Limits

As you may know, using a VPN adds a certain amount of data overhead necessary to encrypt the stream (up to 20% depending on the encryption protocols).

Therefore, those limited by both internet speed and data caps can and should use split tunneling for non-sensitive connections. That way, they’ll enjoy a faster connection (bigger data throughput) and less wasted data (no encryption overhead).

2. Accessing Your LAN as a Remote Worker

Employees working remotely often have to use a VPN service to connect to their company’s private network, but doing so may disrupt their local area network access.

Split tunneling comes in handy here since it allows you to retain your secure connection to the corporate network but access local resources without any issues too!

3. Enjoying Better Streaming, Gaming & Downloading

Users outside of the corporate world can also take advantage of split tunneling for various purposes. For instance, safety-conscious VPN users need unrestricted internet connections when streaming or downloading content and while gaming online.

Otherwise, various buffering and high latency issues crop up due to the VPN tunnel utilizing a large portion of the available bandwidth. Competitive gamers also need optimal internet speeds if they wish to have the best chances of winning their online match.

Finally, certain streaming services, such as Netflix, block VPN connections as they are against their terms and conditions and may even ban the user’s account. Therefore, using split tunneling to show your real IP in such cases is a big benefit.

Bottom Line

By understanding these risks, organizations can make informed decisions to maintain a secure network environment while reaping the benefits of split tunneling. Administrators can mitigate the above vulnerabilities by staying vigilant and proactively checking for and addressing any breaches to maintain a balance between performance and protection.

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