A VPN or Virtual Private Network can hide your online identity and encrypt your traffic to eliminate third parties like hackers and eavesdroppers.
When your VPN is on, no one can monitor your traffic. Even your internet service provider or government authorities are unable to track you.
To understand how a VPN works, it simply creates a secure bridge between a user’s client device and the VPN server. Everything is carried out through this bridge and you can easily geo-spoof your location.
But what is a VPN kill switch you ask? It is a built-in VPN feature that guarantees your unencrypted traffic doesn’t slip and get exposed on the web while your VPN is down.
A VPN can disconnect because of many reasons, but a reliable VPN service would offer an active built-in kill switch to make sure your back is covered and you don’t reveal your real IP address on the internet by accident.
Let’s see more about how a VPN kill switch works.
Short on time? Here’s a Short Summary of What Is A VPN Kill Switch.
- A VPN kill switch is a built-in feature that activates when your VPN drops.
- When activated, it disconnects your internet connection so your unencrypted traffic doesn’t get exposed on the internet.
- It will either disconnect your internet connection or disable some apps when your VPN drops. The type of kill switch depends on your VPN provider. Some providers even offer both options.
What Is A VPN Kill Switch?
A VPN kill switch is a useful feature offered by VPN companies that disconnects the internet connection of your device in case the VPN connection drops.
With this, it makes sure that you don’t expose your IP address, personal data, or traffic on the internet accidentally when your VPN stops working because of any reason.
This is what makes a VPN kill switch feature so important. So you can still be anonymous even if your VPN chokes somehow.
You can enable or disable your VPN kill switch by heading to your VPN settings. But it is recommended to keep your VPN kill switch on all the time.
How Does A VPN Kill Switch Work?
If your VPN kill switch is on, it continuously monitors the established connection between your device and the VPN server and checks for any changes. And if it detects any changes which can cause your VPN to stop working or function poorly, it blocks your internet connection and stops your traffic from being exposed on the web. And when your VPN starts working properly, your connection is restored.
Now it will depend on your kill switch settings whether you’ve chosen the option to completely terminate your internet connection or maybe you can go for the latter to select some apps/programs to stop functioning when the VPN drops.
Every other VPN company provides this feature differently, so check out what options you can have.
When Does A VPN Kill Switch Activate?
A VPN kill switch activates
- when you try to connect to a different VPN server.
- when you’re on an unsafe or poor network, for example, a public wi-fi network or a weak wi-fi network.
- when your firewall doesn’t allow VPNs and drops your VPN connection.
- when your VPN drops because of choosing an unstable VPN protocol (try the TCP protocol instead of the UDP).
Types Of VPN Kill Switch
The two types of VPN kill switches are
- System-level kill switch
- Application-level kill switch
System-Level Kill Switch
A system-level kill switch will completely block your internet connection when your VPN drops. This makes sure that you don’t leak your online identity in any way on the web.
Of course, you won’t be in charge to control anything as your whole device will go offline. But on the bright side, it eliminates all the risks, including being a target for hackers, malware, or phishing attempts.
You can enable the kill switch by navigating to your VPN settings and toggling the kill switch to On.
Application-Level Kill Switch
This type of kill switch gives you more control over the applications that you use with a VPN.
You can choose specific apps and if your VPN drops, only those apps of your choice will stop working.
Although a system-level kill switch may seem the safest option as it can eliminate all the risks, this option gives you control if you know where you can utilize your kill switch feature.
You can choose any app, but these apps are mostly under consideration while making your application-level kill switch list.
- Email apps.
- Messenger apps (WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook Messenger, etc.)
- Torrent apps.
Why Use A VPN Kill Switch?
You won’t even know if your VPN drops. You’ll be exposed while you’re busy carrying out your internet activities.
A kill switch feature is what makes a VPN reliable. Even if a VPN service has the latest protocols and uses an advanced encryption method, it can not achieve the security and reliability factor if there is no line of defense when the VPN drops because of some reason.
Occasional drops are always experienced may it be any big player in the VPN industry. And a reliable VPN company acknowledges this if it wants to provide extra measures to keep user identity and data safe on the internet.
So always go for a VPN that provides a kill switch feature so that your back is covered and no hacker can exploit your unencrypted data.
What Are The Alternative Options For A Kill Switch?
If you’re using a VPN that doesn’t have a built-in kill switch feature, then it’s time to reconsider and change your VPN provider. Because till now you can understand why a kill switch feature is necessary and why you should have it.
But if you’re not the decision-maker of changing your VPN provider, then you can go for third-party options. It would not be as accurate as your built-in kill switch would be, but it can get the job done on some level.
VPN Watcher is a third-party alternative for a kill switch that is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
It checks your connection on ‘intervals‘ and shuts down the applications or programs if it detects a VPN drop.
But the checking intervals are different for free and paid versions.
The checking interval for the free version is 500ms and you can only control one app. But you can upgrade this by buying the software.
The Personal Plan costs $10 which has a checking interval of up to 99ms, you can use it on 2 devices and you can control unlimited apps.
The Gold Plan costs $20 which also has a checking interval of up to 99ms, but you can use it on 5 devices. You can control unlimited apps plus you get priority support.
VPN Lifeguard is a free and open-source third-party application that closes down your applications when experiences your VPN connection has gone down.
It reloads your applications when your VPN connection is restored.
VPNetmon is another alternative for you to try if you don’t have a kill switch. It works with all popular VPN providers and is pretty lightweight.
This too works in the same fashion, kills the applications when detects that your VPN is down then restarts those apps when your VPN is back up.
Who Should Be Using A VPN Kill Switch?
Everyone should be using a VPN kill switch all the time. But the world wouldn’t stop rotating for certain people if their VPN disconnects somehow.
But on the other end, there is a specific set of individuals who need 24/7 protection and anonymity on the web. They cannot risk their data being in the open.
Because if any third parties are monitoring them for loopholes and the VPN drops without warning with the kill switch off, the VPN is worth nothing.
If you’re among these people, then you need a built-in kill switch that can have your back all the time.
- Peer-to-Peer Torrenting. If you mostly use your VPN service for peer-to-peer torrenting activities, then you need a kill switch active all the time to block your internet in case the VPN drops.
- Journalists. If you’re a journalist or an activist who doesn’t want to be tracked by any third parties on the internet then you need a kill switch.
- Private files on your computer. If you work in a government organization and your personal computer carries confidential files then you would not risk your online identity to expose on the open network.
Why Do VPNs Disconnect?
Doesn’t matter if you have the fastest internet or the best VPN service provider, you will still experience your VPN connection dropping at least once.
So let’s see what are the reasons that your VPN connection suddenly decides to go for a vacation.
- Router or firewall settings. Your router settings or firewall configuration can interfere with your VPN connection and force it to stop working. To analyze the problem, disable these and then connect your VPN. If you experience that the connection is stable, then you can keep them disabled and use your VPN, or else, add your VPN to your firewall’s exception list.
- VPN protocol. Not all VPN protocols work smoothly. If you’ve selected an unstable protocol then it is likely that your VPN will keep disconnecting. Perform a quick check and see if you’re on a UDP (User Datagram Protocol). If yes, then switch it to TCP (Transmission Control Protocol). It is more reliable.
- ISP interference. Your internet service provider can interfere with your VPN connection. To avoid this problem, sign up for a top-tier reliable VPN provider.
What If I Don’t Use A VPN Kill Switch?
Your sensitive information and network traffic can be risk-free as VPNs are a powerful tool to keep you private and anonymous on the internet.
But not everything is perfect. You may face a connection drop at least once because of any reason. So a kill switch is very necessary.
But let’s see what can happen if you don’t have a kill switch and your VPN drops without warning you.
- An easy target for third parties. When your VPN drops and your kill switch is not active, you become vulnerable to hackers or eavesdroppers that have intentions to attack your private data. Even if there are no attackers, third parties like your internet service provider or government authorities can still monitor your internet traffic.
- Open Wi-Fi networks. A VPN is necessary when using public wi-fi networks of coffee shops, restaurants, or libraries. These networks are usually open and unprotected. Even if you’re using a wi-fi network of some relative or neighbor which is password protected, you are still in danger of being attacked as wi-fi networks use the WPA encryption type, which has been compromised before.
- Your real IP address can expose your location. IP addresses are a unique set of numbers assigned to devices that are connected to the internet. Your IP address is your digital address. Your physical location is easily trackable if your VPN is not shielding your IP. This can be dangerous if you work in a profession that requires 24/7 anonymity on the web.
- Website tracking. Whenever you visit a website, your information is stored in the form of cookies. That starts building an online profile of you in their database. With this, businesses and advertisers can target you with relevant ads for higher margins of successful sales. So an active kill switch is required to not expose your internet identity on any platforms.
How to Test Your VPN Kill Switch?
A VPN kill switch is necessary to be active all the time in case your VPN drops. Here’s how you can test it.
- Launch your VPN and turn your kill switch feature on.
- Now choose a VPN server and connect.
- Launch your browser and start surfing randomly.
- Open your firewall settings and block your VPN.
If your internet connection is blocked, then your VPN kill switch is working properly. If not, then your kill switch is not functional, follow the procedure again. If the results are the same, consider changing your VPN provider.
Best VPNs That Offer A Kill Switch Feature
Most of the VPN providers offer a built-in kill switch as it is a must-have feature and it can be a decision-making factor for the user while signing up for a VPN service.
These three VPN providers are the ones that don’t only offer a kill switch feature but are among the best in the industry.
The ExpressVPN kill switch is called ‘Network Lock‘. The type of the kill switch is system-level which means that your internet connection will be disabled if your VPN drops.
It is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and routers.
To enable or disable it, go to the Options and find Network Lock under the General tab.
NordVPN kill switch is available on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. The amazing thing about NordVPN’s kill switch is that it supports both types, you can either use it in a system-level fashion or app-level.
To enable or disable it, go to the Settings, click on Kill Switch, and click on the toggle button.
Surshark has a system-level kill switch and it works on all widely used operating systems (Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android).
To turn on the kill switch, go to the Settings and find the Kill Switch option.
Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs
Is it illegal to use a VPN?
How much a VPN with a kill switch costs?
What if my VPN doesn't have a kill switch?
When should my kill switch be active?
Why can't I find ExpressVPN's kill switch option?
How to know if my VPN kill switch is working?
Wrapping it up!
A VPN is the best tool to shield your IP address and encrypt your online traffic and a kill switch guarantees you don’t accidentally leak any of your information in case the VPN fails and drops somehow. It can be because of any reason. Accidents can happen, even if it’s a reliable VPN service in the market. But it all depends on how a VPN still manages to keep your online identity private even when it goes down.