VPN Kill Switch - What Is It and How Does it Work?

An Automated Emergency Button Designed to Keep Your IP Address Hidden

Bojan Jovanovic Image

April 11,2022

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There are many reasons we use VPNs these days. Some of us want to unlock Netflix and other streaming services while traveling or get access to other region-locked content. Others prefer to stay completely private online and use VPNs with no-logging policies or those that can bypass nationwide content restrictions such as those found in China and Russia.

Whatever the case, there’s a feature you’ll want to see with every software of this type - a VPN kill switch.

Today, we will be looking at this feature in more detail. We’ll talk about how it works, why the technology is important, and explain the different types of kill switches. By the end of this article, you’ll get a better idea of why you might need such a feature for your VPN and how to figure out whether a VPN service has it included by default.

What Is a Kill Switch?

First, we need to explain this feature before discussing its benefits and advanced functionality. In general IT terms, a kill switch is a mechanism (or a set of them) that shuts off certain software or a specific device once triggered.

A VPN kill switch is a fail-safe mechanism that monitors your connection to a VPN server and terminates your internet connection if it detects any irregularities. This ensures that your data (such as your actual IP address, for example) remains protected from prying eyes, even if your VPN connection drops suddenly.

While it’s obviously a useful feature, it’s still not present in every VPN app on the market. Furthermore, it sometimes isn’t enabled by default, so you’ll need to switch it on manually. Luckily, often it’s just a matter of pressing a single button. Some apps even have a permanent kill switch option, making the internet connection unavailable if there’s no VPN connection active.

proton vpn kill switch

How Does a Kill Switch for VPN Work?

Now that we understand what a kill switch is, let's take a look at how it works in relation to a VPN. When you connect to a VPN server, all of your internet traffic is routed through an encrypted tunnel. This means that anyone trying to snoop on your traffic will only see gibberish and will not be able to decipher what you're actually doing online. They’ll also have only the IP address of the VPN server rather than your real one.

However, if, for some reason, your connection to the VPN server drops, your traffic will no longer be protected by encryption. This is where the kill switch on VPNs comes in. Once activated, the kill switch will immediately terminate your internet if it detects that your VPN connection has dropped. This ensures that your data remains protected, even if your VPN connection hangs occasionally.

While a kill switch is a vital security feature, it's important to note that it will also terminate your internet connection if the VPN server is experiencing any issues

This means that you will not be able to browse the web or do anything else online until the VPN connection is reestablished. For this reason, it's important to only use a kill switch with a trusted and reliable VPN service.

Why Is It Important?

A kill switch is an essential security measure for anyone using a VPN. Without a kill switch, your device will automatically revert to using your regular (unencrypted) internet connection when the VPN is disconnected. This means that your data and activities are no longer protected and could be exposed to prying eyes.

A kill switch helps prevent this by immediately terminating your internet connection if the VPN is disconnected. This ensures that your data remains private and secure, even if the VPN connection is lost or interrupted.

Using this feature in conjunction with a double VPN is the ultimate way to protect your privacy online.

Types of VPN Kill Switches

There are two main types of kill switches used in VPN apps:

1. System-Level Kill Switch

This type of kill switch is built into your operating system and will terminate any and all internet connectivity if it detects that your VPN connection has dropped. This is the most effective type of kill switch, but it can also be the most disruptive as it will completely cut you off from the internet if your VPN connection fails.

2. Application-Level Kill Switch

This type of kill switch is built into your VPN software, and it’s an internet kill switch designed to disconnect a specific application or program you are using through your VPN. 

This is less disruptive than a system-level kill switch as it will only affect the specific application, but it is also less effective as it will not terminate all internet connectivity if your VPN connection fails. It’s similar to split tunneling and can let you fine-tune which apps get internet access through a VPN.

No matter which type of kill switch you use, the point is to protect your data and privacy by ensuring that your internet connection is only routed through a secure and encrypted VPN tunnel. This way, kill switch apps prevent others from snooping on your traffic or data, even if your VPN connection drops for any reason.

​​Why Use a Kill Switch?

A kill switch is an important security tool for anyone who uses a VPN. By ensuring that your data is always protected (even if your VPN connection drops), you can prevent any sensitive information from being exposed to bad actors online.

There are many reasons why a VPN connection might drop, including:

  1. Your computer goes to sleep or is turned off
  2. Your internet connection is interrupted
  3. You change networks (for example, from Wi-Fi to cellular)
  4. The VPN server goes down or becomes unresponsive

In any of these cases, a VPN with a kill switch will block all internet traffic until the VPN connection is reestablished, including when you’re switching servers. This ensures that your data remains safe, preventing any unsecured browsing and data leaks. In the age when our privacy isn’t as private as we’d like, it’s an essential feature that should be a staple of every VPN app.

Kill Switch Usage Examples

There are many different ways to use a  kill switch. Here are some examples:

  • Disabling your internet connection if the VPN disconnects

The VPN connection kill switch ensures that your data is not exposed if the VPN connection is lost or interrupted for any reason, be it server change or hardware failure.

  • Terminating specific apps

This can be used to prevent certain apps from accessing the internet if the VPN connection is lost. For example, you may want to terminate a chat app or email client so that your private conversations are not exposed to the world.

  • Blocking all internet traffic until the VPN reconnects

This ensures that no data is transmitted over your regular (unencrypted) internet connection if the VPN is disconnected.

No matter how you use the feature, VPNs with a kill switch are a valuable security measure for all users concerned about their online privacy. 

VPN Providers Offering a Kill Switch

We’ve already talked about some VPN apps employing kill switch features. Now, let’s look at some of the best VPN providers and see how they utilize the technology.

1. ProtonVPN

ProtonVPN is a fantastic service from the same company that brought us the privacy-centric email client ProtonMail. Among its many features, ProtonVPN also includes a VPN kill switch for Windows, Linux, Mac, and iOS. Additionally, the Windows app supports a permanent kill switch feature that disables the entire internet connection whenever the app isn’t running.

2. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is another top-rated VPN app. While its main strengths are the massive server network and unmatched compatibility, this VPN also offers plenty of cutting-edge security features. One of them is a kill switch that the company calls Network Lock. ExpressVPN’s kill switch is especially useful for people that use laptops as it is optimized to detect Wi-Fi instabilities.

3. NordVPN

NordVPN has been the VPN app of choice for privacy-savvy internet users for many years. It has a VPN kill switch for Android, iOS, macOS, Linux, and Windows operating systems. Furthermore, you can set it to work for specific apps instead of the entire internet connection, allowing more control over its operation.

What does kill switch to VPN mean?

A kill switch is a feature that disables unprotected traffic through a VPN app. It can completely shut off internet access until the VPN reconnects or disable the internet connection for a specific app.

What happens if you disconnect from a VPN?

On a disconnect, your internet connection resets to its default settings, showing all of your actual connection information, including your real IP address. It also loses any encryption features it may have had while you were connected to your VPN, making internet browsing less secure.

Is it OK to leave the VPN on all the time?

Yes, it is completely fine to have a VPN running at all times. If you don’t mind having a slightly slower connection and don’t use services that require a specific location, it’ll be just like normal surfing, except safer.

Why do you need a VPN kill switch?

You don’t want to suddenly lose all the security features of a VPN if it loses connection to the internet. It’s there to protect your private data from being leaked to the internet until the VPN app manages to reestablish the link to its servers.

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